The Meaning of Conservative Principles

Governor Ross Barnett

“We are about to embark upon a great crusade, a crusade to restore Americanism, and return the control of our government to our people.” Sounds very modern, but this was Senator James Eastland of Mississippi in 1955, leading the fight against the integration of public schools that the Supreme Court had ordered the year before.

We hear a lot of talk from conservatives lately about how the federal government has been trampling on the freedoms of Americans, and the need to “take back America”. It all sounds very familiar.

In the early 1960s white citizens spontaneously formed local organizations to preserve racial discrimination in the South. They soon abandoned explicit claims of white superiority and began to use other language to defend racist practices. When federal marshals prevented white mobs from attacking James Meredith as he entered the University of Mississippi in 1962, a Citizens’ Council editorial claimed, “Ole Miss has not been integrated! It has been invaded and occupied by the United States Army.”

Two years later, Senator Eastland called the 1964 civil rights bill, “a complete blueprint for a totalitarian state . . . the greatest single grasp for power by the Executive Department that the nation has ever known.” Governor Ross Barnett said, “God was the original segregationist,” and he was echoed by many southern ministers. General Edwin Walker, who had been busy indoctrinating his soldiers with right-wing political materials, said, “It’s time to rise. To make a stand beside Governor Ross Barnett at Jackson, Mississippi. Now is the time to be heard. Rally to the cause of freedom.” The newspaper columnist Florence Ogden, founder of the segregationist Women for Constitutional Government, told that group, “Our constitutional rights have been swept away by armed might.”

J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director and enemy of the civil right movement, told the press that “Communist influence does exist in the civil rights movement,” and wiretapped Martin Luther King, Jr.’s phone to try to prove that he was a Communist.

Defenders of white supremacy linked their cause with broader conservative issues: Christian values, fears about communism, and appeals to the Constitution. This allowed racists all over America to maintain discriminatory practices while appearing to be promoting less tainted principles. Although racism occasionally appeared at the fringes of conservative campaigns, these rhetorical tactics put a respectable face on the preservation of white privilege.

Since Obama’s election as President, a similar dynamic has unfolded. Once again, conservatives have deployed their favorite rhetorical strategies to attack policies they do not like. In March, 2009, Glenn Beck said, “We are a country that is headed towards socialism, totalitarianism, beyond your wildest imagination. If you have any kind of fear that we might be headed towards a totalitarian state, look out, buckle up.” Sarah Palin often claims to be defending the Constitution.

On Bill O’Reilly’s TV show in May 2010, she said, “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant. They’re quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments.” John Boehner, who will soon be Speaker of the House, said about the health care reform, “This bill is the greatest threat to freedom that I’ve seen in the 19 years I’ve been in Washington.” Right-wing websites are full of talk about protecting the Constitution from those socialists who are currently in power in Washington, and returning America to its Christian principles.

What does all this talk of God, the Constitution, and freedom really mean? What practical policies are being advocated through those high-minded principles?

Of 178 Republicans in the House, 159 voted in 2009 to kill the legislation which forced credit card companies to stop arbitrarily raising interest rates and assessing inflated fees. On November 19 of this year, Republicans in the House voted overwhelmingly against extending federal emergency unemployment insurance through February. This past weekend, every Republican in the Senate voted against a bill which would have extended the Bush era tax cuts for the first $1 million a year in income, but not after that.

Steve HochstadtAs in the 1960s, conservatives are hiding their real politics behind seemingly high-minded principles. The billionaires who fund Tea Party organizations, the bankers and stock traders who support Republican campaigns, and the mining company owners who oppose more safety regulations let their public frontmen cite the Constitution, wave the Bible around, and accuse their opponents of socialism. And it still works.

Steve Hochstadt

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Comments

  1. says

    Anyone who argues that either party “could care less about America or its people”, like Wes Tipton, is not worth replying to.

