Though I am contented to be cynical in my views toward the motivations of those in political power, I am an optimist to a large degree, about the progress of American life in this new century. In my youth we were a nation still ascendant. The last ten years have had many trials and have seen many political developments which have contradicted that ascendancy. War, torture, lying, scandal, and of course, the fragmentation of once great parties into screaming bands of brigands and political hooligans.
People have short memories. The media this week has been all a twitter about Conservative activists mad as hell about socialized medicine and President Obama. Liberal activists, who have been complaining about conservative activists (most who are cut from the same activist cloth as themselves) were no less vociferous while they were burning Bush in effigy. What makes the conservative case something different, to me rather disturbing, is that activism, by itself, is not fundamentally conservative.
Make no mistake about it; the people shouting at Members of Congress, spouting their paranoid eyewash about protecting the Constitution, are self-aggrandizing anti-democrats. The very nature of representative government, in the American form at least, is based on Congressional debate and not catch-phrases regurgitated from extremists radio show hosts. The same right wing people who are now so concerned about the Constitution and ‘socialism’ are the ones who voted for George Bush who advocated direct government aid to the banking industry, the Medicare Prescription Drug Act, and the explosion of federal spending after 9-11 by Republican Members of Congress who have landed us in the greatest federal deficit in the history of the Republic.
I suppose what really bothers me about this turn to GOP activism is that it is simply undignified. When we are identified as a party with the lowest common denominator, with the ignoramuses and conspiracy theorists spewing their venom in all directions, we are losing the policy debate. We need an alternative vision for healthcare: rising prices and coverage restrictions are problems that desperately need to be confronted. Not by signs and not by slogans but by legislation, policy, and debate.
Conservativism is found in restraint. It is moderation. It is discussion. It is, fundamentally opposed to rabble rousing and sceptical of mobs. It is founded in anti-extremism. I would argue that those speaking the loudest at these so-called Town Hall meetings are right wing extremists – but they aren’t conservatives. If they are the future of the Republican Party, well, then the great elephant of the GOP deserves to die at the hands of its own gun toting mob.