The 1990s Conservative Revolt That Remade the Republican Party
Lost between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror, the 1990s has been set aside as a “holiday from history.” But we are past due for a serious reckoning with the meaning of the decade, as Nicole Hemmer argues in her bold new interpretation of American conservatism, Pitchfork Politics: The 1990s Conservative Revolt That Remade the Republican Party.
Niki Hemmer is a research scholar at Columbia University and a frequent writer and commentator on politics. She contends that it was Ronald Reagan’s widely touted revolution that was the interlude. Though it continues to have a hold on how we understand conservative ideology today, the Reagan Revolution was not only unfinished, it was completely undone. Today’s Republican Party looks more like the isolationist and pessimistic Republican Party of the ‘30s and ‘40s than the big-tent Republican Party of the ‘80s.
Central to that shift in philosophy were players—from Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich to Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh—who began as Reagan staffers and acolytes. During the 1990s, however, they pulled away from a commitment to the conservative values Reagan had championed. Using a powerful and growing conservative media ecosystem to advance their cause, forces on the right replaced the popular politics of the Reagan era with a focus on base politics and a conservative opposition to the egalitarian ideals of democracy.
In Pitchfork Politics, Hemmer makes a clear and compelling case that a new appreciation of the 1990s is both long overdue and a timely contribution toward understanding where American politics is today. In her sharp and lively telling, the 1990s are hardly a backwater. This is revelatory history, and will change the way we look at the present.