    Joshua asks about the Tea Party and racism. I never said that the Tea Party was racist. As Joshua admits, racist signs appear at Tea Party rallies, but then he tries to downplay them by calling them “insensitive”. In fact, their appearance and their toleration by other Tea Partiers is despicable.
    Obama raised more money because he motivated more contributors. OpenSecrets.org has lots of data on Obama’s and McCain’s contributors. Obama got almost 4 times as many small contributions (under $500), and twice as many contributions over $500. Both parties benefited from contributions by large corporations and by billionaires. Billionaires who contribute to conservative causes include Wal-Mart’s Jim Walton, hedge funder T. Boone Pickens, casino owner Sheldon Adelson, Richard Farmer, and Roger Milliken. In particular, David and Charles Koch have been major funders of the Tea Party and its candidates.
    This information can easily be found by the briefest internet search. Do your homework, Joshua, and then we can have a more interesting conversation.
    Steve Hochstadt

    • Roger says

      Steve, I believe you are incorrect about replying to Wes.

      His script may seem fanatical or lacking context, but if responded to with out the emotional rage that usually accompanies the identification of a lightly processed assessment of society then it can be quick and painless. If you otherwise choose to respond while emotionaly charged you run the risk of tainting your argument with a bias of superiority even if your argument provides validity.

      Trust me I re-live this situation with my dad every day. Thankfully only with him.

      There are some things in your article that I agree with, Steve. On the other hand the premise that all or most of the conservative agenda will hurt the country is debatable.

      Please continue your writings as it personally assist the development of my interpretations and examinations on our nation and society.

  2. Joshua says

    No one can deny America’s racist past,but how does that tie into today? What about the “Tea Party” is racist? You can point out a few signs that you can call racist (but are actually “Racially Insensitive” if you want to be precise), but that can not define the charachter of millions of Americans, OUR countrymen. You cannot prove that the Tea Party is racist at it’s core. To be a racist one must beleive that someone is superior or inferior due to some genetic trait. Can you cite any evidence that Tea Party is Racist?

    How did Obama raise more money than McCain in the election? Do the “People” have more money than the evil corporations OR do Corporations go “both ways”? If the the former were true, there would be no problem with our soci-economic landscape and all the Profesional Leftist would be on the unemployment line ( a dream of mine). THUS it must be the Latter as it can not be the former. To say Billionaires support the Right when the Left has the Billionaire BIG GUNS in their court is absurd. (Gates, Buffet, Soros, Bloomberg ET Al). Can you name some Billionaires that have supported the Tea Party?

    I am a Tea Partier (pronounced “Tea Pah-te-ah” where I am from) you want to accuse me of Racism, feel free, you have the Right to collectivley slander your countrymen .I spent nearly six years of my life in uniform so we can all carry on like jerks when it suits us.

    Oh, the Right is winning and will win the argument,because an appeal to Pathos will lose it’s potency over time(one election cycle tops), while an appeal to Ethose grows more potent with time.

  3. Wes Tipton says

    Isn’t it nice to see something that actually works because it’s true? I love that.
    We have indeed been trampled for two long agonizing years by an adminstration, and a party, that could care less about America or its people. Socialized health care that will bankrupt us if it ever really happens, huge debt created by reckless borrowing and spending, and of course no clue about the economy and how to fix it. With 92% of this adminstration lacking any private sector experience it is no suprise that they have created this incredible mess, but it’s obvious they can not and probably would not bother to get us out if it weren’t for the thankful lanslide last month and the accomanying logic that came with it.
    Dems have always portrayed themselves, falsely, of being for the people. In reality they are for the illegals and the entitlement folks who garner so many votes, and the hell with the middle class.
    Unions are killing this country, but since Obama is in their hip pocket nothing will be done to stop them until the GOP takes back control. Big business makes this country what it is, but libs still want to see then fail and the country with them. Odd way to show your patriotism isn’t it?

  4. brian Knowles says

    You are right, the problem is Obamas color. He’s a Red, and all of George Soros money can’t conceal that…

    bk

    • Steve Hochstadt says

      So, the majority of voting Americans chose to vote for a Communist. How stupid of them. It’s lucky that you are more perceptive than most people.
      That’s the trouble with many of Obama’s critics. In saying the nastiest things they can think of about him, they inevitably imply that most Americans were too stupid to know that.
      Steve Hochstadt

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