Did George H.W. Bush Enable the Christian Right?

Bush and Falwell


Check out Neil J. Young’s piece at The Washington Post:

Following Wednesday’s state funeral for George H.W. Bush at Washington National Cathedral, the former president’s casket will be flown to Houston where a memorial service will be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church the following day.

Unlike his son George W. Bush, the elder Bush, a lifelong Episcopalian, was less known for his religious faith. He was certainly not thought of as a champion of the religious right, the powerful political movement most associated with his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Yet it was Bush, the moderate establishment Republican whose family helped found Planned Parenthood, who secured the religious right’s permanent place in American politics. While historians largely credit Reagan’s presidency with helping religious conservatives move from the shadows of American public life into its spotlight, it was the Bush presidency, particularly its disappointments and defeat, that entrenched the religious right as the center of the Republican Party and guaranteed its ongoing influence.

From the moment he entered the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, Bush drew the ire of religious right leaders — so much so that people like Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell objected to Reagan’s selection of Bush as his running mate. Conservative organizations tracked Bush closely throughout the primaries, scrutinizing his conservative credentials, reviewing his record and documenting his every misstep. Bush’s questionable history included having written the foreword to a 1973 book advocating the benefits of family planning in developing countries. As a congressman from 1967 to 1971, Bush’s enthusiastic support for federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups was so well-known it had garnered him the nickname “Rubbers.”

Read the rest here.

One thought on “Did George H.W. Bush Enable the Christian Right?

  1. As a Christian/evangelical/conservative/Republican (aka “right wing extremist”) who is “auditing” the ongoing “John Fea historical thinking online course”, I’ll have to say “so what”? What’s being left out is a couple of things you preach – context and change over time.

    For one, in the time period mentioned, abortion was not deemed a Constitutional right. Planned Parenthood was not always associating with exterminating babies in the womb, but was about family planning. Even Margaret Sanger was anti-abortion. In Chapter 10 of “Women and the New Race”, she wrote “While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.”

    In Chapter 6 she notes that the infant mortality in poor working class families was 23% in the FIRST year of life. By the time women got to having 7, 8, 10 or 12 children, deaths during the FIRST year of childhood rose from 31% for a 7th child to 60% for a 12th child. Sanger was addressing an issue that few of us in our comfy 21st century American life can even imagine – conditions in poor working-class neighborhoods where women were little more than breeders and were expected to have little to no say in how many children they would bear. That “life issue” is what Sanger was trying to address.

    In her 1938 autobiography (p217 in the copy I found online), she wrote “To each group we explained simply what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way —no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way—it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not begun.”

    I also found a quote referenced in a 2003 Weekly Standard article that Sanger stated (it might have been at some Congressional testimony) that birth control has nothing to do with abortion, it has “nothing to do with interfering with or disturbing life after conception has taken place”. Given the science of today, then going by Sanger’s statement would forbid abortions even within a couple of takes after intercourse took place.

    Just as today’s Planned Parenthood would find Sanger’s comments on abortion problematic, so would right-to-life groups. I often see pro-lifers post things that slam Sanger, primarily for her belief in eugenics, but that was common among the progressives of the day. The past is a foreign country. I’m sure there were some preachers espousing such things, particularly in the South and probably related to the social order and Jim Crow. I would think they’d jump all over the fact that Sanger was anti-abortion, but introducing complexity into political rhetoric makes that rhetoric far less useful.

    If there is one thing I have learned in following you (and Tracy McKenzie and John D Wilsey when they were posting more often), it is that being faithful to those who have gone before us (“loving our neighbors, even if they are dead”, as McKenzie put it) often inconveniences our political rhetoric.


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