The pendulum at the top of its arc?
VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Since about the time that Ronald Reagan was swept into office in November 1980, the conservative movement has thrived. The liberal or progressive movement which had reached its peak in the waning years of the 1960s had gradually fizzled through the decadent 1970s and lapsed into a coma as the right wing came roaring back on the coattails of a senile ex-movie actor turned populist president.
The Reagan Presidency was characterised by a neo-hawkish foreign policy that saw Reagan describe the Soviet Union as “an evil empire” and put an end to détente. The world had changed. Domestically, the youth movement had been routed; perhaps the best metaphor for the scattering of the tribes is the fact that Abby Hoffman, perhaps the highest profile “youth leader” of the 60s was underground working as an environmental activist, while Jerry Rubin, perhaps the second highest profile “youth leader”, was working on Wall Street as an investment adviser.
But as the pendulum continued to swing toward the right, it was in economic policy that conservatism really began to come into its own. Reagan appealed to latent racism with dog-whistle expressions like “welfare queens”, to push his party’s agenda of dismantling the social safety net. Self-interest became a virtue. “Trickle-down” economics was passed off as a progressive move.
For those unfamiliar with trickle-down or “supply-side” economics, it is the ludicrous proposition that if we give enormous tax benefits to the wealthiest citizens, they will spend more and that additional spending would have positive effects on the economy…effects that would trickle down to the middle class, the working poor, and the destitute. Although self-evidently absurd and laughably self-serving, it was part of the new conservatism and the Reagan doctrine.
Since that time, conservatism has been the order of the day. “Liberal” became a bad word and a term of derision, where it had once been a proud label. Any political philosophy that supported egalitarianism or the maintenance of a social safety net was treated with scorn; the poor were demonised, the unemployed disdained. Ayn Rand looked down upon the world and smiled with satisfaction; the politics of self-interest and greed were the new religion. Greed was good and the new conservatism’s fictional hero Gordon Gekko was a folk hero who perverted Robin Hood’s mission and advocated stealing from the poor (much easier) and simply keeping it.
Liberals were forced underground; they had to hold secret meetings and develop secret handshakes because they couldn’t survive out in the open. Only a few of us wore our principles on our sleeves and continued to fight for fair play and human decency while the new right kept moving further away from anything resembling compassion or consideration of other human beings. But as the new century dawned, the taste of cruelty and indifference to suffering began to cloy. Greed became a tiresome mantra and the right began to be seen as a polarising force. The United States elected Barack Obama, a centrist black Democrat as President.
Then the backlash hit, exposing the right for what it had become. The Tea Party, a grass roots movement of fanatically devoted ultra conservatives mobilised and pushed their agenda. Their elected representatives were strong-armed into signing a pledge never to vote for anything that could have the effect of raising taxes for any reason under any circumstances ever. And betraying their oath of office, the new congress all signed up. They were anti-immigration, they supported legislation that would bring an end to women’s right to choose, they even sought to deny contraception to working women, they paid thugs to help to suppress the voting rights of minorities, they were virulently anti-gay, pro-gun, anti-government except for where the government would enforce anti-choice laws and clamp down on the teaching of evolution as a science. Their explicitly stated mission was to obstruct any initiatives introduced by the hated black man in the White House and they vowed on his inauguration day to deny him a second term.
This mindless group of uneducated and terminally ignorant proto-fascists overstepped themselves. Behaving with the licence they believed had been given them as the result of decades of conservatism being considered mainstream, they finally nauseated rational conservatives. The left had been nauseated for a long time, and the excesses of the new brown shirts rekindled the fire in their bellies. The liberals came out of the woodwork and brought Obama back for a second term, increased the Democratic majority in the Senate, but thanks to Republican gerrymandering, failed to retake the House.
But the writing is on the wall.
The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party have torn the GOP apart and rendered it a shambolic, in-fighting mob. Many of the freshman
Representatives are utterly incompetent as political leaders, have no idea how to operate within a deliberative body, see compromise as a betrayal of principles, and are simply too stupid to understand anything beyond their immediate demands. Those inept ideologues lost the election this year for the GOP. There is no way Obama could have won the election except for the Tea Party. A president in a sluggish economy, with unemployment above seven percent, with massive debt and an enormous deficit, a wildly polarised country, and who inspires deep, bitter hatred in much of the population should simply not have won a second term. But the GOP is so hopelessly FUBAR that Obama decisively trounced them and easily walked into his second term.
The Tea Party, because of the power they wield within the GOP forced its candidates to fight for the furthest right position they could grasp in order to win the primary. By the time the convention was near, the rhetoric from the candidates for the nomination was frightening in its assault on women, minorities, LGBT citizens, youth, and pretty much anybody who isn’t a bigoted white middle-aged or older male. Romney took the nomination simply because he went so far right he couldn’t see center any more. And of course, according to plan, in the actual presidential campaign he tried the Etch-a-sketch maneuver; he turned his campaign upside down, erased everything he had avowed during the primaries and started over as a moderate. Of course, even the American public isn’t quite that stupid, and his duplicity became a punchline.
But the right has shown its hand and the rest are not impressed. They have demonstrated that they are heartless, self-serving, not very bright, and completely willing to lie, steal, and cheat to achieve their hate-driven agenda.
The pendulum is swinging back. We can only hope that this last outrageous example of the cupidity, if not the stupidity, of the extreme right has sickened enough people that conservatism will once again become a dirty word. We can all get behind that pendulum and give it shove.
The general public is now in favour of marriage equality while the Republican position against it has become more entrenched. The public, by and large, doesn’t agree with the conservative viewpoint that science in schools is bad, prayer good. The nations of North America are evolving and looking for political answers that don’t amount to “Fuck you, Jack; I’m all right!” We are becoming somewhat kinder and gentler. We need to encourage this sea change. Let’s listen to John Lennon sing Imagine again, and let’s all sing along with Bob to The Times They are a’Changin’
We might see, if not a new dawning of the Age of Aquarius, at least some human decency return as a standard to which both sides of the political spectrum aspire.