I was challenged to defend my view that American conservatives are hypocrites, especially on matters of government and freedom. I think is is more challenging to see it any other way so I am up to the challenge.
This is an easy argument to defend, unless you include the strange Tea Party fringe and libertarians, which really are not GOP-style conservatives at all. (Maybe a few thoughts on that later. ) Overall, however, it is almost a value neutral position to defend. What conservatives claim to value is not consistent with the policies and legislation they promote.
By definition conservatives reject and resist change. Moreover, as the Republican Party continues to devolve and come apart, American conservatism is less a politics of preservation and more a politics of regression. The party is out to undo the good work of generations. That’s destructive and that’s not good.
So the simplest defense of my view might say something about the (very real) anti-freedom elements of conservative thought and the contradictions of their so-called freedom and individual rights. (This is where GOP conservatism and libertarians don’t meet up, by the way.)
But I think criticism of today’s conservatism is more fundamental than this. If conservatives really followed their beliefs about self-sufficiency, responsibility, and freedom, would why would they see change as a threat and fight so passionately against it?
That’s the key. Change is a threat. Never mind the evidence to the contrary, progressive policy — i.e., change — has boosted equality, freedom and growth in this country while conservative policy has stalled it…or worse.
Whether you’re the very fortunate Charles and David Koch — whose father Fred Koch made his fortune catering to the likes of Joseph Stalin — or a struggling working class conservative, change is a threat because it threatens the social and economic structures that have historically favored — or appear to favor — your prospects for success.
Rather than freedom and competition, therefore, conservatism has evolved into a system protection and exclusion.
It hasn’t always been this way. Change for the sake of change is not necessarily good. Conservatism once had a quality of sober pragmatism that it lacks today. The American virtues of good citizenship, community, and civic pride are giving way to cults of special interests. This certainly has always been true to some degree and it exists on the left side of the political spectrum, but it is only from the right — especially the far right — where we find a concerted effort to upset the scales of balance and fairness in this country.
There’s a reason why most outsiders do not embrace conservative politics. It is very simple. The “big tent” doesn’t allow certain ideas. It excludes progress and change. Sure, you have the occasional Herman Cain and Bobby Jindal in the Republican Party. You even have many Joe the Plumbers and the Log Cabin Republicans. But actions — and policy — drown out the contradictory rhetoric.
Turn on your radio, read the paper, watch the political ads…or just listen to your Republican politicians. There are no secrets here.
Progress, ideas, and change are the values that propel growth and create opportunity for those who have been excluded in the past. Change threatens the structural and ideological advantages that historical favored established class and ethnic groups in the United States. It is that simple.
Freedom is great when you are given the rights and power to enjoy it otherwise talk of freedom is empty rhetoric. Self-sufficiency is great, too, if you are not enslaved to a system that protects gains and advantages for those who have already made it whether that’s culturally, historically, economically, or all of above.
I would argue that conservatives fear the competition. They fear change. And they have this fear because it challenges a system that has protected the class which controls conservative discourse. Is that surprising? To my way of seeing things, this is as plain as the nose on your face.
When we look at it this way, it is easy to understand conservatives. They’re followers. Many, especially those constantly conned into voting against their best interests, are poorly informed. But those with the most to gain and the most to protect, should know better. The ruling class within the conservative movement should have the facts, education, and sophistication to know what they are doing. It is looking more and more like class warfare. A battle to save and codify a struggling status quo that benefits a minority at the expense of the rest.
There is a tacky nouveau quality about the “salt of the earth” independence hailed as populism in conservative ranks, too. For many, the great expansion of the middle class — the core of conservatism in preceding generations — depends on the very structures and systems that today’s conservatives vilify. So for many this complicity threatens the very foundations that put them in the conservative middle class in the first place. It is a dangerous sort of naivete.
When conservatives embrace policy and legislation that actually does enhance freedom, rights, and opportunity for all, then I think we have something positive to talk about. As it is today, the Republican Party and its splinter groups fight harder to repeal law that has fostered the values they claim as their own than defend and protect those values.
That’s the hypocrisy.
(Sorry…drafts of this keep popping up on A Little Tour. I rarely write, save, and edit drafts — I usually write and post, as you can probably tell — so I think now I close this post before publishing my draft gets published anyway. I just caught on.)
- Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie (salon.com)
- Fed-Up Voters Meet The Enemy and it is … Them? (npr.org)
- In a World Without Austerity (americanprogress.org)
- Conservatism in America (connecticutreview.wordpress.com)
- A People’s History of Koch Industries (dirtandseeds.com)
- Paul Krugman: Severe Conservative Syndrome (economistsview.typepad.com)