How Dare They Call Themselves Conservatives?

If this blog has any purpose beyond the typical one (nourishing the cherished personal delusion that other people might actually be interested in what I have to say), it’s spin–crafting a coherent rhetoric that can convince reasonable "conservatives" to come over, to support traditional American progressive values, programs, and policies.

I am not the person to deliver that rhetoric to the mainstream, or to do that convincing. As a Seattle liberal atheist Jew, I’m lacking what in rhetoric is called the "ethical position" from which I can speak to those people convincingly. And I have too great a fondness for hyperbolic speech, smart-ass comments, and cheap shots; I don’t want to rein that in here. (See: "cherished personal delusions," above.)

But others, I hope, can make use of what develops here to draw together the progressive community under a clear, coherent message. That single-message consistency is what won George Bush a second term. And it is glaringly absent in the progressive community.

The message I espouse–the single "on message" centerpiece on which a coherent and convincing progressive platform can be built–is, I believe, conservatism. Admittedly, it’s an exercise in rhetorical jiu jitsu. But that kind of rhetorical technique only works if it’s based on convincing truth. And it is certainly true that the current administration is about as far from "conservative" as it can get.

Why is this approach attractive? Almost everybody likes to believe that the way they were brought up was the right way. ("Hey, my daddy whomped me, and I turned out just fine!") And the old truism is true: the older you get, the more you’re like your parents. The aging baby boomers are getting more conservative. They’re saying so out loud, and with pride. (Don’t get me  started on "pride"; suffice it to say, it’s a sin.)

Even if we don’t attempt to spin ourselves as conservatives (though we are, and I think we should), one thing we can do very effectively is deny that moniker to those who currently lay claim to it. Because they have absolutely no right to call themselves conservatives. The shouldn’t be called neo-cons. They should be called non-cons.

They are incredibly vulnerable here, and we can capitalize on that vulnerability with a constantly repeated assault on what we (spin doctors that we are) won’t actually call hypocrisy.

Let’s start with fiscal policy. The deficit and the debt are spiraling out of sight to a degree unheard of under any previous administration. As former Republican representative Joe Scarborough (one of many Republicans excoriating the Bush fiscal policy) says in Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day, "During Bill Clinton’s two terms and a G.O.P. Congress, federal spending grew at a rate of 3.4 percent, whereas government spending has grown at a dangerous 10.4 percent clip during George W. Bush’s first term." The non-con’s borrow-and-spend policy is not conservatism, it’s profligacy. ("Profligate"and "prodigal" are good words to use, spin-wise. They have great biblical associations, and they are not the kind of sins that conservative Americans like.)

It doesn’t take an expert to know that the current policies will leave our children (not to mention their children) bankrupt. That hardly embodies "conservative" values.

Corporate welfare. Americans hate corporate welfare. The non-cons are dishing it out faster than anyone in history. (As one player said to his teammate in M*A*S*H [the movie] when he told him a juicy tidbit about an opponent’s sister during the football game, "Use it!")

Environmental issues. Conservatism, one would think, should be based on conservation. But the non-cons are intent on squandering the wealth of our country’s resources during our lifetimes, leaving our descendants environmentally bankrupt. Again, profligacy and prodigality are the opposite of conservatism and conservation. A large majority of Americans are strongly behind conservation. Use it.

Civil liberties. The non-cons are actively moving us toward a radical, heavily-controlled and -monitored society like those of Saddam and Stalin. Stalin is not conservative.

International relations. That same radicalism has squandered the moral authority that gives us power in the world. Without that true moral authority, we do not have the power to convince our friends and coerce our enemies. No amount of military might will preserve this nation if the whole world hates us. Squandering our moral capital for a radical agenda is not conservative.

These are just examples. The non-cons are vulnerable to charges of profligacy and prodigality in just about every area.

Use it.