Feb 9th, 2011
By Stephanie Baselice
I have been trying for years now to find a respectful way to reach conservatives, many of whom can be numbered among my own family. Respect for each other is important. This is especially hard these days, since the so called “conservative” Tea Party movement has become a uniting umbrella for right wing tribalism. This tribalism is rooted in a narrative that pits those who gained from civil rights and the other social changes of the past century against those who suddenly found their privilege undermined by a new morality. This narrative took the place of the galvanizing Freedom-Loving Capitalist vs. Red Menace narrative of the cold war, and has been over-fed by billionaire and corporate interests to all but eliminate any actual political discourse between conservatives and anyone else. So, respectfully, WAKE UP PEOPLE! Fox News is not conservative, and it does indeed think its audience is stupid. So let's not all be stupid. Conservatives and Progressives are not natural enemies. That conflict is trumped up for ratings and votes. Progressives must remember there is a very important place in democratic society for conservative thought. True conservatives slow the pace of change. They question the value of progressive ideas; bring up concerns about the cost of actions under consideration.
For instance, questions about the constitutionality of a health insurance mandate take whole different character if the underlying intent is to discern things such as: Would any “greater good” created by a national health plan be offset by a diminishment of personal freedom? Really? If the greater good would in fact be served by a national program, is there precedent for such action? What were the consequences? There are, in fact, perfectly constitutional approaches to resolving the problem of an under-insured population and insurance providers that game the current system by skimming young healthy participants and refusing to cover those who actually need coverage. Genuine conservative thinkers would force the group to research, to plan, to pay attention to the bottom line and to the possibility of unintended consequences, including damage to the intentions of the framers. Our political system was designed for people of differing views to listen to each other, argue, and to propose alternative solutions to problems. We must then compromise to develop solutions that hopefully work well enough to address underlying shared concerns. Healthcare is a shared concern. Why should we accept the myth that conservatives don't care about public health?
Where are the conservatives today? If you try to find them on Fox you will be disappointed. Fox defines “conservatives” as elderly white male selfish homophobic bigots with an endless tolerance for environmental destruction and corporate malfeasance. Surely these are not ordinary middle class Americans? The real Archie Bunker notwithstanding, traditional conservative ideas have been buried in an avalanche of fascist dogma about a Soviet style totalitarian government takeover. Oh yes, with plenty foaming at the mouth about the cultural onslaught of “others”; Gays, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, Immigrants.... Equally derided is any crazy idiot who thinks there should be limits to the power of money or a safety net for the vulnerable in a capitalist system. Seeking protection from the depredations of unchecked capitalism is not actually Un-American. The people have clearly chosen to limit corporate power many times in our short history. It is those very conservative limits (compared to those in other nations) that the billionaire corporate interests seek to undermine.
Yet by re-defining conservatism, the right wing tribalists have entirely betrayed the American ideal of a fair shot at a decent life through hard work and dedication. Fear of the “other” leads them to hate the very hardworking people who endure unconscionable conditions for the privilege of growing and harvesting our pesticide contaminated food. These faux conservatives have forgotten the sacrifices of their own working class and immigrant grandparents who pushed hard for unions. Yes, immigrants, yes, unions. Many of these forgotten grandparents and great grandparents grew up in tenements or came from other countries on the bottom of boats, or worked as children in unsafe factories or roamed the streets and railways looking for food. Is this really the future conservatives wish to bestow upon their own grandchildren? While it is certainly true that corruption can run rampant in unions, the corruption rampant in today's mega-corporations somehow fails to ignite any anger in this tribe while unions, who actually benefited many of these “folks” directly, are an unquestioned target of hate and derision. So please, ask yourself, Who benefits from this? Whatever their flaws, unions brought the fair wages and improved safety and weekends off to the hard working folks who built the prosperity which has been trickling up into the pockets of the very rich, especially into those of Wall Street financiers, for the past 30 years. Ever since Ronald Regan sold the anti-intellectual populists the idea that their interests were one and the same as those of the very corporations who could not wait to outsource their jobs, money has been flowing up, not down, the social ladder. The truth of this is self evident, yet Fox viewers cling to the myth that we have highest living standard in the world, even as they watch their own rural communities disintegrate and fall into the gaping holes left by corporate farming and factory flight. In many small towns, the few remaining young people find their only career path in either the military, or the production of methamphetamines. I
If unions were really so bad, let's actually discuss how to address the conflict between unfettered profit seeking and the interest of the people. And it is indeed a conflict of interest. This is the fact that is obscured by the noise. Faux conservatives have forgotten how we landed in the Great Depression; and the folly of fiscal austerity measures immediately following a deep recession. They don't understand that a country which denominates its debt in its own currency does not follow the same economic logic as a family needing to get off credit cards and back to living within a budget. They ignore their own role in the relationship between revenue, which comes from taxes, and spending, which pays for most of their health insurance as well as the military they take such great pride in. Many of those viewers are current beneficiaries of Medicare or Medicaid. Many have jobs at places like Wal-Mart, which actually encourages its workers to file for government assistance to bridge the gap between their exceedingly low pay and the actual minimum cost of living. In more than a few small towns, Wal-Mart is the only visible employment opportunity. Yet the idea of a social safety net that might catch someone else is so odious that they are apparently willing to give up these benefits. They have forgotten the conservative wisdom of Henry Ford, who had the novel idea that workers ought to be able to afford the products they produced, and that such a system would limit the likelihood of violent revolution . They have forgotten the conservative wisdom of President Eisenhower, who warned us against the depredations of the military industrial complex, which he feared would eventually orient our economy towards endless war for the obscene profit of very few. Conservatives, your nation needs you. The future needs you. Until conservatives embrace their traditional morality and principles, we are doomed to decaying infrastructure, falling living standards and obstructionist politics which ignore the will of the people.