I’ve always hated the tactic of beginning an essay with a dictionary definition, since it is lazy and hackneyed. While I won’t resort to my Webster’s, I do want to offer my notions of what the word “conservative” means, both as noun and adjective. I personally try to embrace some aspects of that word when used as an adjective: “not given to excessive display;” “modest in personal appearance and conduct;” “cautious in assessing and taking risks;” “given to pragmatism.” However, I will bridle if you try to use that term as a noun in categorizing me: “deferential to existing social relationships;” “favoring power vested in private instead of public bodies;” “a believer in unregulated market capitalism.”
I have to wonder how “conservative” today’s GOP, both here in Iowa and at the national level, is. The word has become so splintered that it has no more referential value than a kaleidoscope image has as a visual representation of reality. You have “social conservatives,” who favor such radical ideals as mandating some amorphous nondenominational version of christianity as this nation’s official religion, using the power of the state to regulate women’s reproductive choices, and declaring LGBT people second-class citizens. You have “neoconservatives,” now closeted and discredited because of GW Bush’s eight-year disaster as president, who favor a macho, swaggering projection of American military power while pursuing a decidedly unconservative fiscal policy of reducing federal revenues while throwing money by the fistfuls at the military. Then you have the old-fashioned “fiscal conservatives,” who share the neoconservative zeal for not taxing the wealthy, are convinced the wealthy are better than the rest of us, and who think little to nothing of ending Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Then you have the new fringe elements drawn to Ron Paul and the namesake for his son, Ayn Rand. Randi Shannon, the former GOP candidate for Iowa Senate District 34 in Marion who started her odd political odyssey as a Paulite, is but one example. Even though she did not live in the district, had no political or professional accomplishments to demonstrate her ability, and, along with her husband, Jason, has left a trail in Iowa court records which attests to arguably dubious business ethics, Shannon was anointed the GOP candidate to run against incumbent Democrat Liz Mathis in Iowa Senate 34, a key race if the Iowa GOP wishes to win a majority in the Iowa Senate.
I thought Shannon was, well, serious enough to take seriously. Shannon
bailed out of the race, claiming to have been selected as a “senator” for the
fictitious “Republic for Iowa,” (don’t these people know their prepositions!?) part
of the equally fictitious “Republic of the United States.” Perhaps Shannon also bailed to avoid scrutiny of her deficiencies as a candidate and businessperson. I have to confess, sheepishly, that I was initially conned by Shannon. She is no
more, and no less, than just another Nigerian princess who phishes for help to
reclaim her fortune. But the Iowa Senate 34 saga continues: Ryan Flood, a Des Moines resident and fellow Paulite who has spent the last few years in Texas and was Shannon’s campaign manager, now wants to be anointed as Mathis’s opponent. I have to wonder if Mathis is secretly happy at this ludicrous spectacle, or profoundly insulted that the GOP seems to not take her seriously as an
But look elsewhere in Iowa. Bob Vander Plaats, a Harold Staasen-type
perennial loser who is a darling of the Taliban wing of the party, almost had
the 2008 GOP gubernatorial nomination in hand, so the state party apparatus
took Terry Branstad out of political mothballs in order to field a competitive,
credible candidate against the vulnerable incumbent, Chet Culver. Branstad did this state a great service by ending Vander Plaats’s bid. Too bad he defeated
Culver. Then there is Steven King, former Fifth District congressman who is now running in the new Fourth District. King, like Vander Plaats, is one of those Western Iowa Republicans who just does not seem happy in the twenty-first
century, and whose remedy is to drag all of us, kicking and screaming, back
into the nineteenth. I just hope that, unlike Randi Shannon and her fellow Paulites, that King and Vander Plaats at least recognize the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.
The national GOP has become a home for such luminaries as Sarah Palin, whose fizzling trajectory took her from being mayor of Wasilla, looking for books to ban from the local library, to governor of Alaska, to vice-presidential candidate, to reality-show star now working the book-signing circuit. Then there was Sharon Angle, who lost against vulnerable incumbent Harry Reid by, among other positions, asserting that Dearborn, Michigan, had been taken over by terrorist Muslims imposing shariah law, and insisting a women who is pregnant because of rape or incest must be forced by the state to carry her pregnancy to term. And who could forget Christine O’Donnell, a two-time senatorial loser before being selected by TEA-faction voters to lose, for the third time, in the Delaware senatorial contest of 2010? O’Donnell, having had an epiphany at an impressionable age, became dutifully born-again, conformed to the dictates of the
Christian anti-sex league by opposing not only abortion, but also masturbation (the horror!), and learned by 2010 to present herself as a “constitutionalist”
who obviously has no use for the establishment clause of the First Amendment. O’Donnell at least gave us the memorable moment of assuring voters, “I am not a witch!” Let’s not even mention Texas GOP congressman Louie Gohmert, who blamed the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, on “ongoing attacks on judeo-christian beliefs.”
The part of me who formed his opinion of the GOP during Richard Nixon’s presidency, and whose opinion was cemented by Ohio GOP governor Jim Rhodes sending the Ohio National Guard to the Kent State campus in May, 1970, looks upon this and laughs. Indeed, that part of me took no small measure of delight in reading a recent New York Times analysis about the decline of the California GOP, a decline some observers blame on the party becoming an exclusive club obsessed with ideological purity.
However, that “conservative” part of me who is pragmatic enough to realize the role that party plays in governing this nation, and who recognizes that many fellow citizens identify with that party, is deeply concerned. How long can this nation’s electoral political system function effectively when one party is dominated by true believer types who would rather be right than collaborate in governing this country for the good of all Americans? Does the GOP really want to delegitimize this nation’s political system, one which it is an integral component of, in order to cynically manipulate people who do not have this nation’s best interests in mind? Does the GOP really want to embrace one side of Rosa Luxemburg’s famous dichotomy, “socialism or barbarism?”
Or, there is the warning Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris issued the Germans before he unleashed British Bomber Command during World War Two: “They have sown the wind, now they will reap the whirlwind.”