Ideological Purity and the Republicans

The Republican horror show continues. And although it is great entertainment, we should not forget the most stirring success of Karl Rove and the Republican Party which is to convince voters to support issues contrary to their own interests. The clear goal of every candidate in the Republican primary is to favor the powerful and hold the subordinate classes in check. Corey Robin in a recent book on “The Reactionary Mind” has argued and illustrated convincingly that the conservative mind is fundamentally reactionary and animated by a desire to hold the subordinate classes down. Throughout history superiors – the state, owners, church, or hierarchical institutions – have regularly resisted very much improvement in the lives of those without power. Robin uses conservative and reactionary interchangeably and he is talking about the likes of slaveholders, Catholics, fascists, Burke, Ayn Rand, Scalia, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Irving Kristol, and George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney.

            To listen to Romney, Paul, and Gingrich you would think the conservative mind is becoming isolationist again. In the 1960s if you mistrusted the government and home schooled your children you were a liberal hippie. In the year 2012 if you mistrust government and home schooled your children you’re probably a conservative isolationist. It is the role of government that currently most defines liberal from conservative. Clearly other issues weigh in but the role of government is oppressive and a drain on your individual freedom if you’re of the conservative mind (thus, keep your children home), or a transformative and moral force for those with a more liberal turn of mind. The sad truth is that the most important question is not about the role of government but about what government does well and what it does not.

            This collection of primary candidates have taken some pretty extreme positions from advocating bombing Iran, privatizing Social Security, eliminating controls on big oil, allowing Wall Street to grab whatever it wants, and extending constitutional rights to zygotes. As outgoing Congressman Barney Frank once quipped, “these conservatives believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth” because they afford more rights to an unborn fetus than a fully developed human being.

            Mitt Romney is thoroughly committed to destroying the safety net and any sense in which government can play a role in leveling the field of inequality amongst people. He will eliminate President Obama’s health care program and once again send about 1 million young people into the world with no coverage. And it should be noted that the cost of medical care including office visits, medications, surgeries, and diagnostic exams is all pegged to a financial market that includes insurance companies. Prices are artificially inflated because the dollars are available to pay such prices. Hence, anyone without insurance who gets sick and needs medical attention is asked to pay prices based on an economic system that he or she does not participate in. Without Obama-like controls insurance companies will deny coverage at will and return to hiking premiums.

            Even though the subordinate populations have gathered under the banner of economic reform, equality, rights, labor, and sometimes even revolution in every instance they have either been legally or illegally thwarted. Mitt Romney is a natural extension of this sort of leadership. Rather than working with government to find a proper and affordable role, even rather than the pragmatism of Reagan and Goldwater conservatism, these Republican candidates would rather retreat from extending opportunities to others by “fooling” the public into thinking that Obama has committed grave ideological sins (e.g. “socialism”, “liberalism”, or a “decline in social values”) rather than a serious effort to solve problems and help people.

            Curiously, traditional conservatives used to believe that human beings were born into a society or culture that was responsible for shaping and fashioning attitudes and values. This society that people were born into became an inheritance that was valued and worth saving. Such original conservatives were open to change, as long as their institutions stayed intact. The only quarrel there should be between liberals and conservatives is what changes are worthy. But don’t underestimate the importance of this difference between ideological purity and pragmatism. The Republican Party has become increasingly apocalyptic as it tries not simply to have better ideas than Obama but to convince us that Obama is inauthentic (“not a citizen”) and dangerous. Tea partiers and paleoconservatives are talking about revolutionary change because the country is in such “trouble.” This is not the healthy argument of a contestatory democracy but a call for Revolution.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on January 18, 2012, in Political Parties and Elections and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Ideological Purity and the Republicans.

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