In George Orwell's 1984, the Party had three slogans: "War is peace," "Freedom is slavery" and "Ignorance is strength." In 2005 we could easily add another one: "Radical is conservative."
For in almost every sense but certainly in the principle areas of fiscal responsibility, applied federalism, adherence to the rule of law, conservation of natural resources and national security extremist elements have seized control of the so-called "conservative" (Republican) party and turned it 180 degrees, leaving most true conservatives behind and more than a bit confused.
Clarity can be regained, however, by turning off far-right television and radio and picking up a dictionary. In it you'll find "conservative" defined as "tending to preserve established traditions or institutions; cautious; avoiding excess." Huh? In other words
President Bush's record achievement borrowing more money from foreign countries than our 42 preceding administrations combined isn't conservative, it's radical. Converting record surpluses into a massive deficit practically overnight isn't conservative, it's wasteful.
There's nothing conservative about the executive order we've just learned eliminated judicial oversight over the National Security Agency's electronic monitoring of American citizens, a secret order that opens the door to Big Brother abuse. And certainly bypassing the Constitution and well-established international treaty law like the Geneva Convention in order to detain suspects at will, engage in secret renditions and even torture isn't conservative, it's downright evil.
Truly conservative reforms to traditionally state-controlled issues like education and tort law would have been minor tweaks designed to encourage greater uniformity across state lines not designed to remove power from the states.
Is it conservative to throw caution (and hydrocarbons) blithely into the atmosphere in the face of increasing evidence of a greenhouse effect that scientists predict could lead to disastrous climate change, the dangers of which could shortly eclipse the damage from Hurricane Katrina? Refusal to enforce congressionally mandated clean air standards on industry isn't conservative, it's dereliction of duty.
Finally, what happened to that great, conservative Bush Sr.-Powell doctrine set forth after the first Gulf War that emphasized how the U.S. only would engage in armed military conflict under a narrow set of circumstances, when clearly justified, with international consensus and support, with publicly understood goals and a clearly defined exit strategy? If I remember right, it was Colin Powell himself who was more or less forced to give the deathblow to his own conservative foreign policy doctrine, trading it for today's extremist "pre-emptive strike policy."
Republican leaders and Bush administration officials seek to justify all of these precipitous breaks with past practice and law with "9/11 changed everything." But such a justification only underscores how extensive their overhaul has been and how these policies are categorically not conservatism. Chalk up another "I told you so" for Orwell.
The new radical Republicans who falsely pass themselves off as conservatives don't feel bound by long-standing laws or traditions, nor do they even feel bound by reality. Some have even boasted of making their own reality.
But their surreal dreams of cakewalks and spreading democracy through shock and awe already have come apart. And the first wakeup calls also have sounded to their denials of global warming. Reality and Mother Nature do have a way of catching up with those presumptuous enough to think they are above it all. It turns out that hard-learned lessons are often at the root of the laws and policies that have stood the test of time, proved their value, and do not therefore deserve to be thrown aside for no good reason.
For example, torture is not wrong because it is against international and U.S. criminal law. Rather, torture is banned by law because it is wrong. Just last week Bush reluctantly accepted this fact and backed Sen. John McCain's proposal to ban torture and "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners in American custody.
True conservatives, like our founding fathers, were smart enough to understand that the hard laws of history and nature need to be taken into account when fashioning man-made law.
So true conservatives and independent-minded thinkers are increasingly abandoning the radical Republicans. Democrats, whether or not they fully appreciate it, in many ways have become the new conservatives by advancing fiscal responsibility, steadfast allegiance to the rule of law, environmental conservation, a return to federalism and sounder principles of foreign policy.
Where have all the true conservatives gone? Since our collective security hangs in the balance, let us hope they have not, like Pete Seeger's flowers, "gone to graveyards everyone." We need true conservatives to rise up and help lead us out of this Orwellian nightmare.
Coleen Rowley of Apple Valley is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Minnesota's 2nd District.
© 2005 The St. Paul Pioneer Press