The Conservative Party seems to be a strange mixture of competing and conflicting ideologies, as Devin Johnston pointed out in Countdown Until the Conservative Party Disbands Again. His post sparked reflections on the state of conservative parties and alliances in Canada and the U.S. Here are a few thoughts. To begin with, I think it’s helpful to distinguish some of the ideological or philosophical currents that are lumped together under the label of “the right” or “conservative”. The first that comes to mind for many is crass servility to corporate power, however, there is of course, much more complexity to the right than that.
One element within that loose category called “conservative” or “the right” is the current which comprises social conservativism. As Devin again, nicely summarized: “Social conservatism is the premise that there is one “right” way of living in a community and one “right” set of values, beliefs and ideals. Social conservatives advocate the suppression of the rights and freedoms of minorities through the state imposition of white male Christian heteronormative values. [In Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, it would be Arab male Islamic heteronormative values; and in both cases, class prejudice and class warfare are more than a little present – they are in fact central.] Classical liberals precisely reject any attempt by the state to dictate beliefs and values to citizens.” Well put. You could say it is Thomas Hobbes versus Thomas Paine.
Another current is populist, with strong values of grassroots democracy. Closely related but more emphatic in its wariness of centralized power is the libertarian current. Populists may be social conservatives, although there is an uneasy tension in this inherent contradiction; but any genuine libertarian will disavow state interference in the lives of citizens, including same sex marriage, de-criminalization of marijuana and other hot-button issues for social conservatives.
Classical liberalism places a high value on freedom, and distrusts what libertarians call the “nanny state.” Libertarians therefore have an uneasy alliance with the right, as the right is uncomfortably full of social conservatives who want to regulate everything from who you sleep with to how you brush your teeth. Libertarians can for these reasons be found forming alliances with the left when conditions are right. (No pun intended.) It is not necessarily that they are fickle, but more that they are looking for political representation within a system and political climate that is far more statist, centralist, elitist and authoritarian than they would like to see. Depending upon the policies – or promises – of the right or left, they may go either way, and this can at times be an informed and intelligent choice.
Thus, libertarians have more in common with classical liberals – or even left libertarians, who are in truth their estranged cousins – than with social conservatives. It is the espoused values of limited government, freedom, populism, and fiscal conservatism of the right that has attracted the support of libertarians, but if we look to the actual record of the right in Canada and the U.S. we can see that these values were only for public consumption, not for actual practice. Libertarians, populists, fiscal conservatives and advocates of freedom have been sold a bill of goods. More directly, they have been lied to.
The U.S. became the world’s biggest debtor under Reagan, who ballooned the debt to record levels with his tax cuts for the rich and corporations, combined with massive military spending, which is piped through the Pentagon system to form what amounts to corporate welfare for the military-industrial complex – all the while praising the free market, fiscal prudence and shrinking big government. Orwell would nod to Reagan’s handlers. Bush I carried on the tradition, and Bush II has pushed the debt up to $8 trillion – to the point where the dollar, the U.S. economy, and likely the U.S. government will soon collapse, as leading economists have noted with urgency.
All the while, throughout this spending spree by the right in the U.S., government got bigger and bigger, encroachment on personal lives and liberty grew, and erosion of civil rights and freedom is now at crisis point: the constitution itself is at question. It is not clear that democracy will survive in America. The merger of the state and corporate world has been taken to near complete lengths. Eisenhower’s warning has become stark reality.
Both of these trends – wildly indulgent corporate welfare, bringing the nation to the brink of bankruptcy, and grossly inflated powers of government encroaching on civil liberties and freedom – disgust and revolt the libertarians who have in the past supported the Republican and Conservative Parties.
In Canada, Mulroney took the conservatives into the realm of Thatcher, Reagan and neoconservatism – a flat betrayal of the history and traditions of the party. It was under Mulroney that the deficit and debt ballooned, while Trudeau is wrongly blamed. Trudeau and the Liberals faced recession and the OPEC crisis, Mulroney simply sold out the country to the corporate barons. I am no fan of the Liberal Party, but the truth must be told. It was not spending on social programs that drove up the debt, as the right wing media and “think tanks” (read corporate propaganda tools) convinced many to believe.
It was a combination of deliberate slashing of government revenues under Mulroney and successors (including Martin) by way of lavish corporate tax cuts, combined with the strong arm tactics of the international financial community which held our national debt and demanded increasing returns on “investment” by way of interest payments, which created the inflated deficits and growing debt. In the U.S. and Canada, as well as Britain and other Western nations, Keynesian economics and New Deal policies was blamed for fiscal imbalance, cynically and dishonestly, while the real culprit was welfare-state capitalism: hand-outs and tax breaks for the rich and the business elite – with a roll-back for ordinary people of all the gains made over decades and generations, with wages falling and social programs slashed.
