Recently I received an e-mail from a woman asking me to explain “what the qualifications are that label a person a ‘Right Wing Conservative.’”
In my response I said that I do not have any different understanding of “right wing” or “conservative” than from what can be found in any standard dictionary. But I went on to share the self-description given by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Here is what they say on their website:
“Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institution—a think tank—whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”
Most of that sounds quite good, doesn't it? Certainly there is a lot that we want and need to conserve. So what’s wrong with conservatism? Or why would I criticize those who claim to be conservatives?
One online dictionary gives this as the first definition of conservative: “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.” So think about it. Conservatives generally want to preserve existing conditions and to limit change—unless it means going back to things as they used to be.
But consider some conservative positions from the past, positions which were (or are) all on “the wrong side of history.” (And I am not implying that these are, or would have been, positions supported by the Heritage Foundation, except for the last example given.)
It was the conservatives (the loyalists) who supported King George of England rather than seek independence for the Colonies in the 1770s.
It was the conservatives who wanted to maintain slavery in this country in the 1860s (and in the decades before).
It was the conservatives who wanted to keep women from having the right to vote in the 1910s (and in the preceding decades).
In the twentieth century, it was the conservatives who opposed Social Security and then Medicare and Medicaid for the elderly and the needy.
In 2010 it was the conservatives who opposed universal health care so that at least most of the 50,000,000 Americans who did not have health care insurance would be able to have it.
Conservatives have wanted to conserve much that is good, and for that I commend them. But conservatives have also opposed much that is good, and that is why I criticize them.
So what is a “right wing” conservative? On the Heritage Foundation website, they make this appeal for new members (and for funding): “Become a Member: Donate to Heritage – Join Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and more than 710,000 conservatives in fighting liberals and advancing conservative principles as a Heritage Foundation member.”
From this I think it can be said that right-wing conservatives are people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity who see their mission as “fighting liberals.” And much of the rhetoric of those and other right-wing talk-radio hosts, as well as of many who extol them, seems repulsive to those of us who long for a civil society.
Note: I plan to post “What’s Wrong with Liberalism?” next.