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The theme song of the radical right

As conservatives gained power and confidence in the decades after Barry Goldwater’s defeat, each of the three political tributaries whose convergence fueled the movement—anticommunism, antitaxation, and the Religious Right—could claim the “Battle Hymn” as a call to arms. The song resonated with the Manichaean proclivities of cold warriors, who regarded America’s confrontation with the Soviet Union as an ultimate battle, waged in the shadows of nuclear brinksmanship. Even as it addressed contemporary anxieties, the song also conjured up an idyllic American past, one in which traditional values thrived, untroubled by an intrusive federal bureaucracy. Finally, the hymn spoke to the growing electoral clout of evangelical Christians, who had shed the political alienation encouraged by fundamentalism and begun to stride unabashedly into the political arena; it became, for instance, a staple at anti-abortion rallies and was frequently played at protests against the government’s banning of prayer in public schools.

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