This is the true story of the `80’s and `90’s in Canada: cut social spending by claiming a debt crisis – a debt crisis that was created consciously by slashing corporate taxes. It is a win-win situation for the corporate sector: greatly reduced taxes, and a disintegrating social safety net which means people are increasingly desperate and will work for less and less pay. Wonderful for corporate Canada. A tragic betrayal for the people of the country. And this scheme was authored and orchestrated by both Liberals and Conservatives from Mulroney on, all the while speaking of fiscal responsibility and loyalty to the people of Canada. Sickening deceit is what it is.
What we have in the Liberal and Democratic Parties, is a divide between traditional liberals and neoliberalism. Traditional liberals value freedom, democracy, and at least some measure of equality. Neoliberalism surrenders all values to one: compliance with the corporate masters. In the Republican and Conservative Parties, we have a similar division: between traditional conservatives and neoconservatives. Neoconservatives, like neoliberals – being two sides of the same boot-licking serve-the-man philosophy – have surrendered all values to the one over-riding principle: don’t bite, but fervently serve the hand that feeds you – that is, corporate America, or in Canada, Bay Street.
The conflict between social conservatives and libertarians within the broad realm of the right makes political alliances on the right tenuous at best. When you add in the split between genuine fiscal conservatives on the one hand, and on the other hand, neoliberals/neoconservatives (two sides of the same coin) who dominate the party leadership of the right in both the U.S. and Canada (along with all of the major parties), and who speak of fiscal responsibility while engaging in patronage, pork-barreling and corporate welfare to obscene degrees and in grossly hypocritical if not Machiavellian fashion, you have a potential rift that can quickly turn explosive. Witness the present meltdown of the American Republican Party. These divisions are tearing the party to pieces, and not even the most shrill and Orwellian fear-mongering or GWOT rhetoric can keep this machine from flying apart.
Social conservatives are fleeing the Republican Party, as are fiscal conservatives. Libertarians are simply appalled, and feel they have been lied to and betrayed. Republicans under the neocons have alienated the Christian right, the traditional conservatives and the libertarians. All that is left is a few scared suburbanites and the handful of super-rich who are the real constituency of the neconservatives. The party is disintegrating. The game is now open. The political landscape in the U.S. is shifting rapidly.
A maverick like Ron Paul could potentially seize on this disruption in the Republican Party, and capture support that would normally go to someone like Bush or Giuliani. With the Democrats making themselves the party of spineless non-opposition to the horrors and corruption of the neocons (Hilary and Obama being two cases in point), the dark horses like Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich actually stand a chance.
Not that I place much hope or even interest in electoral politics in the present or immediate future, believing that they are largely irrelevant by virtue of a general vacuity of both vision and courage, and viewing grassroots movements as the real source of social change, both historically and in the foreseeable future; but some basic sanity and human decency in the realm of parliamentary politics would be a refreshing change.
Getting back to Canadian politics, if the rhetoric versus reality chasm is exposed more thoroughly in the case of the Conservative Party, and the already existing internal divisions made clear, so that a healthy debate among conservatives can occur, the results will likely be the splintering of “the party” but also the resurrection of democracy among the right. That would not be a bad thing.
Basically, the Conservative Party in Canada, as well as the Republican Party of the United States, are parties of, by and for big business and the corporate lobby, but they have to get elected by voters, and not simply gather “donations” from the business elite to get elected; thus they have to lure social and fiscal conservatives, populists and libertarians into thinking that these parties actually have some substantial allegiance to something other than the pursuit of money and power through service to the corporate elite. This is the primary flaw and fatal internal division within the parties of the right: they are built upon a lie.
Of these five elements that we have identified within the right – social conservatism, fiscal conservatism, populism, libertarianism, and service to corporate power – it is almost without exception the one single principle of service to the corporate elite which consistently wins out; all other values are for rhetorical purposes only – they can, will be and have been dispensed with whenever they conflict with the over-riding principle: serve the masters.
Show the people the lie, and the façade falls apart. Then you have a party exposed for what it is: neoconservative, not genuinely conservative – which is a party of class warfare: serve the moneyed aristocracy, as Jefferson decried, and fool the people into serving themselves up on the altar of mammon.
Devin Johnston hits the nail on the head when he says, “At any rate, it is clear to me that the Conservative Party is a pathetic attempt to unite people who are in fact completely at odds with one another in order to destroy a common enemy: godless socialism.” (At least that was the case up until the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the official enemy.) It can be added however that polls in Canada as well as the U.S. show consistent and overwhelming popular support for socialist-leaning policies and views. There is in Canada and the U.S. overwhelming popular support for universal public health care. Overwhelming support for universally accessible education. Overwhelming support for a guaranteed social safety net to protect the poor, ill, injured, disabled and elderly from the ravages of an unfettered monopoly capitalism. An overwhelming majority – generally approaching 80% – believe that the economic system is inherently unfair, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and that the rich get richer while the poor get…..something other. (This latter point by the way is not socialist, but simply a matter of the intelligent or merely common sense observation of the undeniable facts.)
In a nation-wide poll of American citizens the core socialist dictum of “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need” was felt to be such a matter of common sense and common human decency, that over 70% of Americans believed it must have come from the U.S. Constitution. It was, of course, a statement made by none other than Karl Marx. This is why the New Deal policies of FDR in the U.S. Democratic Party and Trudeau in Canada, were so immensely popular: they approximated the ideals of fairness, justice, equality and compassion, even though they were watered down by virtue of existing within an fundamentally unchallenged economic framework of monopoly capitalism. The populace leans left, as it has for generations, while the economic system maintains power in the hands of the few, with the results that political parties have done more to serve the interests of the powerful than those of the people.
If the rhetoric is cut through, the popular support vanishes; and all that is left of the parties of the right in Canada and the U.S. is a servile allegiance to corporate America and Bay Street. Poke the balloon. The time is right to burst this bubble of delusion.
The only other prop holding up this rape and pillage party apparatus of the right is the scare tactics of the Global War on Terror; and that too, is failing. A whole other discussion would be necessary to dissect this campaign of state terrorism which is in effect, and by design, a war, not on terror, but on democracy. For the time being, let it suffice to say that this is not a war that the power elite – being the corporate elite and their political servlings – can win.
When it comes to dismantling the basic structures of democracy, disemboweling the safeguards of basic human rights and freedom, and nullifying a two-hundred year old tradition of constitutional democracy, they will fail. The values of democracy, freedom and human rights have been too deeply imbued in the people of the Western world for these to be given up without a fight – in fact, without a powerful resistance movement.
600,000 or more dead in Iraq to “fight terrorism” and “sow democracy” – in truth, as most now admit, to fight imperial wars for control of world energy supplies – this is terrorism at its finest; or most brutal. The anti-terrorist legislation of post-9/11 paranoia and propaganda, most notoriously the U.S. Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act: this is not the safeguarding of “our way of life” – this is not the “defense of liberty and freedom.” This is the destruction of constitutional democracy and civil rights. This is the criminalization of dissent. This is a Machiavellian lie of the greatest proportions. And this is becoming evident even to the staunchest defenders of the “war on terror.”
The propaganda war that upholds corporate power now, after the red scare days have passed – the tactics no longer effective with the absence of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc – the only rhetoric that upholds this fragile and crumbling edifice of corporate power, short of brute force itself, is the lie of the war on terror. Frighten the people, and they will support “strong leaders” and repressive measures at home, as well as imperial warfare abroad, disguised as self-defense. But the propaganda war is failing. Either there will be another terrorist incident, which will bolster the effectiveness of the propaganda, and again rally the people into supporting their own slavery, the surrender of their rights and freedoms, and the wars of empire around the globe, or the propaganda campaign will collapse, and with it, the power elite that serves, and is in power to serve, the power of the rich and the corporate world. The latter is not likely to be allowed to happen, so watch out for the former.
In the short term, a renewed campaign of what the political elite and agencies like the CIA call “political warfare” and “psychological warfare” – what used to be called propaganda when there existed a bit more honesty in the political arena – is likely to be invoked; and in the short term, there may yet be temporary, Pyrrhic victories for the corporate elite and their servants who present themselves as popular leaders of the right (or the center or left, a la Clinton, Martin, Blair). This is, or should be, a cause for concern. In the not too distant future however, and in fact, in the very near future, such Machiavellian machinations as are won by acts of great deception are unsustainable, and will collapse. They are indeed collapsing as we speak. We need to hasten the demise of these dangerous delusions – at least, that is, if we are at all alive to our human hearts and minds, and care not to see unnecessary suffering, madness or destruction on this small and beautiful, fragile planet. We need to break open these bonds of confusion, examine them, and tear them asunder. They will collapse upon examination. All that is required is the light of day.
J. Todd Ring
May 16, 2007
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