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.



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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