Electoralism/Democratism

2 decades of right turns

By Bonnie Kristian, The Week

This article is part of The Week‘s 20th anniversary section, looking back at how the world has changed since our first issue was published in April 2001.

Saint Paul considered himself an “apostle to the Gentiles” though he did not number among them, and it’s in this sense I’ve joked that, as a journalist, I’m an apostle to the American right.

That is, I don’t call myself a conservative, except temperamentally. I’m certainly not a Republican. Though I’ve recently had a few people dub me a centrist, my own label of choice is libertarian, and I make all the usual protests to my progressive friends that we libertarians are not properly located on the right wing of American politics.

But I did grow up there. I remember thinking it was vital George W. Bush win the 2000 election, and the presidential campaign where I interned eight years later was not within the Libertarian Party but a vehemently rebuffed libertarian incursion into the GOP. Much of my writing today is for or about the right. It’s still familiar territory — but it seems to grow less recognizable by the day.

Over the past two decades, which correspond almost exactly to the post-9/11 era, the American right has changed remarkably. In 2001, Bush was president, the literal heir of the political heir of Ronald Reagan. He’d been elected talking about free markets and free trade, “compassionate conservatism,” and a “humble” foreign policy. Coming off the sexual scandals of the Clinton era, Republicans cast themselves as the party of virtue. The party of artless patriotism and family values. The party of principle, of grown-ups, of Mayberry and small farmers and Wall Street capitalists and country clubs. The party seated squarely on Reagan’s three-legged stool of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and defense hawks.

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