Back in what is fondly referred to as the Turbulent '60s, the Right popularized a phrase to confront the protest movement of the Left: "America: Love It or Leave It."
Of course, the charge was laced with irony because of how un-American the charge itself was. Indeed, the very concept of protest is what created America. But why quibble?
That was then. Today, 40 years later, conservatives have long-had their chance. From the Reagan "Revolution" to the Republican Congress's Contract with America and ultimately fine-tuned with the George W. Bush Administration, the ground isn't deep enough to stick in one's head and avoid how fractured and angry the country has become.
However one views what the Bush Administration has accomplished - or failed to - one clear reality does creep through: it was done by dividing the nation to gain power. Ignore the nation, play to your base. The upside is you're guaranteed 25% approval. The downside is you're guaranteed 25% approval.
And what an un-American way to govern.
Divisive not just over a war, but science, religion, privacy, the Justice Department, the whole package. And that irony is even thicker, so much that you need a machete to cut through it. Consider: back in that turbulent era 40 years ago, the Republican presidential candidate, "Mr. Conservative" Barry Goldwater, said about gays in the military, "You don't have to be straight, to be able to shoot straight." By contrast, Karl Rove (who never shot straight in his life) created anti-gay ballot initiatives to drive a wedge through America. Even the disgraced Richard Nixon, taking a break from making Enemies Lists, understood the importance of science and created the EPA - and understood the value of talking with our enemies and created détente with Communist China. Both men might be liberals in today's Bush/Rovian view of divide and conquer politics.
But here's the point:
That view may know how to win elections by hook or by crook or by hanging chad, but it doesn't have a clue how to govern. And as much as American's love to win, they expect their government to govern.
Well...okay, the Grover Norquist wing of the Republican Party doesn't expect it. Head of the whimsically-named Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist once proclaimed, "My goal is to cut government in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
Now, honestly, in what strange universe would anyone want to elect people to govern them who don't want to govern? Why not just hit yourself in the head with a baseball bat, it's quicker.
People expect government to govern. They may disagree on what that governing is, but they do agree that it shouldn't include drowning itself. That's not so much government as the definition of suicide. Sure, if your party leader is Dr. Kevorkian, that's fine, though you're eventually going to lose your members.
But radical conservatives have long had an odd anti-American, divisive view of representative government. Consider term limits, a cherished conservative dream, often referred to as the "Please Save Us From Ourselves" Proposition. In what other profession would you throw out the most experienced practitioners because they've been too successful? Never mind that the U.S. Constitution figures that elections are a really good way to determine what the People prefer.
Further, conservatives love any politician who isn't a politician. Running as "Not a Washington politician!" is a beloved conservative mantra. Sure, it's strange to want to be a Washington politician with your main selling point that you're not a Washington politician, but since you're going for the Let's Divide America platform, why insist on logic? Besides, wearing a cheap, plastic American flag pin at least looks patriotic.
When we go into a hospital, we all want the very best surgeon to operate on us. When we head into court, we want the top attorney. We want the best teachers for our kids, the best firefighters, the best scientists to develop medicines and build rockets. Only in politics do conservatives not want the best politicians. The good news is that they finally got their wish.
Disagreement in government is not only fine, it's the very lifeblood of the field. Arguing, debating, coming to a meeting of the minds. But Republicans from Karl Rove to Grover Norquist to Dick Cheney and George Bush to all points in between feel the very opposite. They hate government. They hate politics. They hate Social Security, Medicare, taxes for bridge repair and dam levees and firefighting, improving the lives of the citizens. They want only power. They hate activist judges. They hate trial lawyers. They hate big jury verdicts. They hate elections. They even hate laws and wipe them out with "signing statements."
If you hate democratic government, the least you can do is get out of it. Leave it alone. Stay in America, enjoy its benefits, but let people govern who want to and know how.
Forty years ago, conservatives vilified young people protesting, supposedly trying to damage the government. Who would have imagined that 40 years later, it's the conservatives themselves who actually did it.