Orange County 1960's: The Conservative Movement

Orange County 1960's: The Conservative Movement

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Orange County 1960's: The conservative movement

The conservative movement that arose in the Orange Country during the 60's had many different contradictory attitudes. Some people thought of it as a meaningless span of time in which the government had been put on pause while others saw it as a crucial foundation for America's future. McGirr clearly seems to be no follower for Orange County conservatism, but she is still able to keep her disagreements from breaking through in her writing. McGirr gives the audience an understanding the ‘60s political struggles, one in which even conservatives proposed radical ideas that fundamentally reshaped the political and cultural landscape.
Since most of Orange County residents in the ‘50s and ‘60s were migrants, largely from the Midwest, did not necessarily make them traditionalists. These migrants, McGirr writes, mixed with Orange County's "cultural traditions, its conservative regional elite, its mode of development... [to provide] the ingredients from which the Right would create a movement. First, there were the ‘old-timers,' the large ranchers and small farmers, merchants, shop owners, and middle-class townspeople who had embraced a strong individualism and strict morals for many years. Added to this older conservatism were the southland's ‘cowboy capitalists,' the new boom-time entrepreneurs who made their fortunes in the post - World War II era of affluence and spent their capital and their energy spreading the gospel of laissez-faire capitalism and an anti-Washington ethos. Together with ranchers-turned-property-developers, county boosters, and real estate speculators, they created a built world that affirmed the values of privacy, individualism, and property rights and weakened a sense of cohesive community, providing an opening for organizations, churches, and missionary zealots that could provide one."
Orange County's contradictory anti-state philosophy that dominated a place founded by the government and heavily dependent on the government was clearly abundant to McGirr. Military bases and high-tech manufacturing for defense purposes was key to the economic growth in the 1950s and ‘60s. Suburban Warriors portrays activists of the John Birch Society, the Christian Anticommunist Crusade against the New Deal and wimpy not because they were victims of liberalism but because they were beneficiaries with moral passion to spare. Orange County became one of the fastest growing counties in America in the 1950s because it was a paradise of homeowners, "a developer's dream come true."
Conservative political ideology, often considered an anti-modern worldview, attracted a large number of people in the most technologically advanced and economically effervescent of American locales.

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The conservative environment that these activists flourished was in part to Orange County's established cultural patterns and traditions. However, it became entirely to popular when it became linked to the region's breathtaking transformation after World War II. Southern California's ways of life and work changed radically, disposing many of its inhabitants to embrace a radicalized form of politics. The largely white-collar, educated, and often highly skilled women and men who embraced rightwing politics saw their own lives and the flowering communities where they made their homes as tributes to the possibilities of individual entrepreneurial success. The people that were emerging from Orange County were often firm believers in nationalism and moralist while in other settings this conservatism had been tempered by an earlier link to the political traditions of the New Deal. The right-wing had a sense of coherence, community, and commitment for the people through conservative churches and right-wing organizations.
Many right-wing groups organized to spread the word about the precious traditions of American culture and how Washington was illegitimately encroaching on local and state governments; most also propagandized in favor of free markets. The new groups ranged from local chapters of the John Birch Society to the California Committee to Combat Communism, the Orange County School of Anti-Communism, and the California Free Enterprise Association. Local churches were also breeding grounds for right-wing thinking and the Catholic parishes under Cardinal Francis McIntyre, whom McGirr calls "the most extreme right-wing member of the American Catholic hierarchy." Also, the suburban coffee klatches became a place of politics for the rightwing activism spreading in the area. Being able to hold conversation in a simple, personal atmosphere discussing politics with a cup full of energy to support an argument about their popular right-wing ideology. Coming to homes and discussing politics in living rooms and kitchens helped win many converts for conservative activism, particularly among the housewives who actually had the free time to organize, canvass, hold meetings, write letters, petition, and get out the vote.
With support from the churches, the press, and grassroots groups, Orange County conservatives won control of the California Republican Assembly. So, once they gained power they endorsed the conservative Ronald Reagan and propelled him into California's state house in 1966. By electing Reagan governor Orange County's right-wingers played a key role in what ultimately became a national political shift with Reagan on his way to the white house.
McGirr more or less sloughs over the importance of the libertarian-traditionalist splits in the coalition she writes about, noting that although they sometimes "looked at one another with discomfort and suspicion... libertarians and social conservatives shared enough grievances against their common enemy, the liberal Leviathan, to forge a political movement."
Suburban Warriors is a good addition to contemporary American history. The long look at activists who were understudied due to accomplishments often turned away from by the public are given their influence on the course of recent politics. It also helps show that the ‘60s were even more of a social and political abundance than many ever acknowledged. In order for the people of America to understand philosophies lying beneath the surface of the history of politics there needs to be books that draw a clear map of the existing influences during the times when those types of groups are second on the latter to the majority decision of America.


1.McGirr, Lisa. Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.
2. Patterson, Charles. The Civil Rights Movement. New York: Facts on File, 1995.
3. Weisbrot, Robert, Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement, New York, 1990.
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