Guest Blogged by Frank Schaeffer
I grew up in a fundamentalist missionary family that in the 1970s and 80s morphed into my father's activity as one of the founders of the Religious Right. We would hobnob with Republican leaders from Ronald Reagan to Gerald Ford and the Bush family, Jack Kemp and many others. One day it dawned on me that the far right of the Republican Party --- in other words its base --- actually hates America.
The Religious Right reveled in rising crime statistics, "family breakdown" statistics, failing public schools and so forth. As I explain in my book Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism), if crime started going down, or public school test results started going up --- without the country "turning back to Jesus" --- then that would prove that somehow "we" were wrong.
We wanted our country to fail because it had "turned away" from what we believed to be true.
Combined with the fact that we began to lose parts of the culture war, when it came to other Americans beginning to recognize gay rights, expanding women's rights, abortion rights and such, the Religious Right and the Republican Party infected gun-toting America with a chip on its shoulder about a mile wide. This led to the myth that "they" (fill in the blank, gays, Jews, blacks, liberals --- whatever) are "taking away our country from 'us'"...
"Conservative" means that you believe it's right to legalize torture, but reject health care for all.
These days to be a conservative means that you hate the United States government elected by the people; believe that if millions of citizens are out of work that it's their own fault and that the rest of the community should not help them by spending tax dollars; think that Sarah-believes-in-casting-out-demons-before-she-ran-for-governorship-Palin speaks for you. To be a conservative means you believe that healthcare reform will lead to "death panels"; that the president of the United States is not a "real American"; that a university education is a dangerous thing; that Americans who live in big cities are less American than those who live in small towns; that brown people, blacks, progressive whites, gays, public school teachers, Hispanics, immigrants, are somehow conspiring to subvert the "real America" with a "gay agenda" or a "Muslim agenda" or at least the browning of "our" white America.
In other words to be a conservative today is to be an anti-American, nihilistic libertarian know-nothing who believes in unregulated consumerism and the theology of dominion, and the Rapture that many conservatives also subscribe to along with such "facts" as that Obama is the --- literal! --- Antichrist.
Other than trying to stop women from having abortions and fighting the whole world, our "terrorist enemies", in other words everyone "not like us", conservatism today is nothing more than a pent up reaction against everything "we" don't understand --- like art, literature, government, history, geography, diversity, how people get to be gay, black or female... things like that.
Conservatism today is actually not for anything. It is just against everyone but "us" and a few like us bound together by an alternative reality, otherwise known as Fox/NRA/Beck/Palin/Jesus's Return--"News."
The irony is that conservatives used to wrap themselves in the American flag and belonging to a cause built on higher ideals than pure selfishness and individual choice. Patriotism was based on principle, not fear and anger. Conservatism led by people such as the late William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and others had its feet firmly planted in what it regarded as the reality-based community as opposed to liberal wishful thinking about progress coming from government, human nature, etc.
The problem for the conservative movement --- hence the Republican Party --- is that the us in "us" was never more narrowly defined.
No one said it openly, in fact it was denied, but it really amounted to we Real Americans boiling down to mostly uneducated white people, dumb enough to believe things such as Sarah Palin's barefaced lies about Obama consorting with terrorists, and/or, post the Obama election, conspiring to unleash "death panels" on unsuspecting elderly and/or handicapped Americans while turning us into a "Communist state" as everyone knows Hitler did to Germany, that other "communist country" famous right up there with Canada and the UK for killing its sick, tired and poor.
What is the conservative movement today, and/or the Republican Party?
It's about as far away from conservatism as it can get. It is a party ready to trash its own country in support of nihilistic, selfish market-driven "values" the very opposite of conservative values of family, community and stability. It is in fact what conservatives of the 60s said the hippies were: selfish brats with no sense of responsibility to anyone. It's also a party of armed revolution not so subtly egging on its lunatic fringe to commit violence. It applauds white rubes who show up at public meetings carrying loaded assault weapons "to make a point" and signs reminiscent of Timothy McVeigh and his famous T-shirt; "the tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants" and the like are held up by Murdoch/Beck/Fox and company --- those profiteers off the unregulated market --- as paragons of good sense and free enterprise and gun rights.
To be an actual conservative today is to be a progressive Democrat.
An actual conservative believes in community and accountability to a moral tradition that puts the greater good of others ahead of oneself. Take a look at the way the very conservative communities of New England's Puritan towns were arranged around the village green known as "the commons."
Shared public spaces were owned by the community, for instance grazing land, and town meetinghouses. People were obliged to show up and participate in the fledgling democracy and vote. Taxes were dispensed by committees for charitable purposes. A duty to government and obligations placed on citizens by other citizens --- when it came to putting the life of the community ahead of the self --- were the norm. The free-market and individual enterprise were strictly curtailed based on not just the needs of the community but, when it came to things like banking and lending, the Old Testament teachings that frowned on "usury" --- in other words banks making more money than they should from ordinary people-- were upheld.
President Obama is a conservative. He believes in the brotherhood of all people. He believes in the freedom of the individual to make moral decisions. He believes that sexuality, religion and skin color should not define us but the content of our characters should define us. He believes that we are our brother's keeper. He believes in loyalty to community and country --- in other words patriotism, whether that's the honor of serving in the military or the honor of paying taxes to support not just national defense but how we treat what the Bible calls the least amongst us.
People ask me why I'm a progressive these days and "changed sides" from being a conservative. I didn't change sides.
What changed --- ironically with my father's and my nefarious "help!" --- was a conservative movement that became an enclave for hate-filled ignorance, anti-American sentiment and nihilistic individualism. What changed was my bare faced self deception as I profited from the God business and the far right even though I knew better. Today I am an independent voter, and an Obama supporter, and a progressive because I am a conservative.
Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and the forthcoming Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism).
He will be making appearances across the country over the next several months to promote his new book. His current tour schedule is here. Please stop by to say hello if he comes to your home town, and tell him you read him on The BRAD BLOG!