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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., June 4, 1998. Interview C-0328-4. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rise of the religious right and libertarian wings of the Republican Party

Holshouser notes the growth of the Christian Coalition as one of the most significant political events in North Carolina politics. He thinks its rise countered the political organization on the left that gained influence in the 1960s, but worries that in the 1990s, both sides have demonstrated a lack of tolerance for one another. He remarks also on the rise of the libertarian wing of the party, and the increasing complexity that has come with increasing strength.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., June 4, 1998. Interview C-0328-4. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK FLEER:
Do you think the Republican party is more or less cohesive today than what it was in the 1970s? Is it more factionally ridden today than what it was in the past?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
It is different. In the '70s there were two pretty clear factions. I shouldn't say the '70s, in the '60s there were two pretty clear factions. As we have grown and the base has grown, let me back up a minute on the legislative thing. I thought we had the potential to elect the governor, to elect congressmen, to elect a US senator, before we elect the legislature simply because that requires a base in so many legislative districts across the state that I thought it would come last. The lines have blurred in some ways and have changed in some ways. The issues in the '60s just aren't the issues in the 1990s. I think probably the single thing that sort of juts out at you that has happen in this period of time is the growth of the Christian Coalition. There have always been people who were concerned about social issues on either side of the spectrum. At the same time that in the 1960s and early 1970s I think the left side of those social issues was more organized. I served in the late 1970s and early 1980s on a thing called the Council on Theology and Culture of the Southern Presbyterian Church. I went to the meeting as part of that which was held in Washington in the early 1980s. George Chancey was basically a lobbyist for the Presbyterian Church in Washington at that time. But this was a multi-denominational thing. They were trying to organize a network in which if an issue came up in Congress you could send out wires to everybody and all of these networks would go out and everybody would write their congressmen back. And almost every issue that they talked about and position they were taking I was against. I came home feeling really bad about that. On the other hand in the 1980s and 1990s, you have seen the growth on the more conservative side of the social issues and it has been more visible than the left ever was I think. That may be simply because the media didn't view the left organization with fear whereas they do the right. I think what concerns me the most about both sides is the lack of tolerance for the other position. I wish I was as convinced of my own and certain about my own religious feelings as most of the people are in those organizations on either side. Life would be a lot easier if you didn't have to struggle with some of these things.
JACK FLEER:
Separate from, let me ask you, is separate from the Christian Coalition and the social conservatives that you talked about, a faction that for lack of a better term is referred to Libertarian?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Definitely is and those two necessarily don't go hand and hand. They both are a little bit out of a mainstream in a sense. Although the Christian Coalition's growth has made it more mainstream than it would have been at one time and Ralph Reed and people like that have made it more that way. There is definitely a laissez faire libertarian approach that says let the private sector do its thing and get out of the way. The less government the better. In an early day, a less complex day, I would probably have felt more like that than I do today. I still feel just like Lincoln. The government ought not do the things, people things, that people can do as well for themselves. But there are just so many issues today that people can't handle from a private sector's standpoint. Even though I am not a tree hugger in a sense I think the environment is one of those things; that acid rain doesn't stop at state lines or county lines. What may be contaminating the stream down in my neighborhood may be the direct results of what is happening up in your neighborhood. So I think government does play more of a role today than it did in Lincoln's time.
JACK FLEER:
Does and has to, you are saying because of
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Yes I think it does. Those who take position of a less government the better and I have heard that stated directly by a young legislator in the east about ten years ago I guess. I understand the point of view that they have; I just don't agree with that.
JACK FLEER:
So in a sense as we talk about your history with the Republican party, it probably has made more advances, more quickly than what you had expected back in the 1960s and 1970s but it has become a much more complicated party.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
It has, it has and the bigger you get, the more viable force you are, the more that is going to be the case just by the natural demographics of things. People get into politics for different reasons. Some of them get into politics simply because they see it as the only way they have any hope of getting done something they want to do, good or bad.