A follow-up on last week’s repost (originally from April 06, 2005)…
I’ve been wavering in how to call the Right Wing. When I say “conservatives” I get attacked for equating conservatism with GOP (with implication that conservatism is good but GOP is not conservative any more). When I call them Regressives, I am told I miss the point, because they should be described as conservatives. Should I just call them Republicans? Not damning enough. People, make up your minds!
What follows is a mix of stuff I have already written before on this blog (and other blogs, most recently Pharyngula), but I am too tired right now to find URLs and post links, so just look around, dig through Archives, etc.
And, I am anabashedly Lakoffian, so I will say here that conservatism is based on outmoded and wrong ideas about human nature, human behavior, human mental and emotional development, and erroneous beliefs about behaviors of complex systems (including economies) and the nature of the way the World works. All policy positions stem from this erroneous understanding of the world. They are just plainly WRONG. On. Everything.
The problem with the current GOP is that it is, finally, purely conservative – because they can afford it now that they are in power. Thirty years ago, GOP was half-liberal. The liberal half of their platform is what people liked about it: free market economy encouragnin g s mall and mid-sized businesses (instead of top-down control by megacompanies), individual freedom (instead of snooping on Americans via Patriot Act), non-interventionism in foreign affairs (instead of bombing everyone we do not like – Clinton is conser vati ve on this point with his illegal war on Serbia), small government (instead of bloated military, FBI, police, prisons, ridiculous “war on drugs”, faith-based initiatives, and internal spies), balanced budgets (see budgets numbers for the past severa l Pre sidents: Republicans build deficits, Democrats make surpluses), individual responsibility and individual enterpreneurship (instead of monopolies), etc.
Yet it is these LIBERAL planks of the past GOP that people, erroneously, believe are conservative due to historical contingency that GOP was even then nominally a conservative party. Thus, a huge number of Americans who call themselves conservative and vote GOP, are essentially liberal – just ask them to define conservatism and they will trot out some of the above-listed LIBERAL positions and call them conservative.
Conservatism is not about conserving anything except privilege of the few. Everything else are side-dishes for selling to the masses. If you are anti-monarchy, you should automatically be a Liberal, a Democrat and a Progressive, as the GOP is treating GWB at least as a King, perhaps an Emperor, or perhaps they will try to make him the new Pope!
“Big Government Liberals” is a GOP talking point. Look at the data: government bloats under GOP and shrinks under Democrats with clockwork precision.
What is Government? Conservatives like, and fully fund, and bloat, governmental programs that are aggressive and punitive, i.e., those that are involved in forcing a dominance hierarchy of some people over other people. Examples are the military, CIA, FBI, police and prisons.
Liberals like, and want to fully fund, governmental programs that ensure proper and efficient operation of the society, e.g., programs that work in helping poor people join the middle class, and help middle-class people start businesses and get rich, also programs that help temporarily or permanently downtrodden or disabled, as well as programs that take care of the environment, or protect the weak against the powerful. Thus, they like public schools and universities, universal health care, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.
Liberals do not believe the idiotic myth that poor are poor due to laziness or stupidity. The greatest predictor of financial status is one’s parents’ financial status – something one has no control of, and something that is very difficult to overcome in a hierachical society. Liberals want to help you get a leg up. American Dream? A Liberal Dream.
Now add up the money and you will see why GOP busts the budget and Dems make surpluses. The aggressive/punitive programs conservatives like so much are SOOOOO MUCH more expensive than helping/jumpstarting/conserving programs favored by Liberals.
And postmodernism/deconstructionism, although historically evolved out of liberal ideas, is essentially conservative, as you can see from “fair and balanced” media, “equal time” for ID Creationism, call for “balance in academia” and other ways to put on even keel things that are NOT equal, e.g., empiricism vs. superstition.
Yes, postmodernism/deconstructionism originited in liberalism, but has gone so far away from the liberal core, th at it is mainly – no, solely – liberals who have to attack them: last I heard Sokal is not a GOP operative. Conservatives love to use them as “liberal” strawmen, but it is liberals who actually had to fight them in academia.
There are other far-out outgrowths of liberalism that are so removed from the core, that they do not resemble anything liberal any more. For instance, animal rightists are just as nutty and emotion-driven, and un-empirical, and as bad as OB-GYN killers and it is the “liberal” scienti sts wh o have to fight against them (including animal welfare organizations and biomedical researchers) – the conservatives just point at them and say “Look – those are liberals!”.
Similarly, there is a big difference between environmetalists who use ec ology a s a tool, and “tree-huggers” who use emotions as a tool: the former are liberal, the latter are “liberal”. GOP spinmeisters are great at painting all liberals as being as crazy as the extreme nuts that have given liberalism a bad name due to some histor ical – and no other – connections to liberalism.
If you were young and first waking up to politics in 1940s or 50s or 60s or 70s, what did you see? Two parties: GOP and Democrats. The former is officially conservative, the latter is officially liberal. Being young and naive, you incorporated the simplistic and erroneous notion that EVERY position of the GOP is conservative and that EVERY position of the Democratic Party is liberal. The media was not much better at the time than it is now, so the nuance ne ver entered the conversation.
At the time, actually, neither party was ideologically pure. Each did polling and each designed their platforms in a way that combined some conservative and some liberal positions.
The GOP hurt itself with some p ortions of the electorate (but not among white Protestant femiphobic males) by taking a number of conservative positions on social issues: they were consistently against desegregation, civil rights, woman’s rights, environmental protection, etc. On the o ther hand, the GOP helped itself by appropriating a number of popular LIBERAL positions in the economic sphere: equality of opportunity, small government, fiscal responsibility, free market, etc.
