The era of the Southern Reagan Democrat was ushered in by racist attitudes that perpetuated the stereotypes about race, poverty, and the deterioration of the inner city. The conservative movement of the last half of the 20th century was based on reactionary politics against the social movements that sought a redistribution of legitimate political power.
To a large extent the polarization of the political movements have been an ongoing struggle based on the politics of fear brought on by the Cold War in the 1940s and 1950s. All social movements, whether pro-labor or public health care, were labeled as communist inspired socialist programs. The Vietnam War became a significant factor in further defining the conservative movement. According to Meagher (2009), "their most notorious role in the development of the conservative coalition was to devise a post-Vietnam foreign policy in response to the perceived failures of Democrats to confront communism" (p.261). In this way, the conservative movement was able to turn the battle against liberal social programs into a front for the Cold War.
The Vietnam War was also instrumental in forming a common cause base, which several other social groups utilized to form coalitions in an effort to solidify voting blocs. Identity politics, the Black Panthers, Civil Rights, feminism, and the environmental movement all fell under the anti-war umbrella. The left viewed Vietnam as a symptom of worldwide oppression. Though this was a worldwide war being waged by the left against imperialism in all its forms, political and economic, the Left was able to be translated it into the broader issues of community and neighborhood problems of housing, jobs, and education (Nakanishi and Lai, 2003, p.172). Social progress was viewed as redistribution of wealth and progressive programs were labeled as socialism.
The conservative movement continued to dredge up racist attitudes based on the stereotypes of the 'welfare mom' and worse. For example, during the last 50 years wealthy white property owners have been able to express their property rights in the court system, while "three to four million mostly poor and minority Americans have been displaced [...] as a result of federal and state court decisions allowing government to condemn property for virtually any reason" (Somin, 2009, p.429). Though the issue was the war, at home the battlefield was poverty, property rights, and social justice.
In conclusion, The Christian Right was able to capture the conservative movement and further polarize the political landscape of America. By the late 1990s and into the next election cycle, the neo-conservatives were dominated by the white right wing and the politics of fear. Voters were afraid to abandon the status quo, and politicians were afraid to speak out against the extremism for fear of being targeted by the well-organized movement and money of the neoconservative right.
Movements of the 1960s: Similarities and Differences
No decade in modern history has spawned more political and social movements than the 1960s. Protestors organized to highlight their dissatisfaction with issues that ranged from poverty, free speech, and the fair treatment of workers. Mobilized by the anti-war movement, these protests gained national legitimacy as the protestors took to the streets in various actions that ranged from