freedom forum bookstores and mid-morning coffee meetings
September 27, 2019 4:49 AM   Subscribe

Hello, Americans! I am translating a book and I've just run into a reference I just don't get. I really hope one of you can enlighten me.

It's about the rise of the American right:

Its rise was in part facilitated by the decline of confidence in liberal government that reached its nadir with Carter’s ill-fated problems of American ‘malaise’ brought on by the rising cost of oil. But with the steady gathering of Ronald Reagan’s New America movement – to whom middle-class suburbanites, with their ‘freedom forum’ bookstores and their mid-morning coffee meetings in Orange County tract homes, contributed substantially – perhaps it just seemed like a case of all good things come to those who wait.

- First of all, I don't know what the reference to Reagan's New America is. It's not the think tank, since that was formed in 1999.
- Second, I'm unsure about the ‘freedom forum’ bookstores. Again, I found out about the Freedom Forum, but it was only founded in 1991, after Reagan.
- Lastly, the mid-morning coffee meetings in Orange County tract homes. Is this a cliche about middle class people? That they meet and have coffee in a cookie cutter house in Orange County? There are like 8 Orange Counties in the US. Which one exactly contained the Reagan voters?

It's not really vital for my translation that I know what the writer is referring to, but I kinda like to know what I'm writing down. Especially as it sounds so weirdly vitriolic compared to the rest of the text.
posted by Skyanth to Society & Culture (13 answers total)
It’s referring to Orange County, California.
posted by jon1270 at 4:54 AM on September 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

- First of all, I don't know what the reference to Reagan's New America is

I don't recall Reagan using such a phrase. This is probably a reference to the famous "Morning In America" ads from his 1984 re-relection campaign.
posted by thelonius at 5:10 AM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yeah it’s almost definitely Orange County CA. “Orange County” unqualified usually refers to California, Ronald Reagan was a CA politician, and Orange County is also famously full of upper-middle-class conservatives.

I can find some references to a network of conservative bookstores in Southern California (including Orange County), one of which is even called the “Freedom Forum Bookstore”. It probably refers to these although I don’t think they are widely known.
posted by vogon_poet at 5:20 AM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

A search just turned up a Google Books preview of Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right by Michelle M. Nickerson. It includes a discussion of conservative bookstores around greater Los Angeles in the 1960's, including some explicitly called "Freedom Forum."
posted by jon1270 at 5:23 AM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

FWIW that book includes a map of conservative 1960's LA-area bookstores including "Freedom Forum" stores in Glendale, Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, Anaheim, Fullerton and Whittier, with four of those six in Orange County. It also lists 30 other conservative bookstores in the region at the time.
posted by jon1270 at 5:29 AM on September 27, 2019

The Freedom Forum that was founded in 1991 is distinct from the 'Freedom Forums' that were hosted by John-Birch-linked groups starting in the '60s (what vogon poet and jon1270 refer to)--here's an NYT story about a similar event from 1973 that featured Spiro Agnew, and a speech that Revilo P. Oliver gave at a Freedom Forum in Arkansas in 1963.
posted by box at 5:33 AM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Just as an extra contextual data point about the Orange County reference, Orange County, CA is a notoriously conservative enclave in otherwise stereotypically liberal California. (California actually has plenty of conservationism in rural and suburban areas, it's just that the urban areas are so massive, it gets cancelled out at the state and federal level). It epitomizes business-friendly protestant (but not hardcore holy roller fundamentalist) white middle and upper-middle class suburban conservatism. Orange County is currently trending more Democratic, which is extremely notable and was a big part of the "blue wave" of the 2018 Congressional elections.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:56 AM on September 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think this person is riffing on Lisa McGirr's classic Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right, which traces the origins of the US's late-20th century political realignment to mid-century Orange County, California.

Orange County, incidentally, is kind of ground zero for the US's early twenty-first-century realignment (hopefully, keep your fingers crossed), too. It used to be known for being home of right-wing white people, but it's become much more racially diverse, and as of this summer, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans there..
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:57 AM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Is this a cliche about middle class people?

Nope. It's virtually certain to be referring to any number of informal networks of Republican party activists in Orange County, CA. The most relevant book is Seth Masket's _No Middle Ground_.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:01 AM on September 27, 2019

Uh, conservatism not conservationism. Missed the edit window. And yes, the conservatism was more specifically of the "movement" variety. Activist, clubby, chamber of commerce-y, purposefully grooming and producing politicians to advance a very particular agenda.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:30 AM on September 27, 2019

"There are like 8 Orange Counties in the US. Which one exactly contained the Reagan voters?"

Well, all of them, most likely. Most of them are pretty conservative areas, and Reagan won by a landslide in 1984. But as a metonym, specifically a political one, it's Orange County, California, which, as others have pointed out, has a long history of Reaganite activism, and, crucially, the influence to actually affect change. I'm sure there were Reaganite Chamber of Commerce types in Orange County, Indiana, too, but nobody really cared what they thought. Orange County, California, though, has a history of national influence, especially on the right. See "Nixonland" by Rick Perlstein, for example.

"Is this a cliche about middle class people? That they meet and have coffee in a cookie cutter house in Orange County?"

No, it's specifically not about middle-class people. It's about affluent people who have the flexibility to meet in the middle of the day. Working people, even white collar ones, have to go to work during the "mid-morning". The people who are able to attend mid-morning meetings are people who control their own schedule (lawyers, larger business owners, etc.), and enough disposable income that skipping out of work to chitchat about politics won't have serious adverse consequences. Technically, yeah, they're upper middle class, but it's a very different middle class than what's typically meant by the term.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:31 AM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is fantastic guys, thank you all very much. Got a much better image of what the writer is saying here. Now for the next 300.000 words, heh.
posted by Skyanth at 8:38 AM on September 27, 2019

Hi! Just popped back to say that this is a rather oblique reference to the first two pages of book the writer refers to in the accompanying note.
posted by Skyanth at 4:33 AM on November 29, 2019

« Older Should I replace my airpod or get something...   |   UK employment standards: Am I owed pay for... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments