[politics] The Right’s assault on your rights

Last Friday on my Facebook presence, David Bara made the rather astute comment to the effect of:

The founding fathers looked at it differently. To the right was anarchy, to the left was tyranny. Labels like “Liberal” have very little to do with dictionary definitions, as does “Conservative”. “Conservatives” should be in favor of things like conservation of the ecology and wildlife, liberals should be championing the rights of the individual over the rights of an oppressive government. Neither seems very true today.

And he’s right, at least to a point. That’s a deep irony.

We hear a lot about rights from the Right. Original Intent. Second Amendment rights. How the proposed healthcare reform process is a government intrusion on our rights.

Yet modern conservatism, as expressed in the actions of the Bush administration, in Republican Party state and national platforms, in the discourse on talk radio and cable news, in letters to the editors, in demonstrations, even in the occasional murder of a doctor, is very much about the government limiting personal rights.

Some examples of personal, legal and civil rights which conservatives eagerly support wholesale abrogation of through government intervention:

For fear of terrorism:

  • Conservatives favor torture (in direct contradiction of two centuries of American values, as well as any sense of morality or ethics)
  • Secret trials with closed evidence
  • Indefinite imprisonment without trial
  • Indefinite imprisonment past the expiration of sentencing
  • Suspension of habeas corpus

In the name of promoting specific religious beliefs (contra the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of religion for all):

  • Forced pregnancy (through denial of family planning services and abortion access)
  • Criminalization of private sexual behavior
  • Denial of civil and legal rights to entire classes of persons (opposition to gay marriage)
  • Destruction of educational standards and opportunities (mandating counterfactual Bible-based teachings in biology and other subjects)
  • Establishment of specific religious practices (mandating school prayer)

Perhaps most ironically of late, many of the people who are braying loudest about forbidding any government influence in healthcare decision-making are the very same people who want government to ban abortion — one of the most important healthcare decisions a woman can make. The hypocrisy of this is breathtaking, albeit largely unacknowledged.

In every one of those cases, liberals stand foursquare in favor of individual rights against the conservative urge to promote government interference in our personal liberties. Many of those threatened or denied are explicitly delineated in the Constitution. (And to be fair, it is the shame of the Obama administration that they have not moved quickly to roll back so much of the damage the Bush administration did in this regard.)

Conservatism is a movement which famously doesn’t “do nuance.” Many conservative leaders are proud of their unwavering principles. This in turn leads to absolutism in rhetoric and policy. From there it’s a short road to condemning liberals for pushing for gun control or healthcare reform as limiting individual rights.

Yet to my eye, modern conservatism is largely defined by a strong desire to limit the rights of others. The classic signifiers of conservatism — fiscal prudence, small government, limits to foreign adventuring — are long lost in the Reagan and post-Reagan era of the GOP. Except for their fixation on reducing tax levels, the Republican party and American conservatives have betrayed their traditional values for the comfort of taking away the rights of other people in order to help themselves feel safe, feel holy, feel American. (Or, as Interrupting Gelastic Jew recently said, “I’m scared, so take away that guy’s rights please!.” Pretty much the Bush administration’s statement of principle with regard to terrorism.)

You can’t take away rights, just because you disagree with someone, or they make you feel icky, or they violate the commandments of your particular religion, or because they’re poor or the wrong skin color. That’s why we talk about “rights”, instead of “privileges”. Yet conservatives, who fixate loudly on the rights they value for themselves, consistently campaign for wholesale abrogation of the rights of others.

All of this has been a bad bargain for conservatives, and a truly horrid bargain for American society as a whole. The rhetorical absolutism of which conservatives are so fond, their collective disdain for nuance, is voided by their own contradictions, as a result robbing cherished conservative principles of intellectual honesty or consistency. There’s a hell of a lot of that much-despised nuance embedded in the tension between stated conservative principles and the rhetoric and actions of conservatives.

To point back to Bara’s comment, the definitions of our political labels have changed, radically so, even in my lifetime. As a liberal, as an American, as a human being, I’d really like to keep my rights safe from conservative America. My rights and yours, including the rights of all my conservative friends despite themselves.

I can’t help but hope that conservatives themselves would like the same thing, if they listened to their own reality instead of their rhetoric.

8 thoughts on “[politics] The Right’s assault on your rights

  1. Jay,

    I think it’s worth noting that Conservativism — large c — is more fractured than it’s been in 30 years.

    This is not a monolith of thought or ideology. It’s a mish-mash of often contradictory ideas. Not everyone who identifies as Conservative or conservative — small c — gets along with everone else who is C/conservative.

    There are deep fractures that run through the movement — if we can even call it a movement — which have been exposed as the Republican party slowly eroded, following the Reagan years.

    Heck, I know a *LOT* of conservatives in the military who were none too happy with the Bush years, nor Rumsfeld, nor much else that transpired under either of these gentlemen.

