Tuesday, March 24, 2015

American Fissures: Conservatism Is at War with Itself

Why is conservation at odds with conservatism? Hint: Drill, baby, drill...

I've always wondered why conservatism was at war with its own core values, but I'm beginning to understand: Conservatism has been hijacked by moneyed and religious forces, as well as the defense establishment. Recall the irony that it was Republican president and war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower that warned against a "military-industrial complex." And yet, as business interests began to dominate the Republican Party, ostensibly the conservatives' home, business and its libertarian underpinnings have overwhelmed conservatism's connection to collective action: The individual must be at war with his/her community. Don't act for mutual benefit! Again, remember that it was Eisenhower who drove the development of our national interstate-highway system and Republican Teddy Roosevelt, also a war hero, who pressed for the establishment of national parks to protect our wilderness areas.

(There's a parallel on the left. Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council leanings -- and Tony Blair's rebranding of "New Labour" -- signaled Wall Street and London's equivalent, The City, that financial interests would be safe from collectivist onslaughts. But that's another, albeit worthy, story.)

Moderate -- or centrist -- conservatism is the endangered species these days as the extremism of the Tea Party overwhelmed the hitherto establishment hold on the Republican base. It's this dynamic, combined with the prior religious turn of the GOP, driven by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, and Tony Perkins' Family Research Council, that has shaped American conservatism as an authoritarian force.

There's a deep irony, or disconnect, at play here. Religion, especially Christianity, should be a communitarian force that would drive communitarian action. Members of a church would work together to spread Christian values. Unfortunately, its the authoritarian nature of religion -- God the Father as the model -- that leads it to deprive individuals of their rights. If there is a Republican war on women, for example, it's because the authoritarian father figure dictates that women do their husband's bidding, giving into sex, avoiding birth control and abortion, and having more Christian babies.

Men, then, are free to demand that their women aren't free. Is this modern conservatism? Yes, to a great extent, in the current American version. If you don't agree, consider the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, in which five Christian white men decided that the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, under the U.S. Constitution, had the authority to dictate that its employees not receive birth control under its provided insurance. Is this not authoritarians dictating reproductive policy, supported by U.S. law? And isn't this driven by American conservatism?

This authoritarian streak extends to both child-rearing and education. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming all allow corporal punishment -- the legalized beating of children. How many are red states? All, with the exception of purple Colorado, which is shaped by its mountain-west culture.

Yes, today's conservative is likely -- at least more likely -- to demand sex and babies from his woman, and then beat the children that result. Is it any wonder that it's the red states that are bolting from the Common Core standards, with its emphasis on critical thinking and the questioning of authority?

I wonder if William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and even Ronald Reagan would have welcomed this turn of events with the conservatism they espoused. Is it any wonder that the GOP's only viable candidate that can appeal to moderates, Jeb Bush, is in danger of being accused of not being conservative enough?

In the coming GOP 2016 primary season, open warfare is likely to break out, and the deep fissures in the GOP and its conservative base will be on open display. It should be interesting. And bruising.

As an American liberal, I find all of this deeply disturbing and depressing, not simply because I think it's harmful to America but also because my own political party, the Democrats, have become, in recent years, a centrist party. Oh, for the days of FDR, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter (okay, Clinton was all right). No wonder liberals long for a world in which an Elizabeth Warren or a Bernie Sanders could run, and win.

Warren is NOT a conservative and IS a at war with the centrist Democratic Party. Good.

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