05/13/2008 03:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

CON GAMES: Real American Values

For far too long, conservatives have made political hay with the notion that they are the party of ideas and the party of values -- even as they've held a far too timid opposition at bay for having neither.

Enough, already.

The free ride is over: conservatives have not had a new idea since The Gipper left office, and it's about time we saw their "values" for what they really are -- anti-American.

For the right, "values" have been nothing less than a free ride for decades, at least since "family values" became the mantra of a Nixonian majority. For years, the ethical high ground that began with battling abortion was all but unassailable, as conservatives decried a world where they felt personal freedoms like homosexuality -- and entitlements to government largesse -- had run amok compared to the normalcy embraced by their backward-looking movement. In defense of the traditional American family, the values peddlers found all manner of evil in sex, drugs, and rock and roll, not to mention the more nuanced world of liberal thought.

Whatever merit in their arguments -- and real merit was not entirely MIA, particularly in the abortion debate -- by the 21st Century conservatives posited a worldview that rejected science, evolution, homosexuality, environmentalism, and now even sexual equality. In so doing, conservatism has become a movement that is all about slavish conformity -- and the active repression of the way real people live in the real world -- with values so warped the Founding Fathers would find them unrecognizable.

Let's start with sexual equality. Just moments ago, some 42 Republican Senators -- including Republican Presidential nominee John McCain -- chose to block a law that would have advanced equal pay for equal work for women. That's right: the Republicans banded together to stop the so-called Lily Ledbetter Law cold because they would rather keep wages low than protect women in the workforce.

Or how about science? Conservatives who tried "creationism" (and failed), and tried "intelligent design" (and failed), are now back with the nefarious Orwellian formulation of "academic freedom." Rather than fight evolution, they now say we should of course teach the teachings of Darwin in the company of competing theories, like the one in the Bible that says the earth is only five or six thousand years old, rather than the eons scientists insist upon. This is no joke: five different state legislatures--Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Alabama, and Missouri--now have "academic freedom" statutes under consideration.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Laws that discriminate against homosexuals are another example. Though some conservatives might eventually endorse civil union as a reasonable alternative for gays, they would never ever back gay marriage -- and with good reason. Conservatives, you see, want to create a separate category for homosexuals -- separate but equal. If they could, they might even suggest water fountains and washrooms for those men who seek the love of men, and women who love women. For those who find the notion abhorrent, they can point backwards to the simpler times of segregation and the bucolic rhythms of the Old South.

And when talk turns to the environment, conservatives ironically want nothing to do with conservation. Though the basic tenets of their creed would imply a reverence for the past and preservation of America's natural beauty, conservatives--delighted to let foxes watch henhouses--give way to business interests every time. If there's a buck to be made or a national park to be plundered, conservatives will take the money and run like there's no tomorrow.

Most of the American people have wised up to the anti-American acidity of conservative values, and that might explain why polls put the approval of Republican methods at 27 percent or so. Even so, Republican Presidential candidate McCain, determined to embrace a newfound conservatism, polls 20 points higher because Americans believe the Senator's values match their own, according Wall Street Journal/NBC pollster Peter Hart.

So the free ride on "values" continues for the right with no accountability.

If you reject evolution and caring for the environment, if you want to consign gays to second-class citizenship, or if you believe women should make a fraction of what men make at work, then by all means vote for John McCain and every conservative candidate you can find.

But if you believe the American values of liberty and justice for all trump all--if you believe in the very things that make our experiment in democracy transcendent and unprecedented--then it might be time to consider the true American values that carry a value beyond all measurement.