Thursday, 27 September 2012

Will The Real Conservatives Please Stand Up?

Right-wingers fighting for control
I self-identify as a Christian conservative, which Americans on the right often greet with derision before telling me I'm actually Liberal and going further left with every post because I don't agree with the policies emanating from the famous figures of the American Right. Actually, they've not only gone far to the right of the Fascists, they don't realise it. This is why.

Basically, the conservative narrative has been hijacked by the Far Right, who don't tolerate dissension in the ranks. The result of this is that anyone who stands up to them gets pushed out, end up on the fringes, and extremism is the new norm. There are other conservative parties, but the Republican Party (GOP) is the dominant one and conservatives tend to be lumped with it and its ideologies.

Pictured on the left are the best-known Republicans, the contenders for the presidency. At the back, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul duke it out over Old Glory. In front are Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Each of them has in common a desire to control and to dominate, to own the narrative, and each of them has a following that does little to inspire confidence in the rest of us. They represent the best and brightest Republican minds. They are thought leaders, and their ideas are the ones being shared on the internet and in the media.

Who are these people?

Bachmann is a Dominionist loon. Paul is ostensibly Libertarian but is basically a corporatist YOYO (you're on your own) and social conservative while Ryan is a Roman Catholic social conservative pushing a religious and YOYO agenda. Romney started out moderate but swung right to pander to the voters who take these people seriously. He has adopted many of the stances taken by Bachmann, Paul, and Ryan, and has taken on the neocon agenda, which is war, more war, even more war, tax breaks for the legacy fossil fuel industries, tax breaks for the rich, and space. He'll pay for all this by robbing the poor box and taxing middle-income earners pulling in more than $100,000. He'll get the voters to go along with it by convincing them that welfare claimants are actually undeserving scroungers who are voting for Obama to keep the food stamps coming in. Why are they being taken seriously enough by the electorate that challenging the GOP (Republican) narrative gets you called an idiot or worse? Republicans use three main tactics to get people on side:

  • Control of the narrative

  • Enforced compliance

  • Political theatre

Control of the narrative

I've written before about the importance of controlling the narrative, the idea people have of what is going on. Republicans have four key ways in which they control the narrative

  • Control of the media

  • Repetition

  • FUD

  • Faux intellectualism

Control of the media

The most popular media outlets for conservative-leaning audiences are run by Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox News and self-identifies as Libertarian. He also owns the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, and the New York Post. Find out more about his media holdings via NewsCorp on Wikipedia. A handful of corporate conglomerates, Disney, CBS Corporation, News Corporation, TimeWarner, and General Electric, own the majority of mass media outlets in the United States. Fox is notorious for its promotion of a conservative agenda that swings far to the right of traditional conservatism. If this is where people are getting their information from, it's no wonder they can be so cognitively dissonant that facts don't move them.


Tell a lie, an outright lie, and if you repeat it often enough, people will believe you. Tell it on the telly, in the papers, and on the internet, and they will certainly believe you. People trust media figures if they appeal to a particular need or they can identify with them. People who voice the unspoken fears of their viewers and listeners can become standard-bearers for the disenfranchised or under-represented simply because they touched a nerve that made them feel they were speaking to them and addressed their need to be heard.


I've been reading about code words and dog whistles, but the fact that people take Conservapedia seriously says it all. The election of Barack Obama to the US presidency has brought out the loons and the far right white supremacists, who are furious that a black man is in the Oval Office behind the desk, not cleaning it. This upsets their sense of order so much that no lie is too vile to tell. The biggest one is that Obama is a Liberal at all. He's Neocon Lite, but efforts to reform healthcare got him called a Nazi. Conspiracy theories include the idea that he's a Kenyan socialist and that FEMA is running concentration camps.

Faux intellectualism

When people find ways to twist the truth by using clever-sounding jargon or loaded language, they can convince other people that they're intelligent, particularly when they either quote obscure intellectual figures or theories, or argue their points via media outlets such as Forbes or the Wall Street Journal. They invent an alternate reality to inhabit and persuade others to join them there so they can insist with straight faces that since they have achieved consensus with their peers, anyone who disagrees with them is the one who's off base. What they're doing is best described as relativism.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." - Ron Suskind

It's people who think like that who believe in the Laffer Curve and that supply-side economics works because Von Mises says so, whatever the precedents are. Contradict them and they'll tell you that the practitioners were doin' it wrong or it wasn't their fault because of unexpected incidents. Forget the fact that a theory only works when put to the test in the real world, not in isolation.

Enforced compliance

I've written before about the GOP purity test that members are supposed to adhere to. There's a certain amount of leeway for accepted right-wing strands of opinion that include Libertarianism, Nationalism, Neoconservatism, Paleoconservatism, and Social conservatism, but if you stray too far beyond the general consensus or demonstrate a capacity for critical thinking, as I do, game over. They usually use shaming and the threat of ostracism to enforce compliance in an atmosphere that brooks no opposition. This is what it looks like in a Google Plus comment:

You're losing objectivity and credibility with every post lately... harping on about Vermont?  now you're spouting off about Ron Paul "corporatist YOYO"  You have no idea what you're even saying...

