January 09, 2012
What’s the Matter with Iowa?

Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and a history professor at Barnard College, writing in RD Magazine:

When I lived in Iowa in the 1970s, my father was pastor of one of the largest evangelical congregations in the state. Although he remained a Republican to his death, my father was resolutely apolitical in the pulpit.

Things began to change for Iowa evangelicals — and for politically conservative evangelicals elsewhere — in the late 1970s. Iowa, in fact, was the proving ground for abortion as a political issue. Until 1978, evangelicals in Iowa (as elsewhere) were overwhelmingly indifferent to abortion, even after the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973; they considered it a Catholic issue.

The Iowa race for United States Senate in 1978 pitted Dick Clark, the incumbent Democratic senator, against a Republican challenger, Roger Jepsen. All of the polling and the pundits considered it an easy win for Clark. In the final weekend of the campaign, however, pro-lifers (predominantly Catholic) leafleted church parking lots all over the state. Two days later, in an election with a very low turnout, Jepsen narrowly defeated Clark, thereby persuading Paul Weyrich and other architects of the religious right that abortion would work for them as a political issue.

Politically conservative evangelicals in Iowa began to mobilize. Ronald Reagan carried Iowa in 1980 over Jimmy Carter, the incumbent, evangelical Democrat. In 1988 I returned to Iowa for the precinct caucuses to write about evangelicals negotiating the vagaries of political life. Many were self-identified “housewives” who were “lobbying from the kitchen table.”

The religious right in Iowa never looked back. Concerned Women for America, Beverly LaHaye’s organization, became a political force. Rush Limbaugh and other fixtures of the downstream media became staples on WHO, Iowa’s Clear Channel radio station. The radio station KWKY, located — literally — in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, became a beacon of evangelical political rhetoric, most of it leaning toward the hard right. Gannett’s purchase of the Des Moines Register in 1985 diminished the newspaper’s independent voice.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at January 09, 2012 02:28 PM
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Many yrs ago as head of a national org. I got an invite to a Cato Institute Luncheon--free food courtesy of the Right!!!! I chose the table with Paul Weyreich. And got him chatting about abortion. It seems he had had the brilliant insight to look for registered non-voters and find how to get them to the polls, both the right and the left nonvoters. The liberals would turn out for a nuclear power vote and the conservatives would turn out to save the fetuses. The abortion obsession began!!! Not anti-woman but simply to get lazy conservatives to the polls.

Posted by: Vickie Feminist on January 9, 2012 6:58 PM

Not anti-woman, Vickie? In the best-case scenario (Weyrich not being anti-woman personally, which I somehow doubt), he was willing to trade off a woman's right to privacy and control of her own body for political gain. This is worse than if he actually believed in what he was doing, and either way it's anti-woman.

Posted by: Pluma Lashley on January 10, 2012 11:24 AM
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