Historically, conservatives have always criticized "liberals" from their ideological biases, primarily religious and economic. Liberals were too pragmatic, they said, and were lacking ethics based upon religious conviction. It's a fair question: when did those godless pragmatists suddenly become ideologues? My cynical response is: godless pragmatists and empiricists suddenly become ideological when Santorum's focus group told him that ideological was a better word with which to tar his opponents. Certainly the term liberal is by now a golden-oldie epithet so overused as to be a self-inoculating cliche. It doesn't even seem to be working for Rush Limbaugh who has a worse problem than drugs. Ratings!
The radical right is running out of red flag words. Liberal was so worn out that Ann Coulter had to call her book Slander and then: Treason! Now she's reduced to attacking the widows of 911 victims. What's next? Either it is true that Rush and Ann have not gotten that memo or it is true that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. It'll be interesting to see what the focus groups come up with. Easy livings depend upon something good ...or should I say evil?
Dean also quotes former Reagan aide, Michael Deaver who wrote of conservatives that they favor:
...limited government, individual liberty, and the prospect of a strong America. —Michael Deaver, as quoted by John Dean, Conservatives Without ConscienceIf conservatives are claiming now to be empirical and pragmatic, how is Deaver's comment to be taken seriously? Verifiable facts disprove Deaver's thesis. Let's take Deaver's three points in turn.
- Conservatives believe in limited Government.
From 2000-2003, Washington had a rare opportunity to save the average household nearly $2,500 in taxes without reducing any federal services. After 50 years of steady increases, interest payments on the national debt declined by $247 billion from 2000 to 2003, thanks to the balanced budgets of the 1990s. Like the post-Cold War “peace dividend,” Congress and the president got a once-in-a-lifetime “interest dividend” of $247 billion.That was published in 2002. It's only gotten worse since then.
And they squandered every penny.
—Capitol Magazine, Washington's $782 Billion Spending Spree
Conservatives would also have us believe that it's liberal entitlements that account for the sorry state of the US budget. That's not so either. From the same conservative source:
Others finger big-ticket entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, claiming that they're growing uncontrollably. However, these program's budgets haven't grown any faster over the last four years than they did over the past two decades.
—Capitol Magazine, Washington's $782 Billion Spending Spree
When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the popular belief was that the size of government would be cut and that some of the regulatory excesses of the prior decade would be rolled back. However, the growth of the federal government continued throughout the Reagan presidency and no agencies were phased out.In fact, Reagan increased the federal bureaucracy by 68,000 workers even as he very nearly tripled the national debt.
—Regulation and the Reagan Era: Politics, Bureaucracy and the Public Interest, Roger E. Meiners, Bruce Yandle (Editors)
Reagan’s legacy is clear in the budget deficit neighborhood. He entered the White House in January 1981–after winning the presidency by campaigning that tax cuts and massive increases in defense spending could co-exists with a balanced budget. The budget deficit was $74 billion when he entered the White House; it grew to $231 billion in Reagan’s final year. The trade deficit was even worse, nearing $200 billion per year when Reagan left office. The national debt rose to $2 trillion.These are facts that Republicans will deny to this day.
—Michael Fauntroy, Reconsidering Reagan
- Conservatives believe in individual liberty
Elsewhere, Bush strikes at the very heart of individual liberties: the Bill of Rights. Many people seem to be unconcerned about their phone calls and their bank records, objects of Bush's program of widespread domestic surveillance. But, alas, it's not about bank records; it's not about phone calls. It's about probable cause —two words that stand between us and tyranny.
- Conservatives are stronger on national defense
Typically, Reagan announced his "War on Terrorism" to a meeting of evangelicals on March 8, 1983. Reagan warned terrorists: "You can run but you can't hide"! A statistical analysis would seem to indicate that Reagan's War on Terrorism was as much a cause as a cure for terrorism. There are two possible explanations. One, Reagan's war —not well thought out —was simply impotent and ineffective. It may even have been counter-productive, a rallying cry to legitimate critics of US imperialism as well as terrorists.
| Or —the raison d'etre may have been to rally a disparate GOP base. Typically, wars are easily exploited to stir feelings of patriotism and false pride. |
Just as Reagan's war made Americans less safe, Bush's war is increasingly perceived as making the world a more dangerous place. According to Pew, American skepticism about the war in Iraq has increased steadily from its inception; it is increasingly seen as harming the "war on terrorism".
A plurality (47%) believes that the war in Iraq has hurt the war on terrorism, up from 41% in February of this year. Further, a plurality (45%) now says that the war in Iraq has increased the chances of terrorist attacks at home, up from 36% in October 2004, while fewer say that the war in Iraq has lessened the chances of terrorist attacks in the U.S. (22% now and 32% in October). Another three-in-ten believe that the war in Iraq has no effect on the chances of a terrorist attack in the U.S.The level of vituperative rhetoric has dangerously divided and radicalized the right wing. John Dean, whose book I have previously referenced, still thinks himself a Barry Goldwater conservative though he has been among George Bush's most vocal critics. That he looks like a liberal now, he says, is only a measure of how far right the right has become. In fact, many so-called "conservatives" who support Bush are not conservative at all by Deaver's definition. They favor big and intrusive government; many, like Dick Cheney, believe deficits no longer matter; and, others —neocons in particular —openly pine for another Pearl Harbor that might be exploited for political purposes. [See: Project for a New American Century] Radical authoritarians, they have little in common with "conservatives".
—Pew Research Center, Iraq Hurting War on Terror
Barry Goldwater may have been the last conservative. Indeed, he may have been the first —a short-lived movement of one. Certainly, contemporary conservatives have little in common with anyone who would tell John Dean that the conscience of a conservative was pricked by "any action or anything that debases human dignity". Dean asked: "Doesn't poverty debase human dignity?" Of course it does," Goldwater replied. He went on to tell Dean that if the family, friends, and private charities cannot handle the job, then the government must.
It sounds like FDR.
That Goldwater and Eisenhower would be called liberal today reveals the polarization that has taken place in this country. A radicalized right wing is a cancer upon the body politic; its roots are found in the left overs of Nixon's utterly failed administration. This is something about which Dean can write authoritatively. It was Dean, after all, who warned a President of a cancer on the Presidency.
Tragically — our enemy within takes the form of an increasingly authoritarian right wing which exemplifies what Sartre called mauvaise foi —bad faith! I've rarely believed what conservatives say about liberals, but even less of what they say about themselves. It is not unusual for a politician to lie to others. Conservative lies to themselves, however, are especially pernicious and destructive. Another word is delusion; delusion is a symptom of psychosis.
Sadly, many conservatives do not see themselves as subversives even as they support Bush assaults on the Constitution. The biggest lie yet told is that Bush took us to war to bring Democracy to Iraq. Perhaps, then, when he has done so, we should all move to Iraq so that we might enjoy the blessings of Democracy. We've all but lost them here at home. It was Jay Leno, as I recall, who asked: Why don't we let Iraq have our Constitution. We don't have any use for it anymore!
Thom Friedman recently asked: What does being right have to do with anything? Let him go to Iraq where he will learn what being dead wrong and lying about it has to do with everything!Additional resources:
The Existentialist Cowboy
War on Terror
John DeanGOP Crime Syndicate
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