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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Who's the extremist?

Theocons have been quick to assert it's the Republican Party and not the conservative movement that has lost its way. We hear the same blather from soon-to-be really former Gov. Mitt Romney to anti-tax "guru" Grover Norquist and everyone in between. Leaving aside for the moment how they two entities have truly been one and the same for 12 years, let's look at some crucial facts.

We've lived for decades with the notion that liberals are dangerous nutcases, untrustworthy in national defense and economics. Liberals, we are told, would appease our enemies while taking from the rich and giving to the poor (so was Robin Hood a liberal?) They are amoral or worse, immoral, unbelievers and libertines who live by the motto "if it feels good, do it."

Overstated? Perhaps, although diehard Theocons believe in every word -- if not more. And Liberals are embodied in this morality play as Democrats -- the party of amnesty, acid and abortion.

Conservatives in contrast stand for all that is good and right in the world: God, family, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Keeping the government's nose out of our personal lives. Conservatives believe in individual responsibility and moral virtue. Again, perhaps a little overstated but with Republicans holding the mantle of appealing to the moral values voter.

But let's look at who has really taken the "extreme" view over the last generation -- defining extreme is out of step with American values and culture which in turn is defined by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The rise of political preachers -- Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell -- and the increasing role sought by religious-minded activists in local affairs saw the first break in recent times. (I've discussed McCarthyism at greater length in my sign-on and at other junctures here.)

The First Amendment declares "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." So far, so good as parents are free to run for school boards to assure their children are "properly" educated.

But that religious motivation, whether in the hands of "conservatives" or "Republicans" has resulted in a rush to impose one group's defined set of values on others -- something I would argue is an attempt to establish a religion. I applaud anyone's right to live by a set of values, religious or otherwise. But I resist having those values imposed upon me. That is the establishment of a religion and barred by the Constitution.

Then there is the matter of living by those values. We've seen the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart brought back to life recently by Ted Haggard. And of course one of my personal favorites is the author of the Book of Virtues, Bill Bennett and his ability to live a double life as the exemplar of virtue and a high-stakes gambler.

But let's really get down to it (or this post can go on forever). I fail to comprehend how it is "conservative" to stand for individual liberty while asserting the government's right to tell you who you can marry or when you can have babies. How is that more extreme than declaring abortions should be safe, legal and rare?

How is it "conservative" to allow corporations to engage in war profiteering paid for by American taxpayers in the name of defending democracy?

How is it conservative (let along "compassionate") to reverse Robin Hood -- take from the poor and give to the rich in the form of major tax breaks that bankrupt the treasury in a move designed to "starve the beast" and reduce spending on human needs.

Maybe conservative and Republican have been unfairly conflated as terms as some would suggest. But from my vantage point, the extremist tag belongs on the right side of the political spectrum -- where advocates are guilty of eroding the liberties spelled out in our governing documents.

I'd be eager to hear from conservatives and Republicans (who of course will be eager to tell me how I am wrong. Or worse!)


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