Michael Wolraich makes some interesting points in his article, Why evangelicals love Santorum, hated JFK. Wolraich notes that the political collaboration between evangelicals and Catholics began in the late 1970’s. Jerry Falwell said they found common ground in their opposition to abortion, but Paul Weyrich remembered differently. In Wolraich’s words, “What actually brought Catholics and evangelicals together was a common enemy.” That enemy was sometimes known as “secular humanism,” sometimes as “political correctness,” or in Rick Santorum’s words, “cultural liberalism.”
In previous commentary, I noted how George Lakoff talks of how conservatism requires competition, and how Corey Robin notes that conservatism is defined by its reaction to something. It would appear that Paul Weyrich understood this, or it was a part of his own makeup, and succeeded in uniting conservatism not around causes, but against other groups of people who represented something conservatives disliked and feared.
Wolraich notes that most Protestants at the time regarded abortion as a “Catholic issue.” A Wikipedia article on Opposition to the legalization of abortion, makes a similar point, noting that before 1980, the Southern Baptist Convention “officially advocated for loosening of abortion restrictions.” A rallying around pro-life beliefs seems to be a result of conservative activism, rather than a cause.
Paul Weyrich’s success, and perhaps much other conservative success, seems to come in rallying conservatives less around issues, and more around choosing enemies. Maybe that’s why it’s called a culture war.