These comments, originally written in 2005 at the height of the Religious Right's power-play, predicted the downfall of the Republican majority.

Consolidating - and losing - power.

By Russ Gifford
(Originally an audio essay in 2005)

With the nomination of Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court, the religious Right will finally get what they really want – a bench-clearing brawl. 

Don’t be confused, though. With anything that smacks of liberal already dismissed by the general public, the Democrats are not the actual target. ‘Liberal’ Republicans are. Nebraskans may be asked to sit in judgment on that decision in 2008. 

The religious Right has achieved the startling revolution that Ronald Reagan promised. In the 25 years since Reagan’s ‘Morning in America” speech awakened them, they beat their plows into swords and their opponents into submission. No one would have believed in a little over a decade they would help rout the Democrats from both Houses of Congress, and by 2000 put one of their own into the White House.  

Though Reagan awakened them and gave them star billing on stage, he gave the religious Right no real power behind the scenes. As they’ve demonstrated with this nomination, they wield the power this time.  

Any Supreme Court nominee – even Harriet Miers – will give them the Courts, the final branch of government they don’t have de facto control of today. But it beckons like the City on the Hill – the Supreme Court was the ‘holy grail’ that Reagan used to create their existence. 

Why the uproar on Miers? They want the fight that Bush tried to duck. Forcing a religious Right Justice onto the bench will focus the spotlight on Republican Senators – especially ones the Right sees as not sufficiently loyal to the ‘cause.'  Like revolutions everywhere, this is about consolidating power.  

The confirmation of Alito is only a screen. This is a purge of unbelievers. If Republican senators like Arlen Specter and others in the northeast dare represent their constituency over their party, they'll be challenged in their primary races - and replaced with people who understand the importance of loyalty to the religious wing of the party. 

Sen. Orrin Hatch fittingly used the word Armageddon to describe the coming confirmation hearings. For the few centrists left in the Senate, this may well become an all-destroying battle.  

When the religious Right gained power, the old centrists felt the shift. People like Democrat J. James Exon and Republican Nancy Kasselbaum of Kansas saw the changes. Along with seven other prominent centrists they retired rather than accept that ‘party’ was more important than progress. 

Despite the fact that increasingly Americans declare themselves 'Independents’ the coming battle will force party line adherence, no matter which side of the aisle. The few remaining centrist senators, Ben Nelson among them, will feel the heat. Their ability to withstand it will depend on their constituents. 

If we fail them, the result will be far more Partisan politics.  

With one notable exception purges are the time-honored result of any victorious rebellion. But despite the stated goal of the Right to honor America's revolutionary history and follow the original ‘intent’ of the founding fathers, they have confused the Constitution's framers with the Puritans. Of course, defining an 'activist' Judge depends on one’s point of perspective. 

Still, within a few months, the religious Right will take the Supreme Court, crowning their triumphal 25-year march. But like all revolutions, purging their ranks marks the end of their achievement. This purge sows the seeds for the rebellion that will eventually topple them. We are witnessing the apogee of the rightward swing of the pendulum.  

But it is not the end of the Right’s dominance. With funding for social services nearly drained and the death choke this purge will put on policy makers, it might be a decade before anything ‘liberal’ sounds agreeable to the public, and a quarter century before it is again popular. Exactly as it was for ‘conservatism’ back in 1965.

The Left, of course, questions if our system of government will survive this drastic situation. That’s same point a has-been actor named Reagan questioned at the Republican convention in 1964, during the high tide of the liberals.

But since that date, we have learned extremism is not a virtue, and does cause lasting damage. The question is will the centrists in the Senate be protected, or exiled? Nebraskans will play a role in that debate.

 ---- 2005, Russ Gifford 

A former City Councilperson in South Sioux City, Gifford served as political commentator for Clear Channel radio station KMNS in Sioux City, Iowa from 2004 to 2005, and has written articles and essays for local, regional and national magazines over the past 10 years.

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