On the Left we often talk about the Republicans as conservatives. The assumption is that conservatives are generally Republican and Republicans are generally conservative. I am quickly coming to the conclusion that while this might have been true at some point, continuing to use conservative as a descriptor for Republicans is no longer accurate.
Dictionary.com defines conservative as follows.
Show Spelled[kuh n-sur-vuh-tiv] Show IPA
disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.
( often initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.
( initial capital letter ) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Conservative Jews or Conservative Judaism.
having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative.
Mathematics . (of a vector or vector function) having curl equal to zero; irrotational; lamellar.
Tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions or institutions, this is what I was taught as a kid was the really mark of a conservative. Unfortunately the modern Republican party is showing in its policy that it is not in any way conservative, but instead is radical.
Again from Dictionary.com:
Show Spelled[rad-i-kuh l] Show IPA
of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.
thoroughgoing or extreme, esp. as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.
favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.
forming a basis or foundation.
existing inherently in a thing or person: radical defects of character.
pertaining to or forming a root.
denoting or pertaining to the radical sign.
irrational ( def. 5b ) .
Grammar . of or pertaining to a root.
Botany . of or arising from the root or the base of the stem.
Looking at the policies that the Republicans at the national and state level are proposing it is clear that they are not following the path of conservatism, in the dictionary definition, but are actually taking radical positions.
There is no way to be at the same time radical and conservative. They are diametrically opposed. A conservative is will work to minimize the pace of change, to keep things as they are as much as possible. A radical is likely to propose broad solutions that will affect more than just the issue at hand.
Which of the two definitions do repeal of the 17th Amendment, “Papers Please” laws, abolition of the Department of Education, withdrawal from the UN, privatization of Social Security and Medicaid, and constant and unending reduction of taxes for the wealthy fall into? You might be able to say there is a thread to hang these ideas on by saying they are trying to return to a past status quo but for most of these agenda items that status quo is more than 50 years ago. Surely after 50 years going back to the things were is a change in the status quo and a radical one at that.
Now I can hear some folks asking, “Why does this matter?”, which is a good question. It matters because Conservative has a more positive connotation than Radical. It by continuing to call Republicans and Tea Partiers conservative we are giving them a perception advantage. It allows them to have a level of credibility that is undeserved given the dangerous and unserious nature of the agenda they are pushing. The title conservative implies preservation which everyone wants at some level. To preserve what we have from those that would change it. This does not fit with the actual policy and actions of the Republicans, nor frankly, most of the groups that are labeled conservative.
One can not be at the same time a radical and a conservative. By pushing back on the Republicans self-definition as conservatives we put the policy argument back on a more even footing. It stops being about Republicans resisting change and puts the spotlight on exactly how much radical change they would enact, in the name of returning to some mythical past. It also allows us to point out that the policies they want to change are ones that were enacted in response to problems that the old status quo caused. Those problems have not gone away, they are merely held back by the legislation that addressed them.
This is an important frame to push. The Republicans are not conservatives, they are radicals. This is already known, but the dots are not being connected explicitly and it is time to do so. Here on the left side of the blogosphere we have been using various synonyms for extreme, but we are not the only ones. You can find traditional media outlets calling them extreme here, here and here.
Extreme and radical are very nearly the same. In fact extreme is used in the Webster’s definition of radical. The point here is that the nation is ready to put the a new tag on the Republicans and Tea Parties. It does not matter what they call themselves, it is their policy and action that define them. I might call myself the King of Denver, but that does not mean that I rule the Mile High City.
It is time to call Republicans and Tea Partiers what they are the Radical Right. They embrace words and actions (2nd Amendment remedies, anyone?) and then get to cloak them in the calming meme of being conservative. Well it is clear they are not trying to conserve anything anymore; this is a party and a movement that wants to reduce our free speech rights, wants to increase the role of Christian religion in the governance of our nation and will side with the interests of big money and big business over the interests of the people. It is a radical agenda from top to bottom and letting them try to sell it as alternative and better policy than what the Democratic Party has to offer is a path to electoral and national disaster.
So, for those of you that write, I am asking that you stop using the word conservative and replace it with the Radical Right. For those of you that just read and comment, please try to put that framing in all your conversations with those who are not on the blogosphere. It should be an easy meme to push, as it is true and accurate.
If we can crystallize the feelings of the nation that Republicans and Tea Partiers are radical, we will greatly decrease their ability to appeal to low information voters who are often swept up by the magnitude of the daily problems in the United States. It may be a small thing but politics is an “everything all the time” occupation, so we should not leave any cards un-played.
The floor is yours.