Compare Max Blumenthal's excellent account of the rise of Jerry Falwell to Jeffrey Bell's curious little piece at the Weekly Standard.
[T]he swing in terms of partisan margin among theologically conservative white Protestants was a breathtaking 87 points--from a Democratic margin of 25 points in 1976 to a Republican lead of 62 points in 1984. By way of comparison, the margin swing in the electorate as a whole was 20 points--from Carter-Mondale's 2-point victory in 1976 to Mondale-Ferraro's 18-point defeat in 1984.So what, according to Bell, accounted for this shift? "Judicial elites" banning spoken prayer in school, for one thing. The hardening politics of abortion, too. And then there was the Carter administration's revocation of tax exemptions for "Bible schools."
These numbers might suggest that the entire GOP presidential gain between 1976 and 1984 could be accounted for by the striking change among the roughly 20 percent of the electorate classifiable as Bible-believing white Protestants. In pure statistical terms this is true, and much was happening in the campaigns of 1980 and 1984 to explain the shift in terms of social issues and the status of religion in American life.
For Falwell and his allies, the true impetus for political action came when the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Connally to revoke the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools in 1971. At about the same time, the Internal Revenue Service moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, which forbade interracial dating. (Blacks were denied entry until 1971.) Falwell was furious, complaining, "In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school."There is, of course, none of this in Bell's piece. It takes a pretty tight tunnel vision to ignore the reality of Falwell's history, so we shouldn't be shocked when Bell's piece ends with a reference to "the pivotal role of 'values voters' in the 2004 presidential election." The fact that Bell is just about the last person on Earth to believe this canard is hardly surprising, given the myopia at work in his article generally.
Seeking to capitalize on mounting evangelical discontent, a right-wing Washington operative and anti-Vatican II Catholic named Paul Weyrich took a series of trips down South to meet with Falwell and other evangelical leaders. Weyrich hoped to produce a well-funded evangelical lobbying outfit that could lend grassroots muscle to the top-heavy Republican Party and effectively mobilize the vanquished forces of massive resistance into a new political bloc. In discussions with Falwell, Weyrich cited various social ills that necessitated evangelical involvement in politics, particularly abortion, school prayer and the rise of feminism. His pleas initially fell on deaf ears.
"I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed," Weyrich recalled in an interview in the early 1990s. "What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation."