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“Suburban Warriors” by Lisa McGirr Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Oct 21st, 2020

Introduction

In the book Suburban Warriors, Lisa McGirr explores the history of the Republican Party after the 1960s. However, her attention falls on a particular place in the country which the author regards as one of the main centers of the reinvigorated Republican movement – Orange County, California.1 McGirr’s close examination of Orange County’s citizens allows her to formulate a thesis, which reveals Orange County to be the center of the new right-wing movement that would later become the primary influence on Republican activities and decisions.2

The researcher makes numerous observations about the US and the Republican Party in the 1960s and 1970s, although most of the arguments that the author applies county-wide are based on Orange County. Through her research on the grassroots movement of Orange County’s conservative Republicans, McGirr presents a succinct history of the reintroduced Republican Party and claims that these people’s interpretation of traditional values has become the party’s new foundation. The author uses a chronological order and incorporates direct quotes from witnesses and activists to create a strong and illustrative narrative.

The Origins of the New American Right, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002

McGirr describes situations in chronological order and examines different political events significant to the Republican Party and the country as a whole. Thus, the author chooses to focus on local and presidential elections as well as new and growing political movements and significant changes in the party’s beliefs. First of all, the author explains her focus on Orange County by recalling some notable events that made the region a center of right-wing activism.

McGirr starts describing this powerful movement by introducing Fred Schwarz’s School of Anti-Communism and arguing that the fear of “the communist agenda” was the primary driver behind people’s rising participation in politics3 The author uses primary sources and publications to reveal the attitude of contemporary witnesses towards this growing movement. According to the reporters, the perceived danger of communism was mixed with the American views on personal freedoms and liberalism, thus, promoting anti-communist schools of thought to the public’s attention.4

Here, the author’s discussion of these historical events remains mostly impartial, as she tries to abstain from voicing her opinions on these movements. McGirr focuses on the facts, making sure to use direct quotes and gather views not only from other researchers but also from modern and contemporary eyewitnesses and movement members. Her use of private letters and group publications allows her to show the unaltered opinions of the activists themselves without needing to create an artificial narrative based on speculation.

For instance, to explain the choice of Orange County as a subject of research, the author uses the words of a local who stated that “here, a sleeping giant is awakening. Men and women of all walks of life are pledging a fight to victory for God and America.”5 Thus, her use of such materials makes her argument more reliable and her narrative more logical.

Her chronological approach to the events also allows the audience to see the progression of the movement, its internal change, and external influence. The beginning of the grassroots movement started by activists as a response to the communist discourse expands, creating communities and groups devoted to spreading information about a better worldview more inherent to the American values.

Thus, the author uses an opposition of the ACLU and Orange County activists to show their primary concerns and understanding of communism and social systems.6 McGirr’s integration of personal statements and speeches into the text creates a vivid image of every event and allows one to access an insider’s perspective on the described issues. In the following chapters, the researcher focuses on the relationship between the right-wing movement from Orange County, the John Birch Society, and the rest of the Republican Party7 The attempts of Orange County’s residents to appoint their chosen candidates to represent their interests on the federal levels are also considered as the basis of the modern Republican outlook.

The author makes an interesting claim, stating that the current Republican set of values was reinvented in the 1960s not only as a response to the communist threat but also as a need to appeal to a broader audience. McGirr presents several arguments supporting this proposition. First of all, she addresses the highly active Orange County population and explains their focus on conservative views as an answer to a rapidly changing society.8

Second, the author provides examples of their local influence, which was signified by political campaigns that helped candidates to receive a majority vote in the region9 Then, McGirr explains the separation between the activists’ local success and their performance in other parts of the country, showing how other citizens regarded their views.10 It can be seen in the results of almost every election that preceded the conservatives’ success with Ronald Reagan. Finally, the election of Reagan to the office and his integration of the Birch Society’s initial values into the mainstream Republican ideology are used by the author to restate her point11

Conclusion

In her book, McGirr uses detailed research of a particular region to show how one place could have affected the country’s political scene. Her use of primary research and direct quotes from participants and witnesses allows her to build a reliable and trustworthy narrative. The chronological description of the events also supports her arguments and shows the progression of the movement to the audience, further strengthening the author’s argumentation.

Footnotes

  1. Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 54.
  2. Ibid., 56.
  3. Ibid., 57.
  4. Ibid., 54.
  5. Ibid., 63.
  6. Ibid., 56.
  7. Ibid., 111.
  8. Ibid., 58.
  9. Ibid., 119.
  10. Ibid., 128.
  11. Ibid., 270.
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