Saturday, January 3, 2009

What is the Appropriate Political Label

Once I start thinking about a subject, it is hard to stop. Recently, I have been discussing in these posts the labels attached by the mass media and others to describe certain people or positions as either conservative or liberal. A common tag would be to brand a supporter of Bush's IRAQ policy as a conservative and an opponent a liberal. For the reasons discussed in the following linked post, those labels do not properly describe the core nature of the two positions Boatloads of High Yield/HIgh Risk Opportunities/VIX ARTICLE BARRONS/ Going to War Decisions: Conservative or Liberal vs. Competent or Incompetent?

In the 1960s, segregationist southern Democrats and some of their then natural allies in the Republican party were called conservative for voting against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that sought to prohibit the disenfranchisement of blacks in the South. Voting Rights Act - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaI was always curious then why bigots, racists and segregationists were called conservative. What conservative value is advanced by denying people the right to vote based on the color of their skin or their sex, which needed a constitutional amendment to keep states from denying the vote to women (19th amendment). I know that the media would call the advocates of discrimination and segregation conservative, and they certainly accepted that label for it was far more socially acceptable to be called a conservative rather than a reactionary, or a racist, incredibly ignorant and intolerant, a bigot or some other term which did not sound so soothing to the senses as conservative.

Those traditional Southern democrats, who have long since joined the GOP were not then, nor are they now, conservatives. The political parties were different then. Many northern Republicans were moderates or even liberal and voted for the civil rights legislation in the 1960s while virtually all southern democrats and most of the newly emerging "conservatives" in the Republican party opposed the adoption of civil rights laws. Civil Rights Act of 1964 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Now, I do not believe there is a single Republican congressman left from the New England states, after the defeat of Chris Shay, and Lincoln Chafee had to be the last liberal Republican senator. It is no longer the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Possibly, the strategy first implemented by Kevin Phillips and later refined by Rove to include the millions who called themselves religious conservatives has run its course, but I doubt it. It has been a winning strategy before this last election for the GOP and it is all about acquiring power and keeping it.

When I was in college, a political science professor from up north had his students read a new book by Kevin Phillips called the Emerging Republican Majority. He ask me whether I thought that Phillips' strategy would work and I told him that of course it would work. I know these people. I grew up with them. I knew them well by the hundreds. Phillips recognized that the traditional southern Democrats could be split off from the Roosevelt coalition using the race issue and civil rights. A deliberate and well thought out strategy was developed by him for use by Republicans in the south, first by Nixon when Phillips was his chief strategist, and later by other candidates in congressional and senate races, to use race to cause the "negrophobe whites", in Phillips own words, to join the Republican party, their natural home. Southern strategy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

One of the buzz phrases for racial segregation and discriminatory policies in the south, routinely used by politicians of the era like George Wallace and Lester Maddox (called conservatives by the media) was "states rights". Republican politicians, including Reagan, adopted this rhetoric in speeches to southern crowds that could have easily been given by southern democratic demagogues like Wallace.

The States Rights party was formed by Strom Thurmond after he walked out of the 1948 Democratic convention after it adopted an extremely modest civil rights platform, containing a condemnation of lynchings for example, and the media called Thurmond a conservative then and for the rest of his life after he joined the GOP. Thurmond and many other "conservative" democrats were also opposed to Truman's desegregation of the armed forces. Why was that the conservative position? This is part of a speech given by Thurmond in 1948 that would be called by many to merely be the advocacy of conservative values:

"I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches." quote from Strom Thurmond - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

All of us in the south have always known what politicians mean by invoking the term States Rights. States' rights - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  It was code for bigotry and discrimination against all non-whites and jews. Other code phrases understood by all now would include appointing "strict constructionists" to the Supreme Court. We all know what that means too. Only those who were advocating equal opportunity for all were the True Conservatives, now or at anytime in the past, and the opponents were not then, nor are they now, conservative. Strom Thurmond could be called a lot of things but conservative was not one them.

Conservative is also a label frequently applied to people who wish to teach creationism or intelligent design in the public schools Intelligent design - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Those who oppose turning the public schools into a Madrassah are labeled as liberal. For those who are in a constant struggle to turn a public school classroom into a Sunday school containing a religious curriculum approved only by them, it is not enough that religious instruction can occur at home, in Sunday school, for at least two church services a week, and countless other private forums. If a parent wants to teach intelligent design as their version of science or want that religious theory taught in a class at church, then there are free to do so.

Brainwashing by parents has always been constitutionally permissible. Many other private forums would be available to them outside of the churches. It is a religious theory rather than a scientific one. Judge rules against ‘intelligent design’ - Science- Since many private forums are available to teach religious based doctrines , then why is there any insistence that this religious theory be taught in the public classroom? And why is this insistence to use the state to further religious doctrine advocated only by a minority called the conservative position whereas a desire to keep the state out of religious matters deemed a liberal one? I would start by defining the free exercise of religion to be a conservative value. Anyone like myself who is a strong supporter of the First Amendment supports separation of church and state because we are fervent believers in the right of every individual to exercise and practice their religious beliefs without any interference from the state.

