February 10, 2004
Where Have All the Conservatives Gone?
by Maureen Farrell
"If the president goes to the American people and wraps himself in the American flag and lets Congress wrap itself in the white flag of surrender, the president will win.... The American people had never heard of Grenada. There was no reason why they should have. The reason we gave for the intervention--the risk to American medical students there--was phony but the reaction of the American people was absolutely and overwhelmingly favorable. They had no idea what was going on, but they backed the president. They always will." -- Irving Kristol, The Fettered Presidency,1989
"Of course the people don't want war...that is understood. But voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger." -- Hitler's designated successor, Hermann Goering
"We are rapidly becoming prototypes of a people that totalitarian monsters could only drool about in their dreams." -- Steve Tesich, "The Wimping of America"
* * *
They're the ones who've traditionally argued that America should stay clear of unnecessary foreign entanglements. Like the Founding Fathers, they have been opposed to venturing "abroad in search of monsters to destroy." Staunch defenders of the U.S. Constitution, they've repeatedly argued that when armed conflict is inevitable, Congress should issue a formal declaration of war.
On the eve of our mishap in Iraq, they were represented, in large part, by members of the World War II generation. "Don't paint me as un-American. I'm a solid, hard-rock American. I've been a Republican since 1934. I just don't like fighting the kind of war that I can't put my fingers on," WWII veteran Fred Thomas told the Los Angeles Times. "If there's some darned good reason for going to war, I haven't seen it yet," Gibson Reynolds, another veteran, explained. And Rev. Bill Berglund, a Marine who fought during both World War II and in Korea, put it this way. "I am dead set against [a war in Iraq]. It is a needless exercise of power by a certain group of people in Washington." [Truthout.org]
These folks are America's traditional conservatives, the ones we've always counted on to resist big government and keep tyranny at bay – and, sadly, they seem to be headed for extinction.
One could argue, of course, that conservatives are on the rise, given the number of them in Congress and in the Senate and in the White House. The case has been made, however, that many of today's Republicans are far from "conservative" and are actually radicals driven by a philosophy that first took root in leftist interventionism. Then, too, one might argue that right wing radio is a hotbed of traditional conservative thought, but sadly, evidence suggests otherwise.
Recently, for example, one of Clear Channel's conservative disc jockeys was demoted from drive time to the "the outer darkness" of Radio Land for having the unmitigated gall to criticize our duly anointed King and his fairytale war. In an article entitled "How to Lose Your Job in Talk Radio: Clear Channel gags an antiwar conservative," Charles Goyette stated his case. "I can assure you that my criticism of Bush has been on the basis of long-held conservative principles," he wrote. "It begins with respect for the wisdom of the Founders and the Constitution's division of power and delegation of authority, and extends to an adherence to the principles of governmental restraint and fiscal prudence." [AmConMag.com]
The Founder's intentions in giving Congress the power to declare war were basic -- they wanted to protect Americans from tyrannical whims. James Madison explained the framers' reasoning this way: "The constitution supposes, what the History of all [governments] demonstrates, that the [executive] is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it." One hundred years later, Abraham Lincoln reiterated this view. "Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object," he said, and so, war powers were delegated to Congress to keep us free from "the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions."
Today, however, we have a situation where, as Irving Kristol laid out, the president wrapped "himself in the American flag," let Congress "wrap itself in the white flag of surrender" while the people were fed a "phony" reason for war and "had no idea what was going on." But as "always," they "backed the president" anyway. This attitude is not only a diversion from the Founders' intent, but it's also quite troubling.
So just how far have we fallen from grace? Consider Goyette's scenario:
In a recent NPR interview, Goyette also addressed Clear Channel's ties to George W. Bush and says he was "invited to change [his] position" concerning the war, but held his ground. [Here-now.org]
While it's good to know that there are still traditional conservatives out there -- people with integrity and principles and sense – the latest breed of conservative is hard to figure out. Embracing an immoral doctrine wherein dishonesty is fine (provided the lies pertain to war and not to oral sex) and the ends justify the means, these "honor and integrity" folks repeatedly display neither. And when faced with arguments challenging their views, they resort to smears in lieu of impassioned debate. Hence, American Dynasty author Kevin Phillips is "crackpot," Scott Ritter was "on Saddam's payroll" and Bush never implied that Saddam posed an "imminent threat." Anyone who suggests otherwise, of course, is a "conspiracy theorist" or is "mentally ill."
The phenomenon is understandable, in a way. When you think about it, how on earth do conservatives come to grips with the fact that the GOP has become the party of rampant interventionism, nanny state-itis and drunken sailor spending? How do they account for the fact that the Bush administration is spending a billion dollars a week on an unnecessary war that was, once again, never officially declared? In moments of honest reflection, do they realize that between WMD hype, Halliburton revelations, Plamegate, Sept. 11 commission stonewalling, and pleas for renewal of the Patriot Act, this White House's policies not only defy traditional conservative principles, but make that blue dress look like small potatoes?
