As many of us have predicted, the Republican presidential candidates are in a knock-down, drag-out battle to claim the mantle of 'the most conservative ever'. McCain, indeed, is labeled by the other candidates as a 'liberal', the pinnacle of epithets. 'Pedophile' would not be a more derogatory, insulting term. You might as well call him a 'Satanist who bites the heads off of blastocysts' and get it over with.
Conservatives revere and revel in the label 'conservative' in a way that liberals ceased to do in the sixties, when conservatives began blaming liberalism for every evil under the sun. Before that, the majority of Americans self-identified as liberals; liberalism represented the things in society that Americans valued - equality, diversity, making sure that everyone had a chance at the "American Dream". The economic programs that gave us a middle class - strong unions, the GI Bill, Social Security, Medicare - are liberal programs. Liberals believe that you can't sacrifice people so that corporations can grow fat. Liberals know that the 'trickle down theory' is, as Dubya's father once rightly said, 'voodoo economics', and that the only boats that a 'rising tide lifts' are yachts. Liberals believe that we as a nation have a responsibility, not for, but to all of our citizens (there's a difference) and that government is not the enemy, but 'We the People'. It's not 'them', it's 'us'. But when conservatives, backed by the limitless coffers of Big Business Republican think-tanks who saw their vision of conservative financial and social dominance slipping away, decided to attack liberalism as the symbol of all that's wrong with America, liberals did not challenge this assertion and it became part of the national narrative without liberals quite knowing what happened.
So, while statistics show that the economy does better under Democratic leadership and worse under Republican leadership, conservatives brag about belonging to the party of 'fiscal responsibility.' While Republicans accuse Democrats of being 'soft on terror', their party and their President have increased and encouraged terrorism by attacking and occupying a sovereign nation without the resources to defend themselves, and created terrorism where there was none before. While Republicans consider themselves to be the party of Morality and accuse Democrats of having no values, in the most egregious examples of 'do as I say, not as I do', the overwhelming majority of sex and corruption scandals have involved Republicans, not Democrats. The party that supposedly believes in 'small government' inevitably bloats it to unprecedented numbers. The party that harps upon Personal Responsibility seems congenitally incapable of accepting responsibility for its failings, always blaming them on others.
Please note that I am not giving Dems a free pass here - no one can be in politics and keep their hands perfectly clean - no one. It's the way the system is set up. But the ones who claim to be more moral than everyone else because of their high religious principles and who are constantly pointing their fingers at others seem to be the ones that are doing every immoral thing they condemn others for.
And these are the people who are proudly claiming the mantle of conservatism.
For those conservatives who have reluctantly admitted that the Bush Administrtion has been, shall we say, less than stellar - is the reason for George W.'s failure as President simply that he is not conservative enough? Is that his problem? For the true believers, conservatism never fails - it is only failed.
Somehow, with a Republican president, complete Republican control of Congress, and a majority of conservative Supreme Court justices - as well as a religious right that has been calling the shots in Washington for almost eight years - conservatism has not been given a real chance!
Please pardon me if I'm not hopping on that particular bandwagon. Yes, the party with absolute control of everything, that left Democrats completely shut out and voiceless for six years and when they got the tiniest sliver of a majority back, filibusters them into irrelevance without a murmur of dissent - that party has not had a fair shot at giving conservatism a chance.
I beg to differ, comrades.
We have had the implementation of unfettered conservatism for the past twenty-five years. In my upcoming book the Price of Right I've set myself the task to make clear why it is not just George W. Bush that is the problem - it is the ideology of conservatism itself.
Bush is the symptom; conservatism is the disease.
Even as liberals debate conservatives, we cede them the ‘rightness’ of their basic tenets, which I think is a mistake. I hope to show that conservatism – both social and economic – is detrimental to a democratic society. By ‘conservatism’ I do not mean prudence and moderation - which is what many people take conservatism to mean – but the political and social meaning which includes the myth of the ‘free market’, the elimination of as much regulation and taxes as can be gotten away with, the myth that privatization is the best way to deal with society’s needs, and that government is in itself a bad thing. The (usually) unspoken corollary to this is the ‘Conservative Golden Rule’ – he who has the gold makes the rules. In other words, the people with money and power are the best and most deserving – simply because they have the money and power! This is a strongly-held belief of many people, but it is not acceptable to say in so many words, so there are many euphemisms to describe it - ‘meritocracy’, ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’, ‘reverse discrimination’, and so on. Conservatism’s message is connected to some very powerful societal myths that resonate deeply in the subconscious mind, making it easier to believe in the myths than the facts.