Thus, the True Conservative is against the state using its power in any way to sanction a particular religious ritual, foster a particular religion, advocate in any way a particular religious belief or doctrine, or favor directly or indirectly one religion or denomination over another. We all know religious fanatics and zealots, defined to mean those who want to impose their beliefs on others. Their intent is never just to stick their toe in the door of the public school system with some innocent sounding practice, like teaching "intelligent design" which is nothing but creationism. The intent is always to gain control over the public school to further religious indoctrination, not all religious doctrine, but there own personalized versions, never explaining to anyone really why religious teachings can not be done outside the setting of a public school.

Reading the Bill of Rights, which in itself makes me a distinct minority in the U.S., as well as taking the time to read Supreme Court decisions over the past fifty years now available online relating to the protections afforded by the first nine of the ten Amendments, I am always struck about how much the Founding Fathers distrusted the power of the government, the potential abuse of governmental power by a majority to take away rights of those who do not share their beliefs, and how fearful they were that the rights and freedoms of citizens would be usurped or restrained by a government, even an elected one. Those who share those concerns are the true conservatives. United States Bill of Rights - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia The rest are something else entirely.

A more difficult subject would be the right of privacy that the Supreme Court discovered in the constitution starting with the Griswold decision. Griswold v. Connecticut - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia On the one hand, a conservative would support constitutional limitations on the government's intrusion into the citizen's private lives. The Griswold case arose from a Connecticut statute that prohibited the sale of contraceptives. On the other hand, the right was invented out of the imagination of one of the most liberal Justices in the history of the Supreme Court, William O. Douglas, who talked about the right of privacy being found in the "penumbras" and "emanations" from other constitutional protections. Justice Harlan, one of the best known conservative justices, agreed that there was a right of privacy right protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. This right was not controversial outside of legal circles until it was applied in Roe v. Wade. Then, those who call themselves social conservatives advocated the repeal of a constitutional protection for privacy rights because of their opposition to abortion. So, this issue is complicated on applying a label.

Preventing governmental intrusion into the privacy of its citizens is a conservative principle. Reproductive rights are part of privacy rights. Taking away a privacy right, and allowing the government to intrude into private decisions, is not a conservative approach. The issue of when life begins is neither a conservative or liberal issue. For some it is a matter of faith, a belief in when life begins. Others who may not find the answer in a religious doctrine, might say life begins soon after conception or not until after birth. I do not view those matters as being either conservative or liberal. The conservative and liberal issues are viewed by me as limited to the following: (1) is the right to privacy a conservative value and the answer is yes (2) is reproductive rights a right to privacy issue and the answer is yes and (3) was the right created by justices, and I would answer in the affirmative on that one, and that can not be supported by conservatives, who are at their core, like the Founding Fathers, always suspicious of state power including that exercised by the judiciary usurping the democratic process to further their own personal beliefs about what the constitution should say but does not, for when you start down that road it is potentially dangerous and basically gives 5 Justices the power to amend the Constitution at will.

I have also discussed the efforts, mainly by so-called conservatives in the GOP, to undermine the media, which really started to gain force with Spiro Agnew and has now expanded to virtually all GOP politicians and the likes of Rush Limbaugh and the vitriolic right wing. The goal is to keep their True Believers from even accessing information from most media sources by referring to virtually all journalists as part of mainstream media, elitist, liberal, biased, and generally furthering some conspiratorial agenda to undermine American conservative values. 

The real purpose is to keep any member of their tribe from making any effort to check and verify the truth of assertions made by them and that is accomplished by undermining the free press with name calling. As a consequence, it is virtually impossible for me now to have an intelligent discussion with a Republican since all that I hear is Group Think, as if everyone received a memo from the RNC with the same contentions and accepted everything as the gospel. It does no good whatsoever to bring up any piece of information, no matter how reliable, to contradict any of the GOP commandments. I have yet to find a single card carrying member of the GOP tribe in the Republican SUV Capital who has ever read the NYT although they have formed immutable opinions that all reporting in that paper is biased to promote a liberal agenda. It is impossible to point out any of the now well accepted factual details about the non-existence of Iraq's WMD program. You will only hear lines that would be mere summaries of points made by Ann Coulter or Limbaugh, or someone like Marsha Blackburn who is indistinguishable from that ilk.

So, as far as I can see, the GOP desire to undermine the public's belief in the media has worked and their objective was cynical from the start, to gain and achieve public power without having their version of events challenged by large segments of the population who would be both informed and skeptical. I am not sure why people call that the conservative approach. A conservative, a real one rather than the large majority of pretend ones, would want all citizens to use all available sources in the media, to use their personal judgment to determine what information is reliable, and then decide on whether a politician or political party, Democrat or Republican, is telling the truth or failing to support their position with adequate evidence. If you listen to Republicans now, and for the past fifty years, this is what they seek to discourage, wanting everyone to listen only to the rants of right wing radio bloviators or the "intellectuals" at the fair and balanced "news" network, or anyone else that takes their talking points as facts and promotes their agenda better than paid publicists. .

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