"Conservative" is way too good a word for the Tea Party. (Note to reader: I continue this theme on USNews.com/Opinion, in a piece published Friday 7/23/2010.)
"Conservative" is frankly too good a word for Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which recently ran an outrageous headline about President Obama as an "alien." Let me count and name the other mischief-makers who are not worthy of the word, in just a moment. These are the angry white, older men who are turning our dialogue of democracy into "public discoarse." They are trying to wrest the words, music and meaning away from what we the people voted for in a historic election in 2008. Not to mention a concerted effort to undermine social and progressive institutions like the distinguished N.A.A.C.P. (founded in 1909 when lynchings were still on the American horizon.)
This war of words is the first battle that the rest of us must fight, because "conservative" in truth has an honorable ring. Its origins and dictionary definition show it as special: someone who preserves and protects traditions and institutions. Someone who safeguards the past as society moves into the future, but does not welcome change too soon. Someone who burnishes the wisdom of a country or a government. Edmund Burke, the great 18th century thinker, wrote an eloquent tract on what it truly means to be a conservative at the time of the French Revolution.
If any of our so-called "conservatives" has ever read Edmund Burke, (okay, anyone besides David Brooks and Ross Douthat who are more true to type) send for my smelling salts. Burke would be horrified to see his cherished word applied to the rascally likes of Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, who takes a pratfall on every page of her new The Obama Diaries. Make no mistake, everything they say or write is directed at well-off white men, inciting fury against our democratically elected government.
Let's be clear and name names. "Conservative" is too good a word for Rush Limbaugh. Conservative is too good a word for Karl Rove and the master he served, George W. Bush, who started two wars of choice with no respect for precedent. Conservative is too good a word for Newt Gingrich, the elder statesman of the Republican Party. Finally, conservative is too good a word for the Republican senators who oppose Elena Kagan's confirmation to the Supreme Court supposedly because she voiced support of historic lawsuits based on the commerce clause of the constitution, traditionally the vehicle of civil rights legislation.
When the right gets brazen about the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall by extension, you know something rotten is up. Sadly, the Obama Administration got bamboozled by their latest play, which I need not go into except to say that "conservative" gives this enormous block of angry white men a respectable veneer it does not deserve. Enough with dignifying them all with "conservative."
They would burn the whole barn down if they could, i.e. they will undermine Barack Obama's presidency if they have their way. They are not out to protect the past, certainly not a traditional election. They are radical right-wingers who could learn a lesson from Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina senator who parted ways with his fellow Republicans in supporting Kagan's confirmation to the Court.
We have to honor and respect elections, Graham said in a soft voice which captured attention on both sides of the aisle. As well it might. The muse of history, in the form of Burke, was listening, too -- with pleasure. The Southern senator, a firebrand in his House days, sounded truly like a conservative.
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