But before we hold a funeral for the Reagan coalition, we should note how easily the circumstances of the late 1970s could repeat themselves. Already, looking at inflation rates and oil prices, journalists are drawing comparisons with the events of 1979-1980 and projecting a recession at least as bad as those years.Now remember two things. First, there was no single issue or grievance that drove religious believers to the conservative banner. Rather, it was a generalized sense of threat to traditional ideals of community and family, and above all, the undermining of gender roles. Conservative rhetoric did a wonderful job of promising to restore traditional manliness by shoring up the family at home and reasserting American strength abroad.
Second, the real beneficiaries of Carter's 1976 victory turned out to be the Republicans, who managed to avoid blame for the problems of the late '70s.
And as in earlier eras of chaos and confusion, people would likely turn to those religious institutions that seem to offer hope and solidity. Quite possibly, we would be set for a new era of religious-based conservatism, in which the politics of military and moral reconstruction coincided neatly.
In 2008, the religious right may appear to be dying, but it could just be going into hibernation.