I got to thinking about my earlier post “On the conservative movement”. In that post, I tried to boil down the main message of the conservative movement. In a vulgar way, I came up with this statement as the core idea:
“We only want enough taxes and government in order to create the most powerful military in the world that can beat the living shit out of anyone who threatens us, our families, or our property. On every other score, leave us the hell alone to believe and do whatever we want.”
But then I realized that my statement only summarizes what the conservative movement was, not what it’s become. Put another way, this is what the conservative establishment or conservative mainstream stands for, but it’s not what some of the most powerful and outspoken elements of the conservative movement believe anymore.
The police state/surveillance state wing
Since 9/11, there’s been this strong element of the conservative movement dedicated to creating a police and surveillance state. These are the folks who are trying to strip away long-accepted civil liberties, normalize torture by the U.S., eliminate checks and balances over the president and spy agencies, call on people to spy on one another, constantly whip up fear, lobby for perpetual war, and undermine our rule of law in the name of security.
Also, there has been a rise of the theocrats or Christian nationalists in the conservative movement. Mike Huckabee spoke for these folks at a campaign stop in Michigan when he said the Constitution should be changed to reflect the Bible. These folks also constantly repeat the false history of this being founded as a Christian nation. They also undermine the pursuit of science and science education. To my mind, they’re little better than the Taliban or other Muslim religious extremists. They simply haven’t crossed the line – yet – of armed militancy. As it stands, they have the U.S. military for that.
I was tempted to say that hyper-militarism is also a new element of the conservative movement, but instead I think it’s more of just a natural extension of where the conservative movement was going, as they constantly stressed their “national security” credentials. Even so, traditionally conservative “realist” foreign policy experts have had trouble getting any traction in recent years as the militarism wing has grown in power. The neocons are clearest example of this group. These folks call for violence (often while avoiding the military themselves) and clamor for perpetual war and the foundation of an American empire.
The imperial presidency types
Lastly, there are the imperial presidency types, who have argued so strongly during the Bush administration for an ever expanding notion of executive authority that does not permit any checks or balances by the co-equal branches of government in Congress or the Judiciary. Among the biggest abuses of this that I see are the presidential signing statements issued by President Bush. These folks want to gather a dangerous amount of power to the presidency and are largely in league with the police and surveillance state types. These folks also certainly don’t care much for the rule of law.
It is these four strains of the conservative movement that have run the country off the rails, destroyed cherished liberties, threaten the world and the future of the country, and have prompted myself – any many traditional conservatives, I should add – to align themselves with the progressive movement.
So, to bring it back to my statement on the conservative movement, but add in what I just discussed, here’s how it would read:
“We only want enough taxes and government in order to create the most powerful military in the world that can beat the living shit out of anyone who threatens us, our families, or our property. On every other score, leave us the fuck alone to believe and do whatever we want, except when it comes to national security and religion. In those cases, we should use government to intrude into people’s lives as much as we want. It’s for their own damn good, you know.”
As for me, I disagree with the more conventional conservative message I outlined at the beginning of this post, but I absolutely oppose what the conservative movement has become. The architects of the modern conservative movement have allowed multiple Pandora’s boxes to be opened, and now many traditional conservatives don’t like what they’ve wrought. They can’t be trusted to restore America, though. It’s up to progressives to close the lid on the monsters they’ve unleashed.
You’ll notice in all of this I haven’t mentioned economics yet. I oppose the free market fundamentalism of the conservative movement, as well. But for now, I’ll let it go, largely because I think there’s less agreement in the progressive movement on what a new course of economic policy would look like. I watched a speech by Eric Alterman recently, and he basically punted, as well, when asked about trade issues by a member of the audience. He told a story of how he used to argue in the ‘90s with, I think he said Paul Krugman, about trade issues. Recently, he said the two of them talked again and agreed that it was amazing how all they had to worry about a few years ago were disagreements over economics.