A Radical Proposition: Let's Take the Word "Conservative" From Them:
"What the hell happened?" a friend of the Rude Pundit asked last night over large deli sandwiches. "Can you explain what the hell happened to the South?" The friend was a born and bred Southerner, with deep roots in Tennessee, and he didn't understand what insanity had taken over to cause things to slip so seemingly far backwards in cultural, social, and political progress. The Rude Pundit dated it from the Reagan era, when the Gipper allowed the evangelical nutzoids a place at the table of power, as well as the number of Southern Democrats who switched to Republican in that awful time, the seeding period of our destruction. No matter the cause, we agreed that a strain of poisonous, revolutionary regression had occurred in too many places in the South.
Between thinking about that meat-rich conversation and the number of self-proclaimed conservatives who now are breaking with what is the mainstream of the political right in America, exemplified in Salon today by former Reaganite and National Review/Weekly Standard writer Michael Fumento, the Rude Pundit came to a conclusion: we on the left have become the conservatives. In the same way that liberalism post-Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill paved the way for 20th-century conservatism, perhaps we need to say that the expansion of government in the 1940s, the results of the upheavals of the 1960s and the gains of liberalism through the 1970s are what America is now. They are now under fire 40 or 50 years later and need to be, in the truly precise meaning of the word, conserved.
For what has been the thrust of the right since the 1980s, with more success in the last ten years, but to reverse everything going back to, at least, the New Deal (with some wishing to go back to some pre-Wilson bizarro land of handlebar mustaches and corsets). At some point, the way a government interacts with its citizens becomes the standard. Any attempt to alter that social contract is a radical action.
The simplest example: Social Security has been the law of the land since 1935. If you change its most basic component, shifting money paid into the program from the government to private accounts, you have radically changed something that has been part of Americans' lives. You can say that you are doing so for your own notions of good, but you cannot, in any way, claim that you are being conservative.
It's not just that conservatives aren't really conservative anymore. This is not merely a semantic battle. The word "conservative" is used as a cudgel against anyone vaguely moderate, let alone "progressive." And while the Rude Pundit believes that in many ways, it has been hijacked and transformed, really, when you look at the battles going on, it's we on the left who have become the conservatives.
How so? Let's toss a few logs on this fire:
1. The radical use of the filibuster by Republicans in the Senate, as opposed to its rare, important use previously..
2. The constant rolling back of longstanding reproductive rights for women, including abortion and contraception coverage.
3. Climate change denial, which is a radical attack on the quite conservative scientific community.
4. Budgets that deeply cut social programs that have been successful in keeping society from descending into chaos (like food stamps and education).
5. The shifting of many government programs and projects to the private, for-profit sector. See the prison system and the current movement towards ending public, government-run schools in any traditional sense, not to mention virtually any construction done by government.
6. The shifting of the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class and poor.
Hell, we could even say that on culture war things like gay marriage, it's we on the left who believe in the sanctity of the act of marriage, but let's not take away all our radical impulses.
What's conservative about what Republicans are trying to do, hell, have done to the nation?
So the radical proposition is this: Some politicians and media figures need to start calling Democratic efforts to just maintain the federal government's role in, you know, running the nation and assisting the less fortunate and supporting civil rights "conservative." When some Republican talks about privatizing Social Security or shutting down the Department of Education, Anderson Cooper should then turn to a Democrat and say, "What's the conservative position on this?"
It's not a small thing. Linguistic tricks can reframe debates in ways that draw new attention to what is truly radical and what is truly American.
(Note: Yes, many Democrats have been complicit along the way, especially in the area of privacy and judicial rights, but the heavier burden must be borne by Republicans.)