Like so many trained parrots, Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, and others on the left side of the political spectrum have acquired a bad habit of repeating the well-researched and well-tested catch-phrases of the Republican disinformation machine. This allows the Republican right to set the tone, if not the entire agenda for our public discourse.
Even people I respect, such as Former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Robert B. Reich, slip into this nasty habit. In a November 29 column about the so-called "Conservative" Movement's embrace of Social Darwinism, Reich referred to the religious right as "conservative" several times.
Just because someone calls him or herself a conservative doesn't make it so. I regularly hear critics of the Bush Administration and its policies referred to as "conservative." Well, here's a news flash:
George W. Bush is not a conservative.
Richard B. Cheney is not a conservative.
Donald Rumsfeld is not a conservative.
Karl Rove is not a conservative.
Paul Wolfowitz is not a conservative.
John Bolton is not a conservative.
Grover Norquist is not a conservative.
Bill Bennett is not a conservative.
Pat Robertson is not a conservative.
James Dobson is not a conservative.
Jerry Falwell is not a conservative.
Rush Limbaugh is not a conservative.
And Bill O'Reilly is not a conservative.
No, indeed, this is a list of radical, regressive, and often reckless political partisans who have exhibited careless disregard for other people, often ignored traditional or established policies, and many of them have flouted the rule of law or have had their hypocrisy publicly exposed (Bennett and Limbaugh, for example). In the mouths of these people, the "conservative" mantle (with or without its alleged
compassion) merely supplies the sheep's clothing to cloak their wolf-like avarice.
Webster's Dictionary defines "conservatism" as the "disposition in politics to preserve what is established". It is further defined as "a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions and preferring gradual development to abrupt change."
In the recent past, so-called "conservatives" have adopted modifiers, such as "fiscal" or "social" to describe their particular brand of conservatism. If one looks back a bit further, one finds that the conservative platform stood for smaller government, fiscal responsibility, civil liberties, privacy rights, and a significant degree of autonomy for the states in our federalist system of government.
The "conservative" label sounds warm and fuzzy. It evokes images of someone who conserves, which is to save, to husband, to act circumspectly, even cautiously, and co-operatively or multi-laterally. The label evokes impressions of one who understates and underestimates, someone who low-balls expectations, rather than going in for "pie-in-the-sky" scenarios.
Remember the now infamous Rumsfeld predictions that we "will be greeted as liberators" by the people in Iraq and that oil revenues will pay for the war. The cost of this little "conservative" adventure is now approaching the $300 billion dollar mark, with no end in sight. "Staying the course" might sound like a conservative approach, but this assumes that we have a viable course on which to stay!
People like the sound of "conservative", perhaps especially because of the way that the term "liberal" has been demonized. But the warm, fuzzy feelings engendered by the word "conservative" melt away when we see programs for the poor slashed in order to give still more riches to the rich. The average person is outraged by the corruption, incompetence, and cronyism that goes by the name of conservatism nowadays, as the examples from Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Ca), to Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) , to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex), to Gov. Bob Taft
(R-Oh.) to former Gov. George Ryan (R-Ill.), to former Gov. John Rowland
(R-Conn.) to David H. Brooks (whose company (DHB) sold millions of dollars of faulty "bulletproof" vests bound for soldiers in
Iraq,) to the Coalition Provisional Authority's bribes, etc. etc. etc.
I would even venture to suppose that each and every one of the above named people would profess some doctrine of "personal responsibility", at least when it is someone else's responsibility. Whom in this Administration has accepted personal responsibility for anything? Not for Iraq or for the lies that duped most people, not for Katrina, not for the law-breaking, and not for corruption that has sent the military-industrial-congressional complex to lead its pigs back to the trough.
The original species of "conservative" (perhaps best defined by Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative) seems now to be an endangered one. The current Administration has bloated the size of government, creating not one but two new federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Defense and the Transportation Security Agency. It has engaged in unprecedented deficit spending and trade deficits that are fast becoming matters of national security. And their idea of sacrifice in wartime is to give away tax receipts, mostly to the richest Americans. Only the poor have been asked to make sacrifices in a time of war.
Just sixteen years after Ronald Reagan piled up $1,042 trillion in trade deficits and $1,692 trillion in federal debt (from 1980-1988), Congress raised the federal debt ceiling to $8,111 trillion. And remember, Bill Clinton left office with a hefty surplus! Conservative, eh?
Speaking of war, the Bush Doctrine was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. The Bush Doctrine is, of course, a rationalization for "pre-emptive" war. In plain language, this means that the U.S. arrogates to itself the right to attack another nation which has not attacked us first; in other words, this Administration feels fully justified in starting a war without provocation. Can any reasonable person consider this "conservative"?
For an encore, this cabal, as Col. Lawrence Wilkerson calls them, justifies torture, practices "extraordinary rendition", allows the CIA to maintain secret prisons, called "black sites," for such torture. And in its continual attempt to shift more and more power to an incompetent and misguided chief executive, it wants to suspend Habeas Corpus.
This same cabal paid "journalists" to write favorable stories both at home and abroad, as we have recently learned. On the domestic front, these actions fly in the face of the Smith Act, which prohibits the use of propaganda on Americans at home. And it is easy to believe press reports that the President of the United States was ready to take out an entire Arabic broadcast outlet because he didn't like its coverage.
This Administration has pushed through the mislabeled "USA Patriot Act" that erodes civil liberties and tramples privacy rights of various kinds. This Administration and its supporters must be reminded that "suspects"---whether they are accused of "criminal" or "terrorist" acts, remain untried and unproven, with their putative crimes only alleged. And the sequel to Patriot I promises to be even more Draconian.
Nor is there any sense in which this Administration's self-styled "conservatism" has anything to do with conservation. There are no funds for the expired super fund to cleanup toxic sites. They introduce pollution emission deregulation while, in true Orwellian fashion, calling their initiative "Clear Skies"!
So, people of good will that oppose these policies and persons, let us be more careful in the way we speak. Let us call a spade a spade and let us not provide cover for radical, regressive, and reckless actions committed in our names by parroting the spin-meisters' spin!
Dr. Gary Alan Scott is a philosophy professor at Loyola College in Maryland. He is currently the Director of Loyola's International Nachbahr Huis in Leuven, Belgium. He is currently working on a book entitled The Failure to Reason. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.