I dunno how things are so different with the terms of left, right, conservative... but in this country you're a typical liberal with all your views... no question about it.  Maybe that's not how it is in your country but try telling someone you views and tell them you're a conservative... they'll be VERY confused in the US...

You've gone full on leftist, more with every day and every post... - Brad Dillon, Ron Paul supporter

This happens a lot. I'm not sure they even realise they're doing it.

See it in the comments on this post:

He doesn't sound like a conservative to me. The "rich are out to rule the world" narrative is not a conservative one, it is a liberal narrative. While I have strong opinions about "crony capitalism" and the linkage of governmental powers with businesses, I don't see wealth, per se, as the issue.

It is the accumulation of power, the differing sets of rules (one rule for me and a different rule for THEE) that is a huge problem. And Governments enable that. But, we've had that money vs power discussion before! - Mary Ritenour, Libertarian Conservative

We're discussing this post, in which the author explains the state we're in today and the emergent class war.

I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich. … The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community. Let me say here clearly … ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. … I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins … is to do wrong … let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings.

Whether the adherents of these policies are atheists or not, they seem to hold the rich in awe as They Who Must Never Be Questioned and say it's heresy to try to tax them. But that's not the way things have always been done. Back in the day, when everyone knew their place, the rich paid their share of tax. It's only when the means of producing wealth changed and outsourcing and offshoring became more common that patriotism became a fiction to distract the little people from the fact that the real threat from the Middle East is our dependence on petroleum.

Political theatre

Choosing what spot to occupy on the ideological spectrum is not what the right should be worried about, important though it surely is. It scarcely matters if the GOP starts tilting three more degrees toward social conservatism, or fiscal conservatism, or libertarianism, or centrism, if that agenda is shaped and pursued by a coalition incapable of adjudicating arguments on their merits, or separating fact from fantasy, or maintaining the most basic ethical standards. - The Atlantic

For all the bumph and bluster over which strand of accepted conservative ideology prevails, sooner or later we're going to have to deal with the brass tacks of what's going on. The policies and laws enacted by the Republican administrations are already starting to yield consequences in the states in which they have and hold a clear majority. In an election year, this is costing them votes and satirical stories are being accepted as fact because their craziness doesn't stand out. Let's look at a few of these to see what's going on.

Joe Scarborough reacts to Romney clip - 'Sweet Jesus' on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Arizona Limits Choice; Ends Up Paying For 53% Of Births - Addicting Info.

Group files complaint against Murray Energy for forcing workers to attend Romney rally - The Raw Story.

Romney-Ryan name-calling - Politico.

Supporters Struggle To Defend Romney’s Tax Plan Math - Talking Points Memo.

Mitt Romney Reveals Space Exploration Plans (But Few Details) - Space.

Rapist seeking visitation with child he fathered after attack on teen victim - Fox News.

Paul Ryan’s Promise To Make Life More Difficult For Women - Eclectablog.

Okay, which one is the satire? Here it is, debunked on Buzzfeed. The point is, political theatre gets us talking about Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments when we should be taking on the War on Women laws that such attitudes produce. It gets us talking about dependence on government and spending on public services for the undeserving when the greatest expenditure by far is on tax breaks for the super rich and corporations, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror. Don't believe me? Do the budget puzzle. I left a surplus by rolling back the Bush cuts and the military-industrial complex. If we're going to have a proper debate about the US budget deficit or any of the other hot button issues we need to engage with them properly instead of pigeonholing them and refusing to deal with them unless the questions are framed to accommodate ideological orthodoxy.

Who are the real conservatives?

People who believe in the rule of law, a just society, self-determination,  a good work ethic, healthy competition, a free and fair market, personal freedom, patriotism, and respect for traditional values. We don't like sudden, radical changes and have a deep respect for intellectual endeavour and a comprehensive education. We believe you have to work for what you get and that you should be fairly compensated. We believe in justice and fairness. In honour and integrity. In respect for religion and culture. In family, community, charity, and duty.

My conservatism

Where I differ is that I believe that nobody should be specially privileged because of the circumstances of their birth or the vagiaries of chance or fame. I believe in all of the above, that we're all equal, and we're all in this together and are as responsible to each other as we are for ourselves. You can't have a society composed of people who are out for themselves but dribble bits of charity to the peasants. I believe in social responsibility because it helps to keep order. Panem et circenses. Contraceptives to stop poor people having kids they can't feed now to save us the expense of paying for their birthing costs and upkeep down the line. Workfare and employment training schemes that help people to become personally responsible workers if they fall on hard times, and laws to protect the weak from the strong. Fail to do that and you're falling over Occupy protestors complaining about the trickle-up economy that's left them with no jobs to apply for. Sorry, did I forget to mention "cause and effect?" I believe in that more than anything else. It's why I rely on precedents in arguments.

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