Today's American conservative has changed markedly from those of previous generations. Still present is the paranoia I described in last week's blog, and there is still firm support for the fundamental tenets of a strong national defense and minimal governmental involvement in the free enterprise system. But, oddly enough, the movement has morphed to now include some of liberalism's beliefs and practices.
The so-called "Republican Revolution" of 1994 brought total legislative control to the Republican Party for the first time in 40 years. As the conservative wing of that party had gradually grown stronger and stronger since Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, it now controlled the party completely. When conservative George W. Bush ascended to the presidency in 2000, this meant total power for the conservative bloc in both the legislative AND executive branches. These new conservatives differed from those in the past. Accordingly, they became known as neoconservatives, or "neocons."
Neocons demonstrated early on their cohesiveness and their intolerance for opposition. The halls of Congress and the rhetoric coming from both the White House and the GOP became bitterly partisan. Democrats were given far less input in Congress and in helping to shape public policy than had the opposition party in previous times. Compromise and even prolonged discussion of legislative agenda became tremendously reduced. The Republicans began to enjoy the trappings of power which they had not experienced for so long, and they became corrupted by the desire to hold onto and even increase that power. This led them to alter some of their long held beliefs and practices and explains the reasons today's conservatives differ from their precursors.
Conservatives in both parties have long opposed massive deficit spending. As modern Republicans soon learned, it is not easy to hold onto or increase power and reach by saying "no" to expenditures for certain constituancies. Thus began a gigantic growth in earmarking, the practice of adding special spending allotments to bills late in a legislative session so they will easily pass without much scrutiny or fanfare. That is how $200 million Alaskan "bridges to nowhere" are created, and that is how key contractors and/or campaign donors get their rewards. The downside, of course, is that we taxpayers inevitably fund the bill and foreign governments like China and Saudi Arabia underwrite our government's deficit, giving them increasing say and involvement in our internal affairs. (I must add that today's GOP did not invent this earmarking practice, but they greatly accelerated it). So, to maintain power, the neocons have forsaken the long held tenet of fiscal responsibility, to the detriment of the entire country.
Prior-era conservatives also believed that government should remain small; that states' rights should take precedence over the federal government's, and that the state has no right to unduly regulate or inhibit citizens' individual freedoms or enterprise endeavors. Earlier conservatives also strongly believed in the separation of church and state; that the state shall not impose its own religion on the people, and that people were free to choose to believe as they wished or not at all. Many of these ideas have been modified or discarded altogether by these neocons, still firmly in control of today's Republican Party. With Bush's massive Medicare adjustments and expansion of Homeland Security, today's federal government has grown tremendously, a fact no classical conservative can be proud of. The influx of the religious right into political conservative ranks has also led to a demand for the government to regulate social behavior. Indeed, their influence has become so strong that today's presidential candidates are now subjected to a de facto litmus test of their religious (Christian) beliefs. Neither Abraham Lincoln, nor Teddy Roosevelt, nor Richard Nixon, nor any other candidate prior to this generation was ever subjected to such a thing. Some neocons are even pressing for government involvement in fostering Christian values and education, tenets of theocracy rather than democracy, and a blatant violation of our Constitution. These radical new conservatives even insist that Supreme Court nominees must conform to their belief structure. Whereas in past times, these beliefs and duties were spread and performed by clergy, today's neocons wish them to be part of and performed by government.
Lastly, earlier time conservatives believed in minimal involvement in other countries' affairs and believed America should only involve itself in war in cases of attack, not intervention against unfriendly governments, or due to fear of attack. George W. Bush and modern neocons trashed that notion altogether in 2003 with the unprovoked attack on Iraq. The "justification" for going to war in Iraq was that it's leader, Saddam Hussein, was developing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons for use against the United States and that he was working in harmony with the terrorist group alQaeda. This involving of the U.S. in a pre-emptive rather than reactive war was a major breach from practice of all previous American history, and a dangerous one at that. It has cost us half a TRILLION dollars as of this writing and has seriously damaged our credibility and relations with the rest of the world. Related activities, such as the suspension of habeas corpus (the right to a fair trial, something King John gave the western world in 1215 and has been in practice ever since until Bush did away with it), plus illegal abduction and torture of SUSPECTED terrorists, are practices now true conservative could ever support.
MODERATE Republican Dwight Eisenhower warned us as he left office in 1961 to beware and resist the rise of the military industrial complex, that group of ideologues and industrialists who support nonstop American military intervention all over the world, and who, worse yet, profit from it. He was drawing on very wise and pragmatic conservative doctrine in issuing that warning. In the midst of today's neocon White House and GOP presidential candidate sabre-rattling against Iran the same as Bush did against Iraq, it would be wise for us all to reject the neocon mindset and its candidates altogether! The neocon element which controls today's Republican Party is far removed from classic conservativism and from the mainstream public as well. Its agenda will be disastrous for this country and must not be supported.
Next week: THE FAILURE OF AMERICAN LIBERALISM