To put this blog in context it's important keep in mind three things I've observed about American political "conservatives" today that are not only exasperating but worrisome to someone concerned about the preservation of our constitutional form of government and the role of a free and uncensored press in relation to it:
- Conservatives are rarely willing to engage in a debate that they don't exclusively get to frame.
- Conservatives generally refuse to acknowledge documented facts that contradict their opinions and increasingly assert their opinions as fact with little or no credible supporting evidence.
- Conservatives hold themselves and others to extremely subjective – and wildly divergent – standards of civility and morality.
Framing the Debate
To expound on my first point, consider the issue of a woman's right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. Those on the political right address this issue as a question of whether or not someone is "pro-life." Within this context, a person is either in favor of life or of death. There is no middle ground or qualifiers. It's a deceptively simple way of framing the argument.
But what does "pro-life" mean in its real-world application, exactly? Beyond ensuring that a fetus is given nine uninterrupted months of opportunity to come to term, there's not much more to it than that. What about the rights of the mother? What about the circumstances of conception? What about the issue of quality of life for the child after its born? What about prenatal care and the responsibilities of society towards children who are forced into the world unwanted? Why doesn't the absolutist position of the "pro-life" movement apply to people on death row?
If the voting records of public officials who owe their elected offices to the "pro-life" movement are any indication, the answers are What rights? Who cares? That's not my problem. I'm not paying for it. and Because they deserve to die. You'd be lucky to hear a response to any of these questions during an actual debate on the topic, however, as these issues are almost always dismissed as being outside the scope of the "pro-life" argument despite their obvious relevance to it.
Ideology Over Fact
Documented facts are increasingly ignored or dismissed outright by the right-wing these days. While its possible to politicize almost anything, facts have become an alarmingly frequent target for the ideological right. From embryonic stem cell research to global warming, the conclusions of the overwhelming majority within the scientific community are either being trumped by "the moral issues" or dismissed outright as "junk science."
In The Republican War on Science, Chris Mooney illustrates how a science that has the potential to save millions of lives from the ravages of disease and inoperable injuries has been sacrificed on the altar of George W. Bush's religious political base.
To appease the most radical anti-abortion elements within his party, Mr. Bush limited federal funding to those stem cell lines that already existed shortly after he took office during his first term. Since "the harm had already been done" in creating these stem cell lines, Bush could portray himself as having held the line on his campaign promise that taxpayer money "should not underwrite research that involves the destruction of live human embryos."
As if kneecapping such promising life-saving research from the outset weren't bad enough, the claim that Bush made to resolve his self-imposed moral dilemma — that "more than sixty genetically diverse" embryonic stem cell lines existed at the time — had no basis in reality. Again, from Mooney:
The count didn't come from the published and peer-reviewed literature;
instead, it arose from a global telephone survey conducted by the
National Institutes of Health (NIH). It gradually became clear that the
NIH figure referred to stem cell derivations: every known case in which
scientists had removed the inner cell mass of an early embryo, or
blastocyst, before the Bush deadline… In an interview,
Stanford professor emeritus of medicine and Nobel laureate Paul Berg
vividly explained the problem with many of the Bush cell "lines": "At
some point, somebody took a blastocyst from an IVF clinic and cracked
it open and poured everything into a vial and stuck it into a liquid
nitrogen tank. In which case, we don't know if it's a line. And most of
them died, and that's why there are so few now."
At least the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the group to whom Bush had made his original pledge not to fund "the destruction of live human embryos," was appeased.
In the case of stem cell research the Bush administration at least tried to give the appearance of taking the science involved into consideration. The issue of global warming and climate change gets no such courtesy.
According to NASA, a majority of the world's climatologists have concluded that the natural cycle of climate change has been dramatically accelerated since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and attribute this change to the burning of fossil fuels. In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences, undertaking a study at the request of the Bush administration, reached the same conclusions.
A Pentagon study commissioned by Andrew Marshall and released — despite the best efforts of Denfense Department officials — in 2004, bluntly asserts that by 2020 "major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world." The paper goes on to conclude that climate change presents a greater risk to the national security of the United States than terrorism.
To be fair, Andrew Marshall went on the record claiming that the study “reflects the limits of scientific models and information when it comes to predicting the effects of abrupt global warming… Much of what this study predicts is still speculation.” What he didn't say was whether it was climate change or the geopolitical reaction to it that was being speculated about. Nor did he indicate to what extent U.S. foreign and military policy is being shaped by the speculative future predicted. Furthermore, Andrew Marshall is not the sort of person to order such a study without a good reason; he's been the Director of the Office of Net Assessment within the Pentagon for more than 30 years, and as such has been the architect and catalyst of the U.S. military's multi-billion dollar "transformation" efforts since the Carter administration.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush continues to characterize the science underlying global warming as "inconclusive" and defers to science fiction author Michael Chrichton on the issue (Mr. Chrichton, incidentally, is the recipient of the 2006 American Association of Petroleum Geologists' annual journalism award).
