We’ve discussed what “conservative” means, in an era when meanings have gone topsy-turvy. Russ Daggatt weighs in:
"Conservatives" traditionally promote the virtue of personal responsibility. But try to find anyone in the modern conservative movement (really more radically authoritarian and militaristic than "conservative" in any traditional sense of the term) who will take personal responsibility for the consequences of his advocacy of this disastrous war. The defining trait of the radical neocon movement is the consistent exaggeration of the threats faced by the US in the world -- requiring, of course, a more authoritarian and militaristic American society.
“And there is a certain self-fulfilling prophecy at work -- as their policies are adopted, the world indeed becomes a more dangerous place for America, seeming to vindicate their warnings. It is difficult to make the case that the world is a safer and more stable place today as a result of their policies than it was on September 11, 2001 -- the event that drove the country to embrace the neocon agenda. (This is similar to putting incompetent anti-government ideologues in charge of the federal government. Their failures simply reaffirm their message -- that the government can't do anything right.)
It is an interesting appraisal, but my own diagnosis differs quite a bit. I think that deeper, psychological factors are at work.
Yes, there probably is some kind of a conspiracy at the very top, that aims to make the US government fail. The perfect consistency of this administration, never making any decisions that even tangentially or accidentally benefit the people or commonwealth of the United States, beggars any other explanation, including the “standard model” of dogmatic and corrupt ineptitude. Like Russ, I feel it is time for us all to ponder whether there is a deliberate campaign to wreck the pragmatic-modernist consensus that held America together, from the end of World War II until the end of the last century.
And yet, even positing such a focused and relentless effort, I do not think that it is driven by some nebulous philosophical drive to prove that government doesn’t work, in principle. Indeed, many of the administration’s friends (though not in on the top-layer conspiracy) want government to work. Principally for them, of course. But still, all else being equal, they would rather that the USA thrive, than that it not.
No, I believe that one thing keeps most conservatives loyal to monsters who have betrayed every old-fashioned conservative tenet. It is something much deeper and more neurotic than “distrust of government.” (Bear in mind that I once gave a keynote at a Libertarian Party National Convention, so I know about the range and variety of philosophies within the Question Authority Movement. And I can tell you that libertarianism has nothing to do with today’s neoconservatism, whatsoever.)
No. Face it. The one common theme that underlies nearly every frothing neocon rant, from Hannity and Limbaugh to Pat Robertson and your Uncle Fred, boils down to “I despise those smarty-pants liberals.” Conservatism has become a movement that defines itself by its hates.
What greater proof could there be than the incredible exhibition of sloth displayed by the last few Republican-led Congresses? With their hands on every lever of power and solid majorities in every branch of government, they broke every record for laziness and inaction. Indeed, they did not even lift more than a finger to eliminate programs that they long claimed to dislike! Both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton pushed deregulation of more industries -- and more drastic reductions in federal paperwork - than all Republican administrations in history. Combined.
No, today’s conservative movement is not about wanting to DO anything or enact ideas or innovations of their own. And clearly it is not about eliminating regulations or freeing up the marketplace. Putting aside the rampant graft that - at most - involves a few thousand people... or the more lurid paranoid “manchurian” scenarios that might involve dozens, you are forced yet again to see that there is only one thing left. That boiling, searing hate.
Moreover, this kind of hatred cannot be refuted, for example, by showing that the liberal-moderate-progressive position turned out to be correct on this or that issue. Or on many issues.
That kind of proof has already happened, innumerable times! From Civil Rights to womens’ rights to dealing with urban smog and the ozone problem to Vietnam and Watergate and so on. In these and dozens of other cases, conservatives of the time were simply proved decisively wrong. Magnificently and overwhelmingly wrong...
...but alas, that does not have the logical effect of forcing a re-evaluation of processes and assumptions.
No, it is human nature to deeply resent being proved wrong.
So, as global warming is proved, and Iraq turns out to be a disaster based upon lies, and neocons start heading to jail (while not a single Clintonite was ever even indicted for malfeasance in office), and as the military is destroyed and American leadership evaporates, do not expect apologies or retractions.
Because each time this happens, it only stokes more rage.
(Or else more denial. Ever notice how many conservatives have pictures of Martin Luther King on their walls, nowadays? “Who, me? Against him? Never!”)
It is time to study this phenomenon. To understand how it resonates and feeds on a similarly tragic human flaw on the liberal side... a tendency toward holier-than-thou sanctimony that drives conservative people completely crazy! Hence, every “I told you so” is guaranteed NOT to change minds and hearts, but to spark vows of revenge.
This is the deep-down reason that “ostrich” conservatives - decent people with decent values, who genuinely believe that they believe in freedom and accountability and a sane, healthy America - will continue to rally around a movement that has betrayed everything that “conservatism” is supposed to stand for.