Thankfully, a spattering of traditional conservatives are addressing these issues and reformed neoconservatives are speaking out. "The cynical way in which the Bush Administration lied to Congress and the American people to justify an invasion of Iraq planned years before September 11, 2001, by Wolfowitz and many of his PNAC allies came as no surprise to me, a former neocon," Michael Lind wrote. Offering the kind of insight that only a true insider can, Lind humorously explained the formula this way:
Anyone who's ever trudged through a neoconservative essay knows how well Lind knows the drill. More interestingly, however, he underscores just how un-conservative these conservatives are. Saying that "the origins of their ideology on the left are still apparent," Lind catalogues elements of the "Trotskyist tradition" and reveals how "the influence of Marxism is particularly evident in neoconservative conceptions of patriotism." Lind also convincingly argues that this redefinition of American patriotism "is compatible with a disrespect for actual American institutions, which, if it were expressed by leftists or liberals, would be denounced as un-American."
In other words, folks, this ain't your daddy's GOP.
Moreover, Lind highlights the most maddening aspects of the neoconservative line – i.e. that people who question them or their methods are either anti-Semitic or crazy. Citing David Brooks' New York Times published assertion "that only 'full-mooners' believe that neoconservative institutions like the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) have any influence on Bush Administration policy" (never mind their associations with Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld), Lind addresses Brooks' repugnant slur that critics of neoconservatives are anti-Semites. "To hear these people [the alleged conspiracy theorists] describe it, PNAC is sort of a Yiddish Trilateral Commission, the nexus of the sprawling neocon tentacles," with "con" being short for 'conservative' and neo being "short for 'Jewish,'" Brooks wrote. Translation? Criticize us and you're a racist.
To be fair, however, this shift didn't begin with Bush #43. The last time an honest–to-goodness conservative led this country, Marlon Brando was a Hollywood sex symbol and Patti Page graced radio's airways -- and even back then, folks had McCarthyism to contend with. But even so, the tone was saner. "Any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible," Dwight W. Eisenhower said in 1953, [USEmbassay.de] but since then, we've had "the police action" in Vietnam, Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia and that little Iran/Contra matter which disqualifies both Reagan and George H.W. Bush as traditional conservatives. No matter how you slice it, sidestepping Congress and the Constitution to pursue a secret illegal agenda is more in line with the policies of a totalitarian regime than with those of a Republic.
"There are numerous traits which define a totalitarian state," Steve Tesich wrote. "The three primary ones are a disregard for truth, an almost total disregard for the welfare of its people and a monolithic imposition of the party line as the only morality." Explaining how Americans "embraced with patriotic fervor, press censorship of the war" and didn't seem to care when we learned that that "the justification for the entire war" was "all a lie," Tesich was describing the atmosphere following the first Gulf War, but his insight is especially relevant today. "The truth of what we were doing and what we were celebrating was lost on us because our attitude toward truth has been steadily deteriorating. It has undergone a kind of decline which up to now could only be found in undemocratic, un-American forms of government." he said. [BuzzFlash.com]
"Something truly worrisome is happening here-a clear and present danger to democracy, posed by the leadership of the Republican Party," Sean Wilentz wrote in the latest issue of Dissent. Explaining how the "current Republican regime is not ‘conservative' or even normal within the customary boundaries of American politics," Wilentz outlined assaults on America's political system and attempts "to ensure what Tom DeLay and his colleagues foresee as a millennium of one-party rule." [DissentMagazine.org]
What has happened to America? Did Vietnam and Watergate do us in? Is that why Iran/Contra was so quickly swept aside? Given how quickly we swallowed the lies that led to the first Gulf War, shouldn't we be concerned that we were duped yet again? Or are we, in fact, "rapidly becoming prototypes of a people that totalitarian monsters could only drool about in their dreams"?
"It wasn't that long ago, however, that we felt nothing but pity for the poor Soviet people whose undemocratic government controlled the media and censored all the news from the war in Afghanistan," Tesich mused, more than a decade ago. "Since 9/11, some North American media have increasingly resembled the old, boot-licking Soviet press in the days of Chairman Leonid Brezhnev, rather than an inquiring free press," the Toronto Sun's Eric Margolis recently wrote. [Canoe.ca]
Michael Lind also drew a parallel between "American neoconservatism" and "Soviet Communism and Napoleonic liberalism" [TheNation.com] and one wonders if any of the nations' new "conservatives" see the irony in this? Let's hope so. Even better, let's hope that, as more Americans get fed up, honest-to-goodness, all-American, traditional conservative values return. God knows, we need them now more than ever.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original