Conservative Ascendancy and Culture Wars in the 1990s

One theme that ties together many of the events of the 1990s is the conservative resurgence in national politics, solidified when Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in the 1994 midterm elections. This collection is centered around a short video from Retro Report that details that election and its consequences for national policy. Conservatives framed their appeal to voters in terms of a "culture war," and the next articles in this collection go into depth about three of the issues at play in these debates: gay rights, gun control, and welfare reform. The final three pieces put conservatism into its broader context, from decades of conservative media and the GOP's embrace of an angry confrontational style, through an assessment of the successes and failures of the "culture wars" debates since the 1990s.
President Clinton pursing his lips, while Newt Gingrich looks at him from behind.

Midterm Elections: How 1994 Midterms Set Off an Era of Divisive Politics

Economic and social issues with roots in the 1994 midterms are still being debated today.
CORE RESOURCE: This video recounts the conservative wave that swept congress in the 1994 midterm elections, and the role of talk radio in rallying conservative voters around culture war issues including gay rights and gun control. It also follows the ways House Speaker Newt Gingrich in used his majority to negotiate major policy compromises like welfare reform from President Clinton.
The Hawaii Supreme Court

The Surprising Honolulu Origins of the National Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage

A local gay rights activist launched a publicity stunt that became so much more. Congress couldn’t help but notice.
MEANWHILE: One of the concessions Gingrich's Congress got from the Democrats was a federal definition of marriage that excluded same-sex couples. Marriage equality had not been a major political or legal focus of activists until the 1990s. This article discusses the case that placed same-sex marriage in the national spotlight.
Bill Clinton giving a speech.

How a Democrat Killed Welfare

Bill Clinton gutted welfare and criminalized the poor, all while funneling more money into the carceral state.
MEANWHILE: Welfare reform was one of the most significant political compromises that the Republican Congress negotiated with President Clinton. This essay examines how confluence welfare reform, coupled with Clinton's crime bill, increased surveillance of poor mothers' parenting and treated more African American women as potential criminals.
Charlton Heston (left), then president of the NRA, meets with fellow leaders Wayne LaPierre (far right) and Jim Baker (center) on April 30, 1999, ahead of the NRA's annual meeting in Denver. Around the same time, leaders discussed how to respond to the shooting at Columbine High School in nearby Littleton, Colo. More than 20 years later, NPR has obtained secret recordings of those conversations.

A Secret Tape Made After Columbine Shows the NRA's Evolution on School Shootings

In 1999, NRA leaders agonized over what to do about Columbine, paving the way for the group's approach to mass shootings ever since.
MEANWHILE: Conservative opposition to the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban made gun ownership a major rallying cry for votes. When two teenagers committed a high profile mass shooting at a school in Columbine, CO, in 1999, the NRA's immediate reaction was to brainstorm how to prevent the event from damaging their own public image and political influence.
A shot from behind of Rush Limbaugh giving a speech at a Make America Great Again rally.

The Right’s Reign on the Air Waves

How talk radio established the power of the modern Republican Party.
PREVIOUSLY: This article traces conservative talk radio from its Cold War origins, through its suppression in the 1960s by the Fairness Doctrine, to its resurgence symbolized Rush Limbaugh's popularity and influence on GOP policy in the 1990s and 2000s. While talk radio's association with conservatism was in no way inevitable, it became a critical component shaping Republicans' cultural ideas and policies.

The Man Who Broke Politics

Gingrich turned partisan battles into bloodsport, wrecked Congress, and paved the way for Trump’s rise. Now he’s reveling in it.
PREVIOUSLY: This biographical narrative of Newt Gingrich traces the origins of his political strategy to shake up Congressional politics. Through tactics like negativity and insults, confrontation and obstructionism, and weaponizing polarization and government shutdowns, Gingrich not only led the Republican party to a congressional majority, but he shaped the tone of conservative politics for the next generation.
Pat Buchanan surrounded by balloons at a campaign rally.

Revisiting a Transformational Speech: The Culture War Scorecard

Social conservatives won some and lost some since Pat laid down the marker.
LATER: At the 1992 Republican National Convention, Pat Buchanan claimed Americans were waging "a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.” Conservative pundit Michael Barone follows the culture war issues Buchanan raised -- inlcuding same-sex marriage and abortion -- as well as those he passed over -- including guns and welfare -- to evaluate how conservative agenda fared in the subsequent twenty-five years