    I think this is why the Republican party has been put into the back seat and is liable to stay in the back seat for awhile. Because it’s lost its identity and has therefore lost the reliable votes of millions of Americans who aren’t happy with the way things have gone.

    1. Jay says:

      Good point.

      Liberal-progressives tend to view conservatism through a monolithic lens for a couple of reasons.

      One, Reagan’s 11th Commandment held firm from 1980 to about 2006, which has given many of us (including me) a lifetime of seeing near-lockstep agreement among Republican (ie, conservative-identified) politicians, at least in public.

      Two, the more visible conservative voices in politics and the media are still pretty well-aligned with a consistent neocon/theocon message — Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Lou Dobson, Glenn Beck, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Sarah Palin many in the House GOP leadership, Senators like Boren and Vitter and DeMint.

      So while as a political observer I see the fractures you’re talking about; and in point of fact recognize that they’ve always been there; the fractures don’t appear to influence the media messaging, the legislative strategy or the public face of conservatism in general.

      Hence the continued perception of the conservative monolith…

  2. One thing I’d like to see happen — and as slim as the chance might be, there is more of a chance of this now than at any time I can remember — is for the Republican party to dump the Bible Belt.

    No, really. I know that sounds absurd — or blasphemous, depending on how you look at it — but I’d personally love to see the Republican party dump the Fundie Conservatives. Mostly because I see Fundie Conservatives as the chief source of incoherency within Republicanism and Conservativism.

    Chasing the Bible Belt carrot is what’s largely gotten Republicanism and Conservatvism into the minority role they occupy today. Clearly, to be meaningful in 21st century discourse, Republicanism and Conservativism have got to be about more than pulpit-pounding.

    I know, I know, fat chance, right?

    1. Jay says:

      I’m old enough to remember when the GOP wasn’t dominated by the Christian Right. And, erm, yes, we are in almost complete agreement on this point.

  3. Not to derail the thread too much, but Bible Beltism’s biggest flaw is its literalist mentality: that the Bible is the absolute word of God — and anything which even appears to contradict the Bible or cast anything in the Bible into shadow, is ‘of the devil’ and to be opposed at all costs.

    Unfortunately, Bible Beltist literalism has become the most vocal, most obnoxious, most visible face of Christianity in America today. Speaking as someone who has chosen to be Christian and is a church-goer himself, I find the Bible Beltist literalist mentality to be noxious, frightening, and often in direct conflict with much of Christ’s actual teaching.

    1. Jay says:

      Which touches on two points I’ve long made.

      First, if you inject hard-line religion into politics, then dissent or compromise is literally sinful. (Assuming you take your religion seriously.) Which pretty much sabotages the utility of the political process, at least as it’s nominally practiced in this country.

      Second, the GOP made a devil’s bargain (you should pardon the expression) with the Evangelical Christian movement in order to rehabilitate the party after the disaster that was Richard Nixon, both in mobilizing a new crop of voters and to finish destroying the historic Democratic lock on the votes of the “solid South.” (Granted that the Southern Strategy goes back well before Reagan, but it was the Atwater-Ailes team that really made it pay off in 1980.) For years, moderate and liberal Republicans (including non-Fundie conservatives) went along with this for the sake of the electoral gains and the voting bloc. This decades long experience of go-along-to-get-along on the part of mainstream conservatives and GOP moderates has made me rather unsympathetic to those folks today, even when I agree with them, as you and I seem to. Where were your opposing voices back when it would have done some good? The nation’s entire political well has been poisoned for a generation for the sake of two and a half decades of votes, and the people who did it are still credible, respected figures in the GOP and media establishments. The GOP and the conservative movement needs to clean their own house and make amends to repair the damage.

      Which, in different phrasing, is the same point you were making.

  4. Well, in my own defense, I’m only 35. First time I had a chance to vote — on anything — was in 1992. And then, I voted Perot for President. So it’s not like I am a good representative of the Republican or conservative base. In fact, based on voting record, I’ve voted more for Democratic candidates than Republican ones, though that began to change a lot after 9/11/2001.

    I do think a reckoning is sort of underway. It might take another cycle or two of losses — especially at the White House level — to make it clear to people who matter that being in thrall to the most ignorant, most reactive, least thoughtful sector of your constituency is a losing proposition.

    There are a lot of very unhappy conservatives of various stripes who don’t think the Republican party or Conservativism — as its represented by voices and faces in the media these days — necessarily suit them anymore.

    If it were up to me, and I had all the time and money in the world to burn, I’d create a third party and try to forge some kind of bona fide alternative which could encompass the more rational aspects of conservativism and liberalism, and jettison the emotional thinking.

    Of course, this would probably backfire, because cool rationality is not — apparently — what gets out the vote. Not on either side.

    1. Jay says:

      Of course, this would probably backfire, because cool rationality is not — apparently — what gets out the vote. Not on either side.

      Sadly true.

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