Before the election took over my life and this blog, I periodically used this space to meditate on the nature of the American Political spectrum. Chris Bowers over at MyDD gives me a good opening to continue that train of thought by taking a shot a defining what constitutes conservativism in the new century. Bowers uses the simple logic of noting that 84% of those people who identify as conservatives voted for George Bush, therefore they must feel that his policies qualify as "conservative." On that basis, "Real conservatives are bloodthirsty, reckless with our tax money, and want to tell you how to live your life. They are intolerant, warmongering and irresponsible."
- Real conservatives value fiscal insolvency, including irresponsible tax cuts, corporate giveaways, massive spending increases, huge undisclosed pork-barrel spending projects hammered out during congressional conference, rather than actual budget legislation on the Congressional floor that is open to the public and recorded in the public record. You know that conservatives value these things, because these are the things the vast majority of self-proclaimed conservatives do.
- Real conservatives do not value your personal liberties. They like disenfranchising voters, challenging voters, and making it more difficult to vote. They like it when the government is in your bedroom. They want to be able to spy on your personal files. They do not respect your right to privacy. They like to tell you who you can and cannot love, and what you can and cannot do to your own body. You know these are conservative values, because conservatives regularly pass laws of this nature.
- Real conservatives like to recklessly use the military They love war, and regularly resort to it as one of their first choices. They have no respect for the lives their policies destroy, as long as they have more bases overseas. They derive their values from violence, and detest peace. They will come up with any excuse possible, and cynically invent several more, to use force whenever possible, wherever possible. You know these are conservative values, because these are the actions conservatives take.
Certainly, no one who calls themselves a conservative is going to admit that this is their program, even though this is the clear result of their program. I'm not sure how those self-identified conservatives reconcile the difference. Massive corruption on their side? gross incompetence?
Okay, I'm kidding. We do know how they reconcile it. Anything that goes wrong in this world is the fault of the Clintons, Hollywood, Eastern liberal elites, and Islamofascists. Bowers should have added "passing the buck" to his list, because twenty-first century conservatives never take responsibility for anything they do.
Whether or not he meant it facetiously, I think Bowers is on to something here, but I disagree with his framing. For the past forty years, the Republican Party and conservativism in general have been under assault by a diverse group of radicals bent on making the party their tool. They have succeeded and are now consolidating their hold on the party and purging the last few moderates. This is the meaning of Arlen Spector's recent submission to party discipline. The people now in control of the party are a minority within the party.
Many people who vote Republican formed their attachment to an earlier version of the party. They continue to vote for it out of habit or out of an inability to violate years of practice by voting for a Democrat. A well publicized poll for the non-partisan Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) released last month showed that most Bush supporters not only were unaware of their candidate's positions, but actually attributed positions to him that were the opposite of his true positions. These voters still think of the party as a fiscally responsible, laissez-faire in economic regulation, a friend of the small businessman, libertarian in social matters, and a bit isolationist in foreign affairs. The party never exactly lived up this description, but it has never been as far from it as it is now.
Many politicians who run and hold office as Republicans are also more attuned to the older party. But these office holders are not the ones running the party or setting its agenda.
The current Republican Party is dominated by the agendas of the religious far right, neo-conservative intellectuals, and a few large industries, particularly energy, pharmaceuticals, resource extraction, and insurance. Lacking a generally accepted collective noun for them, I’ve begun calling them the New Republicans. Calling the enemy simply conservative or Republican without some kind of modifier unfairly alienates those conservatives and Republicans who could be won over to our side or engaged as allies in the fight. Merely calling them any of the names already in circulation—Religious Right, Neo-cons, or corporate lackeys—misleads and minimizes the size of the task we’ve taken on in fighting them.
By calling them simply conservative, without a modifier, Bowers obscures the point that this coalition is something new. It's goals are not the same as those who in the past called themselves conservative. One of our tasks in the left side information machine will be to expose the real goals of New Republicans to the majority of Americans who whould not support those goals if they clearly understood them.