But America as a nation was built on liberal and progressive values, rather than conservative ones. If by ‘conservative’ you mean the status quo – keeping things the way they are, rather than changing, then conservatives would be the Royalists and liberals would be the Revolutionaries. The United States of America was not founded by people who did as they were told by the authority in power – in this case George III, who considered his power directly God-given. In fact, every significant advance in this country for the betterment of its people – freedom for slaves, women’s rights, child-labor laws, civil rights, the American 20th-century middle class itself – came about as a result of liberal ideals and policies.
For much of the 20th century after World War II, American values were liberal values. The New Deal gave us the American Dream – a thriving middle class. But the paradigm began shifting in the sixties, when the plan to rebuild conservatism intersected with the disappointment of Vietnam, which put a damper on what it meant to be liberal. Powerful changes were beginning, but they were under the radar of American consciousness.
We began feeling the rumbles of this seismic shift in the late seventies, when Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority injected politics into religion, ushering in the so-called “Reagan Revolution”. The admixture of moral righteousness with conservative economic tenets begat a Republican mindset that allowed for little or no consideration of other points of view. With this new majority, conservatives could afford to ignore the bipartisanship which would normally force it to mitigate or dilute its objectives. The liberal view became, not just incorrect, but morally flawed as well in the eyes of this new political meld, the Christian conservatives. Each group had its own reasons for criticizing liberalism before, but, fused together as a political unit, the two groups reinforced each other’s beliefs synergistically. Traditional liberal values such as tolerance, diversity, empathy and compassion became evils to be rooted out instead of solutions to the ills of society.
This set of 'values' insists that "Government is the enemy and Big Business is your friend." They believe, incredibly, that tax cuts plus borrowing and spending equal prosperity! The sad truth is that our government (and the rest of the world) is run, not by Democrats, or even Republicans, but by multinational corporations. These corporations want Republicans in power because they fit the most easily into the authoritarian nature of conservatism, and are thus much easier to bend to their will.
I don't believe that most conservatives (our family and friends, many of whom are affected as adversely as the rest of us by unregulated, laissez-faire capitalism) understand what their policies really mean in terms of the economy, the so-called "War on Terror", jobs, education, health care, the deficit, civil liberties, and our relationships with the rest of the world. But, as most people know by now, the Republicans have been positioning themselves for this complete takeover of government for forty years. It has been carefully planned and massively funded. And the way they have captured the hearts and minds of the American fiscal and religious conservatives was not an accident. It has been done by playing into the deepest wants, needs, and fears of people who are the most comfortable with authoritarian structure. It has been done systematically through the use of language and framing, and using the same subliminal techniques that advertisers use when they want you to choose their product over a competitor's; not because of inherent differences between the products, but by applying motivational 'triggers' which have nothing to do with the product itself. That's where the media comes in, The average American, who works harder and longer for less and less, sits down for an hour, exhausted, in front of the television set and takes it on faith that what he or she is seeing on the news is true. And when the narrative is skewed to promote the ideas that those in power wish to have the public believe, most people are not in a position to judge how much is true and how much is spin. The line between 'news' and 'commentary' has been completely blurred to boost advertising revenue, and the American people - you and I - are paying the price.
George W. Bush certainly is the worst president in American history, but he could not have achieved that distinction without the conservative philosophy that says "What's good for business is good for America." It is conservatism that has created the monster that is George W. Bush, not the other way around.
I believe it is time for liberals to call themselves liberals, and be proud of being liberal. It is time to stop ceding conservatives the moral high ground and start pointing out where conservatism has had a direct and destructive effect on the United States and the rest of the world.
Conservatism is inherently anti-democratic. Conservatives do not believe that all men (and women) are created equal. Conservatives believe that some people are more equal, more deserving, more entitled than others, and it's the fault of the 'others' if they are shut out.
Folks, the principles that our nation was founded on are the exact principles that conservatives oppose! We as liberals need to begin pointing that out. Nothing would make me happier than to see a Democratic candidate boast about what a liberal he or she was. That would give me hope for our country.
Remember - Bush is only the symptom - conservatism is the disease. Let's work togther for a cure.