Far Right is Not "Conservative"
October 5, 2002
By Mark Davis
I'm a conservative ... really!
I believe women should have the right to control their own
biological destinies, that affirmative action has largely
been a positive force for change in America, and that homosexual
citizens should be allowed to serve in the military. I believe
that military force should be used with caution abroad, that
reasonable gun-control regulations are needed, and that the
environment should be protected. I understand the reality
that our constitution specifically separates the worlds of
government and religion, and that therefore to use public
funds for religious education (i.e. vouchers) is strictly
unconstitutional. I know that the new deal saved America and
that fair taxation is necessary for the maintenance of a free
state. In other words, I'm your basic American conservative.
I'm not kidding, either.
"Conservative," according to Webster's, means "disposed to
conserve existing conditions, institutions, etc, and to agree
with gradual rather than abrupt change." That's me, and if
you know your politics and your history, you'll also know
that most of the above positions fit the definition of "conservative."
You'd know that regulations forbidding homosexuals in the
military are a relatively recent phenomena, that abortion
rights have been protected throughout the country for three
decades and, like most Americans, I don't see a logical reason
to reverse that. I will concede that radical changes are often
needed. Many of the greatest institutions of American life
came as part of a sudden, major shift in policy and priorities.
Nonetheless, for the most part I still think it's better to
install plumbing before you tear down the outhouse.
I'm an English teacher by profession; to be precise I teach
the English language to non-native speakers. Despite it's
crudeness and inconsistencies, I love my mother tongue and
enjoy sharing it with others. It is important for them to
learn because it has become the lingua franca of the world;
some knowledge of English is necessary for nearly all professions
internationally. This is why it annoys me when the American
right butchers the language to suit their own needs, and it
outright disgusts me when the corporate media, which tells
America what to buy and who to vote for, spreads this befouled
As I stated above, I consider myself to be a conservative,
albeit a progressive one. America's far right, which has the
Republican party as it's principal vehicle, boardroom America
as it's principal patron, the religious right as it's loyal
customer and the corporate media as it's mouthpiece cannot
be accurately considered conservative. These are people who
favor rash changes that are way out of line with the mainstream
of our society and startlingly anachronistic; police America's
vaginas, moon the UN and invade any country on a whim, build
the death star, burn down the forests and teach christianity
on the public teat while cutting taxes to favor people so
rich they won't notice the change. These aren't conservative
ideas, but rather ideas that propose a bold leap backward.
There's only one word fit to describe it: reactionary.
Another linguistic atrocity is that the right has set up
the word "liberal" as their mistaken view of conservativism's
nominal opposite to the point of describing reasonable limitations
on civilian ownership of firearms as "liberal gun-control
legislation." This is not at all accurate. "liberal," after
all, refers to that which allows greater freedom or less regulation;
the right's own belief in allowing ownership of all manner
of killing machines to anybody with the money to buy them
is far more liberal if one is to use the word properly. The
right is correct to use the term when referring to progressive
America's views on abortion, gay rights, etc. I believe, however,
that they should adopt the term themselves when it comes to
their fetishistic fixations on greenbacks and uzis.
As annoying as it is to hear the far right mangle the language
that many of them absurdly want to make America's official
language, it's even more horrible when their mutated lexicon
is used by the supposedly "neutral" media. It is common for
them to freely use reactionary terminology in news broadcasts
as well as print ("creation science" comes to mind). Far more
repugnant to me personally was a nonsense phrase commonly
thrown about during the 2000 coup that put President Rain
Man into the oval office; "military ballots." There's no such
thing as a military ballot, and there never has been. As an
overseas voter, I know the process of voting absentee, and
it's the same for all Americans no matter what they do for
a living. But hey, the right thought they could get some good
PR out of it, so why not? And guess what? Pretty soon every
newsreader in the television universe was talking about these
mythical pieces of paper.
Since I'm better than they are I'll give the devils their
due; the right isn't the only force in American life that
engages in language manipulation. As has been pointed out
many times by people who are right for the wrong reasons,
the term "homophobia" has been vastly overused by those of
us who oppose discrimination against gays. Strictly speaking
it really should be applied only to those with a particular
mental condition characterized by an unnatural fear of homosexuals,
though given the past relationship between the psychiatric
community and gays, I can understand their impatience with
medical semantics. Some African-Americans seem to believe
that "racism" is not a term that can be applied to them and/or
that it should only apply to institutional discrimination.
There's nothing to support that narrow definition in any dictionary
I've ever seen, and in common usage most people seem to realize
that anyone can potentially be a racist. Still, these are
exceptions that prove the rule. No one shafts the language
like the reactionaries.
If there is any one thing that grates on this progressive
conservative's nerves the most when considering these issues,
it's the right's intentional mangling of one word. It's the
word that to me sums up the essence of what America should
That word is Democracy. You know, that thing we did
before the coup.
Who here knows the adjective form of this word? That's right,
kids, "democratic." As in democratic institutions. Democratic
development. Democracy is a very popular concept in America
despite having been declared obsolete by the supreme court
of late. When Americans think democracy, we mostly think happy
thoughts. This presents a problem for the far right's campaign
of linguistic insanity. You see, America's conservative party,
my party, which largely wants to preserve that which has proven
to be good and practical in American life and move forward
with the rest, decided long ago to accurately call itself
the Democratic party. It's tricky business for the reactionaries,
because they now have to smear a party named after a concept
that outside of the suburbs of Houston is universally considered
to be a good thing. How do they do it? Well, they've conveniently
renamed the party themselves, calling it "the Democrat party."
That way, they think they can divorce us from the concept
of democracy, which lately they don't seem to believe in much.
It's become far too common for reactionary elected officials
to use this word to describe us. This is wrong, people. Very,
very wrong, and someone needs to call their illiterate asses
Here's my proposal, fellow progressive conservatives. First,
let's embrace the word that accurately describes our party.
True, the "C" word doesn't describe all of us, and a lot of
us gag at the sound of it. But let's deal with the fact that
it covers most of us. By the same token we should slap the
word "reactionary" on any of them and anything that they do
when the label fits (there are a handful of actual conservatives
in the elephant camp, after all). Secondly, we should never,
never, never, allow the reactionaries to misuse the
language without retaliation. Whether it's Trent the Cheerleader
or some local goon or the front page of the New York Times,
we need to fight like hell for the American language, because
it's at least as important to conserve as Yellowstone park.
No more "military ballots." No more "democrat party." And
naturally, we should never, never use their bastard GOPenglish
terminology ourselves (I saw an internet banner the other
day that said, "Vote Democrat." Shame!).
Naturally, what I've mentioned is just a taste of the vast
manipulation that is going on. Just as we shouldn't let them
control the debate on the issues of the day, we shouldn't
let them control the language, either. At least not until
they learn how to use it properly, anyway.