UnCommon Ground – All Conservatives Are Not Created Equal
Before I dig any further into this shared space which I believe exists between progressives and traditional conservatives, it is necessary for me to define exactly what I mean by “traditional conservatives.” In fact, it will be helpful to define all the major categories on the American political scene. Starting with the conservative side, here’s the typical spectrum of views that needs to be broken apart and reorganized to reflect the shifting landscape of the 21st century:
The Reactionary Right – Currently represented by the insane half of the Tea Party, this group harbors intense anti-federal government sentiment; an overdeveopled sense of “don’t tread on me” individualism; and a not-so-subtle aura of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Many in this group would be happy to drag the country back to 1955 (or even 1855). They have typically aligned with the Republicans, but have recently become furious with the entirety of the Washington establishment, including the GOP rank-and-file.
Their political goals range from taking over the Republican Party to seceding from the union to violent rebellion, and their rhetoric is passionate and inflammatory. These are the people who were screaming at health care rallies, who call Obama a Nazi, and who have been talking openly about “watering the tree of liberty.” Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are prominent politicians who have courted the Reactionary Right, but they have no real national leader – a characteristic which fits well with their ideology. Progressives have zero chance of finding common ground here – and why would we want to? . . .
The Religious Right – There may be some overlap between this group and The Reactionary Right, but they deserve their own category. These are the Christian fundamentalists whose ultimate political goal is to establish (or in their minds, to re-establish) a theocracy based on their strict understanding of the Bible. Their immediate goals are to ban abortion and gay marriage, and to institute prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools.
This group rose to political prominence in the 1980’s under Jerry Falwell’s direction. They have grown frustrated, however, with the Republican Party’s lip service, but lack of delivery, on their faith-based agenda. Today, their leaders include Mike Huckabee, James Dobson, and John Hagee, and they seem to searching for a new direction for their movement. Wherever they wind up, it’s not going to be anywhere near the progressive side of the spectrum. Here, too, we have no chance and no desire to find common ground.
The Neo-Conservatives – This group reached the pinnacle of its power and influence in the administration of George W. Bush and through the rise of Fox News. Their outlook and their goals are much different than those of the Reactionary and Religious Right. They have sought to consolidate and expand the power of the federal government and the presidency in particular – even as they speak the rhetoric of small government conservatism. In doing so, they have advanced an aggressive agenda of militarism, corporatism, wealth-ism, and ethical “flexibility” – all in the name of democracy, freedom, and the mythical American Dream.
The Neo-Cons were weakened by electoral losses in 2006 and 2008, but they still represent the establishment of the Republican Party and have enormous power and resources. In their political savvy, they have co-opted much of the Tea Party – although they still seem a bit unsettled by the movement. Theoretically, the Neo-Cons could find a little common ground with progressives on issues such as immigration, education, job growth, and even the environment – but the current climate of hyper-partisanship makes such friendships nearly impossible (just ask Lindsey Graham).
Traditional/Small Town/Rural Conservatives – This is the group with which progressives have some real potential for making new friends. They do not share the radical anti-government sentiments of the Reactionary Right. They might talk about the virtues of small government, but they also know that government can work for good. They see the value of programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and public education. In addition, this group is predominantly Christian, but in a way that is humble and non-aggressive. Their faith compels them to help the poor and the sick more than it does to push the “hot-button” issues of the Christian right.
The Traditional Conservatives have recently aligned with the Neo-Cons more than any of the other groups on the spectrum – perhaps because the Neo-Cons have done the best job of talking their language. With their rhetoric, the NeoCons have appealed to the traditionalists’ patriotism, to their prudence and their fiscal conservatism, and to their belief in strong families and personal responsibility – even though in their governance, the NeoCons have often worked against those same virtues.
If you follow the model that mainstream media and the majority of politicians employ, the Reactionaries are called “the far right” and from time to time show their fervor and their independence. But the other three groups all get lumped into the same mass and are assumed to vote reflexively for Republicans. It also assumed that they share the same ideology and political goals.
It will be my argument throughout much of this book that, if we deconstruct and realign these categories in light of the shifting political landscape, then the Traditional Conservatives will no longer fit in neatly with the other conservative groups. Perhaps some of them will find a new home somewhere closer to the progressive side of things – if we can break free from the Matrix that tells us that we are mortal enemies.
But before we can make that connection more clear, we must define the groups that occupy what is currently known as the left side of the political spectrum. That will be the content of the next installment of UnCommon Ground.
(Note: I am looking for a better term than traditional or small town/rural conservatives – because there are many people who fit this description who live in urban or suburban areas, and there are many people in small towns who fall into the Reactionary or Religious Right categories. Please comment if you have a better word for this group.)
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