Future historians will have plenty to argue about as they analyze today’s politics through the lens of time. One debate might be about whether 2010 was the year conservatism died. In the days of Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller, conservatives were those who wanted limited government and low taxes, but still found room to accommodate a range of beliefs under their tent. And they even had a degree of tolerance for those who were outside it.
Now intolerance is in and anyone violating any of the core conservative beliefs is branded a heretic. The political landscape is littered with the bodies of politicians who were deemed insufficiently ardent. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Utah Senator Robert Bennett all demonstrate that, for conservatives, moderate has become as dirty a word as liberal.
But it is not just intolerance that is the hallmark of today's conservatives. They have become little more than the sum of their fears and their hatreds. What they fear most is the modern world and its pace of change. For them, the natural order of things is a country run by white, Protestant males. Today they are confronted with a black man in the White House, a woman as House majority leader, no Protestants on the Supreme Court, gays asserting their rights, and a Muslim immigrant winning the Miss USA crown. It is all too much to bear.
Instead of dealing with the world as it is, conservatives prefer to feel victimized and be victimized by politicians and pundits who promise a return to an Ozzie and Harriet era that never existed. Reconstructing a nonexistent past includes rewriting history and asserting that only they can channel the real intentions of the founding fathers. That allows them to deny anything is different from when the constitution was written by that collection of wealthy, white, male, Christians. Back in those good old days, blacks were property, women were in the kitchen, and Native Americans and Latinos were people from whom God said land should be stolen until the Pacific was reached.
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To support their history, conservatives have their own facts. They whine constantly about being over-taxed ignoring the fact that the total tax burden is now lower than it has been since before Eisenhower took office. They also have their own science to support the facts they invent. Their answer to evolution is a biblically-based fairy tale. In their version of economics, tax cuts always pay for themselves by creating so much growth that the new tax revenue generated exceeds that lost by the cuts. No matter that no study has ever shown that to be true and that George H.W. Bush once referred to that theory as voodoo economics.
Conservatives today turn away from reality and prefer to swoon over the media stars that validate their worldview. The irony is that, while people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Bill O'Reilly claim to be standing up for the little guy, all they really do is put the con in conservative. While standing tall for the small, they all take home eight-figure annual incomes and laugh all the way to the bank.
Their formula for success is consistent. They stoke the homophobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia of their listeners by using language that would embarrass George Orwell and name-calling that would turn Joe McCarthy's stomach. Their response to the racists in their midst is to accuse others of racism. Politicians they don't like are compared to Hitler and Stalin and any government initiative is socialist if not communist. They make allusions to using violence to protect the imaginary world their listeners live in. And in the meantime, they sell them books, videos and gold.
When the conservative cheerleader is a woman she has to be sassy and glib with far more bile than brains. She also has to be pretty. The audiences that gather to hear Palin are enraptured by her rap and unbothered by the fact that her train of thought derailed before it left the station. And they would pay no attention to her if she were as attractive as someone like say Meg Whitman, the Ebay billionaire who spent 90 million dollars of her own money buying the nomination for governor in California.
There will always be people suffering from a psychic crisis due to their inability to deal with the world. And there will always be those who will be ready to make a handsome living exploiting that condition. So 2010 probably won't be considered the year that conservatism died. But it may be the year that it became recognized as the ideology of the impaired.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dennis Jett is a former career diplomat who served abroad in six countries including Israel.
McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.