Conserving Our System

What passes for political discourse these days is so debased, so irrational, that we no longer even think about the real meanings of the words we throw around. So “socialist” is conflated with “Nazi” (and used without any obvious understanding of what the term describes) and “conservative” is used to describe positions that are anything but.

To be conservative is to “conserve”–to protect elements of the past.

E.J. Dionne makes the point that today’s self-described conservatives are really radicals bent upon a wholesale abandonment of settled aspects of our national life.  It’s an important column, and well worth reading in its entirety.

Now, there are times when wholesale change is necessary or advantageous. There are other times when dramatic, radical reinvention is profoundly harmful. In a democratic system, it is up to the voters to decide whether they want to replace what they have with something radically different. But in order to make that decision, voters need to understand what is really being proposed–and in an era where propaganda has displaced much of the news, where a pitiful minority know enough about America’s history or constitutional system to recognize the magnitude of the changes the current GOP field is advocating, the significance of the 2012 election is not obvious to many–perhaps most–voters.

What was that old Chinese curse? May you live in interesting times?

We’re there.

1 Comment

  1. Sadly, you mention part of the problem without talking about the rest. I heard a co-worker rail against a rule made by his home owners association as being “communist”, although home owners associations are meant to maintain and enhance property values – hardly a communist idea.

    However, while you hint at the problem, you have also banished a word that is needed for a true and total description of the situation. The traditional delineation: Radical, Liberal, Centrist, Conservative and Reactionary, has been discarded. While terms like socialist and radical are easily bandied about, we seem afraid to apply the descriptive term “reactionary”. Simply put, reactionaries wish to return to a previous state of affairs (or perhaps time).

    Too many of those claiming to be “conservatives” are in reality reactionaries, beginning with Ronald Reagan, who wanted to repeal the New Deal. I use this term in the descriptive sense, and would not want to see it used as irresponsibly as the term socialist is today.

    Once we recognize this, we may be able to have a more honest discussion of our choices. Do we prefer to build upon the New Deal and the Great Society, or do we wish to repeal those changes? Was America better off in the 1920s or 1880s compared to the 1950s or 1960s — or 1990s? And for some, was America really better under the Articles of Confederation?

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