Hypocritical Stances on Civility and Morality
A patently false assertion made on a regular basis by conservatives is that they are more civil and dignified that their ideological counterparts on the left. There was much lamenting from the Republican side of the isle about Democratic rancor during the recent confirmation hearings for Justice Alito, for example. The source of the controversy centered on opposition senators asking to what extent Alito shared the outspoken homophobic, racist, and sexist positions assumed by the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, an organization he had joined some thirty years before. Conservatives cried foul over the line of questioning, yet Alito himself touted his membership in CAP well into the mid-1980s and, in part, attributed his successful appointment to the U.S. Justice Department during the Reagan administration to his affiliation with it.
Likewise, conservatives are quick to claim that George W. Bush's lousy poll numbers and the lack of public support for his policies are the fault of "the liberal media" and the persistent, negative tone of Congressional Democrats. Yet it's the conservatives who have had a lock on the media since Bush took office. And it's been the Republicans who have held the Congressional majority for nine of the last eleven years – if they can't pass the president's agenda, how can it be anyone's fault but their own?
As for the tone of Congress, it's the Republicans themselves who have set and maintained it throughout their majority tenure.
Exhibit A: when Newt Gingrich publically acknoweldged that he was unwilling to negotiate a budget compromise and let the Federal government shut-down in response to what he perceived as a personal "snub" on the part of President Bill Clinton.
Exhibit B: the unconstitutional "nuclear option."
Exhibit C: Jim Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) inability to adhere to the established rules of parliamentary procedure in the committees he chairs. Sensenbrenner is also famous for his on-screen temper tantrums.
During the 2000 election George W. Bush made "restoring dignity and honor to the Oval Office" a key part of his campaign message. This was the same candidate who:
Mocked Carla Faye Tucker, the first woman on death row in Texas since 1860 who was executed during his term as Governor of Texas, in a national magazine.
Refered to Adam Clymer of the New York Times as a "major league asshole" over an open microphone at a campaign event and refused to apologize afterwards (Adam Clymer had written articles that were critical of the 2000 Bush Campaign).
As president, Bush and his Vice President, respectively, went on to:
Clearly "flip the bird" to the press on July 28, 2005. Although caught on camera, Bush went on to deny it, claiming that the digit captured on tape protruding from the center of his had was his (enormously long) thumb.
Tell Senator Leahy to "go fuck yourself" on the floor of the Senate. The remarks were in response to comments that Leahy had made days earlier about Cheney's relationship with Halliburton and the billions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts in Iraq that had been awarded to it. Cheney refused to apologize, defending his outburst as being "long overdue."
The right wing's zealotry for exposing, publicizing, and chastising consenting adults for engaging in private acts of a prurient nature is exceeded only by its hypocrisy. "Social conservatives" masterminded the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for denying that he had "had relations with that woman" while he was testifying under oath about a completely unrelated topic.
Not only did the impeachment effort ultimately fail, all of the resulting political casualities were outspoken moral crusaders, including:
Former Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Henry Hyde. As it turns out, Henry Hyde had an affair of his own that lasted nine years and broke up a family of five. According to Hyde's mistress, she wasn't his only lover.
Representative Dan Burton of Indiana. Rep. Burton had been the head of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and a major critic of President Clinton's. Over the course of the impeachment hearings and subsequent trial it was revealed that he had fathered a child out of wedlock.
Representative Bob Barr of Georgia. An outspoken opponent of a woman's right to choose who had gone on the record stating that if his wife were raped he'd expect her to carry the child to term, was exposed as a lying hypocrite. It turns out that Barr encouraged his wife from a previous marriage to have an abortion and arranged for the procedure — and paid for it — himself.
If any good came from the Clinton impeachment at all it was the exposure of these men for the frauds they truly are. However, the hypocrisy doesn't end with these three – it's merely the beginning! T. Rex's Guide to Republican Family Values lists more than fifty additional scandals involving prominent right-wing moralists and some combination of sex, alcohol, drugs, and/or ill-gotten gains – including George W. Bush, his father, his brothers, and Vice President Cheney.
It's not that any one of these failings constitutes an unforgivable partisan sin; it's the indulgence in all three of these vices simultaneously that takes partisanship to an entirely different — and in my opinion completely unacceptable — level.
For a textbook example of this sort of behavior in the blogosphere — which, incidentally, is what prompted me to start this blog in the first place — check out my post entitled It's On.