Throughout the past 25 years, Conservatism has stood out as a potent force in American politics.
The political awakening of the evangelical base, the emergence of right-wing talk radio (and more recently, right-wing television), the dominance of neoconservative foreign policy post 9/11 — these are just a few of the factors that have made Conservatism a force to reckon with today.
The term itself comes from the Latin phrase Com Servare meaning “to preserve.” Which begs the question: what exactly is today’s Conservative movement trying to preserve? If it is family values, then why is it so seemingly anti-Muslim and anti-Latino, two groups that have a strong tradition of family values? If it is our national security, then why has America’s neoconservative leadership alienated much of the world, and dragged us into a misguided and poorly-planned war, leaving us less safe?
Given the current indicators, it is fair to question whether right-wing conservatism is a thinly veiled attempt to preserve little more than the hegemony of White Protestant culture that feels threatened by our country’s growing diversity. Seeing itself as America’s last soldier standing in an existential cultural war, its rhetoric against minorities is often exclusionary, intolerant, and even downright inciteful.
It is cause for alarm that the radical Conservative circles have had a near monopoly on the rampant expressions of Islamophobia, anti-Latino Xenophobia, and the institutional shutout of Blacks in this country. In a Politically Correct world, they are able to more safely peddle these bigoted expressions under the legitimizing guise of anti-terrorism, anti-illegal immigration, and anti-crime flag-waving respectively.
But what do all three expressions really have in common?
One needs only watch some of the 2008 primary campaign ads from Giuliani, Tancredo, and Huckabee among others to see the art of fear in action. Or of course, one could listen to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, or watch Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck, for the same.
Again I ask, what are the Conservatives trying to conserve for America?
Longstanding cultural tradition is the typical answer.
That’s not a good answer.
Lest we forget, longstanding cultural tradition at one point denied Blacks their freedom, workers their human rights, and women the ability to vote. It was non-conformist movements that dared to question those longstanding traditions and to work towards greater heights of justice and equality. And yes, they faced savage opposition from cultural warriors who wanted to preserve long standing tradition, at one point even at the cost of civil war.
Conservatism must remind itself that the American tradition best worth preserving is our unique ability to correct ourselves; in other words, our ability to instigate change from within when necessary.
It is thanks to this unique ability that in today’s America, blacks and women have realistic shots at the presidency of the United States, let alone freedom and voting.
It is time Conservatives rid their ranks of the racial and religious prejudices that have warped their world view. It’s time they embrace diversity and equality, recognizing that change is not just a campaign buzzword, but the recipe to our survival as a nation.