In general, during that time, the Democrats had a somewhat more internally consistent platform. As such, their message was more powerful (as it did not lead to much cognitive dissonance with people). That is why, as a whole, they had more electoral successes. At the same time, GOP had a wild mix of ideological stance that are NOT logically (or emotionally) consistent. Thus, for them, each person had to cherry-pick issue-by-issue what (s)he liked and disliked about the GOP.
Fast-forward to today. The situation is reverse. DLC has managed to insert a lot of conservative ideas into the Democratic platform. It is thus a mish-mash of internally incoherent positions. People have to pick issue-by-issue.
On the other hand, since about 1965 slowly, and since 1980 faster, GOP has started removing liberal elements and replacing them with conservative elements. Thus, they now present a coherent ideological “whole”. Unfortunately, that ideology has been out-of-date by at least a century, perhaps three. It is out-of-date because it is a) authoritarian/hierarchical which cur rent society has rejected as unfair, and b) based on bad science about human nature and the nature of the world (folk behaviorism; social Darwinism; and Christianity as a source of ethics).
Only about a third of the country (mainly white Protestant femi phobic males) are truly, internally, emotionally conservative (raised in a Strict Father environment, to use Lakoffian terms).
But many, many more are still operating with the 1970s ideas what GOP is all about. Those people call themselves conservative and vote GOP. Some aspects of their psyche responds to the conservative message (e.g., they may feel queazy about gays or abortion, or project a macho image to cover for male insequirities they developed as women asserted themselves an d gained equality over the past century or so).
Masterful use of language keeps these people in the GOP fold as it reassures them that the GOP platform is, on economic points, still the same as it was thirty years ago. They count on people not doing their homework and c hecking what is really contained in all those nicely-named bills (“Clear Skies”, “No Child Left Behind”?!@#$%%%^) they keep passing. FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh are parts of that strategy.
What is Liberalism? Above I made a (incomplete, for sure) list of pairs of positions: liberal positions followed by (in parentheses) the matching conservative positions, so you can probably get the answer “what is liberal” from there. Its essence is basic fairness and equality of humans, equality of opportunity in th e free market, sense of community that is built if all individuals exhibit individual responsibility. In short, it is anti-hierarchical. It is based on emergent properties of complex systems: order arises out of interactions between i ndividuals, not out of any single individual (or small group) controlling the system by controlling all other individuals’ activities. It is bottom-up organization as opposed to conservative top-down organization.
The Stalinistic regimes from the early 20th century were NOT liberal. They were top-down hierarchical control systems. That is why they are essentially conservative. That is why they failed: they were based, like all conservative ideologies, on wrong assumptions about human nature and behavior.
What is happening with the Democratic party today is a bottom-up movement to get rid of conservative elements of the platform and replace them with liberal equivalents, thus forming an internally coherent liberal “whole” that will appeal to 21st century citizens, i.e., to those 60-80% who are not stuck in 17th century, or stuck with their own personal male anxiety.
That is why Left blogosphere despises people like Lieberman, and is very active in telling their representatives they will not tolerate any more Republican-lite behavior, as it leads to electoral defeats. That is why Dean became the chairman of DNC (and locally, too, as state chairs get filled with new Progressives). The result, in a few years, should be a coherent liberal message. People will KNOW what Democrats stand for and EVERYTHING Democrats stand for will be appealing: fairness, equality of opportunity, fiscal responisibility, individual responsibility, non-adventurism in foreign affairs, etc.
Another way to put it: Many people erroneously believe that GOP used to be conservative, but is not any more. Reverse is the case: GOP used to be a mix-and-match of positions, but is fully conservative today.
Democratic Party used to be quite liberal (although never purely) before, and is LESS liberal today, with the new Progressives trying to get it to become more liberal again.
If you realize that GOP has changed – and it certainly did not become more liberal – you may want to call the “new” ideology something new, e.g., reactionary, neo-conservative, authoritarian, regressive, etc. You have never seen this kind of ideology (except in 1930s Italy and Germany – but fascism is such a loaded word), so you do not know how to call it. This is because, until now, you have never seen the true face of conservatism. Look at the platform, rhetoric, tactics and legislative offerings of the current GOP: THAT is pure conservatism.
If you, erroneously, see ideology as a continuum on a line, you can say that thirty years ago Democrats were somewhat Left of Center (having somewhat more liberal than conservative elements), while GOP was somewhat Right of Center (having more conservative than liberal elements). What has happened in the meantime is that GOP has moved Right towards PURE Conservatism, while the Dems have also moved Right of Center under Clinton by adopting several conservative planks.
Extreme positions have greater cognitive consonance with people’s emotions. Having a pure ideology makes it easier to sell. No mixed messages.
Progressives are trying to push Democratic Party towards a PURE liberal position in order to sell it easier.
But there is a key difference: pure liberalism is supported by empirical evidence of how the world works, as well as by empirical evidence of WHAT works in the real world.
Pure conservatism is not supported by empirical data. It is based on emotionally charged beliefs about the way world works. And it has been refuted by the real world every time some of it was tried in the real world – results were alway s economic disaster (see post-communist countries advised by the Harvard, Chicago and Rand economists) and great human suffering. For instance, see USA circa 2005.
Thus, moving to the Right is a bad idea. Moving to the Left is a good idea. That is the direction the world has been going for several centuries now, resulting in greater equality, greater prosperity, lesser control by the government, and greater efficiency of the community. It should continue to go in that direction.
So, how should we call them? Wingnuts??