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The Conservative 60's? A different look at America in the 1960s

Updated on February 1, 2013

The conservative sixties? That statement sounds like an oxymoron. Most media about the 1960’s is not conservative by any means. But, when you think about it, the late 1970’s and the 1980’s had to take a while to be fabricated. It seems the conservative future depended upon the right wing people of the 1960’s to form an alliance and start planning the way they wanted America to be. From all that we know of liberalism in the 1960’s there had to be an opposition to the hippies, women’s lib, student protests, government programs, socialist views, and all the other commotions the Left were creating during this time. I believe it was the unrest of the 1960’s that brought about extreme conservatism. After a decade of race riots, anti-war protests, civil rights protests, women’s liberation marches, hippie communes, LSD, Marijuana, and all the other craziness in America during this time… Americans just wanted some peace and order. In the end, I think the conservatives won the battle for the remainder of the century.

In the essay, “A Great White Light”, Kurt Schuparra makes the statement “the extremists who threatened the “American Way of Life” were not Republican conservatives, but campus radicals, lawless rioters, and their liberal apologists”. He goes on to say “Ironically, the sixties proved crucial to the conservative movement by providing the cultural milieu that served as a springboard for its success”. (Farber) This was one mighty big springboard and carried the Republicans through the 1990’s.

Anticommunism from the 1940’s and 50’s was the first push toward conservatism in the 1960’s. People were very afraid of being anything like a communist country. Any talk from the left about socialism, Marxism, or world government was an abolishment of America. Even so, they held onto many of the New Deal programs like Social Security. People seemed to be afraid of all the new changes being made by the left but still had not found a conservative that represented their views by holding on to some of those policies they cherished from the left. It looked as though America would take the conservative side with Barry Goldwater until he attacked social programs.

Later Nixon pleaded with Republicans to stand up and be counted, but to no avail. The 60’s was like a roller coaster for conservative politics. Ronald Reagan turned out to be the politician most Republicans could relate to. He was the “All American” and they would get to know him through the 1960’s. Reagan was not president until 1980. He won California during this time, but his actions of the 60’s were a prelude to the country’s government later, after conservatism took its leap off of the springboard.

The extreme liberalism of the 1960’s was pure fuel for the extreme conservatism to grow during this same time. The religious disputes started during this time over abortion. Before this time period there was no moral issues about birth control or abortion. This fairly new dilemma helped groups like evangelical leaders, protestant churches, and the Catholic churches to bond together for the anti-abortion coalition.

It seems the New Left was mostly made up of the young people. Much like the Democrats that rally today, they were college age and single. The SNCC and other organizations that were doing so much to change America were this young group. I believe the previous generation felt their crazy ways would blow over after the war, or after the civil rights, or after the... You get the point, it never blew over. They kept going and going, pleading for change and then finding a new complaint. Maybe they eventually ran out of things they wanted to change, but I think the older generation just got fed up with the changes. When they had enough, they had had enough. I agree with Michael Flamm’s essay “The Politics of Law and Order”. People were sick of crime and disorder and just wanted normal America back with good values and a firm hand. Ronald Reagan was the picture perfect Republican for the job.

References and Acknowledgements Not Cited Above

Farber, David & Roche, Jeff. The Conservative Sixties. Peter Lang Publishing. New York. 2003.


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