Democratic Underground

Hell in a Handbasket
April 02, 2001
by KSU93

The most common battle cry of conservatives these days is that America has lost its moral compass. We're no longer a nation of moral people, they tell us time and time again. Wrapped in this rhetoric, conservatives have launched an all-out assault on our personal liberties on grounds that their moral guidance is the answer to all our woes.

But in all the fury caused by this movement, no one has stopped to ask even the most basic questions. Just when exactly was the United States a "moral" country? When in our history were we "moral" people? And what makes us any less "moral" today? The mere fact that conservatives can get away with such intellectually lazy arguments seems proof positive that very few people have any knowledge about our nation's history beyond a cursory understanding of the most prominent historical events.

As a result, conservatives have hijacked history and created a perception of a nation that has never existed anywhere except in their minds. Because slavery was legal in many states until the conclusion of the Civil War, it's safe to strike that entire era from competition. How can anyone possibly defend the morality of people who thought it was perfectly acceptable to own other human beings? Then for many subsequent decades, we continued to persecute African Americans, a practice that did not become illegal until quite recently.

Typically, conservatives allude to the 1950s as the model for a moral lifestyle. Never mind that Jim Crow laws were widespread throughout the south, that communists were hunted down like medieval witch hunts, and that ethnic and religious minorities throughout the country were discriminated against with casual indifference. To conservatives, the 1950s were nothing but one big episode of Leave it to Beaver. Were people more moral in the '60s? The '70s? The '80s? The '90s? I say no, absolutely not.

If I had the opportunity to choose the time period in which I could live, I would choose today without any question. As a whole, Americans today enjoy greater peace, prosperity, and comfort than any previous generation. And we have more rights as well. That's not to say that we're at the top of the mountain, but we've certainly made a lot of progress lately. So why are conservatives constantly running around warning us that the sky is falling?

The answer, I think, is quite clear. Conservatives rely primarily on fear to persuade people to support their agenda. Want prayer in school? Scare parents into thinking that praying is the only thing that will prevent their children from being shot. Hate laws that protect the environment? Scare people into thinking we'll sink into a depression if we spend any money on conservation efforts. Want a more powerful military? Scare people into thinking our armed forces are in shambles and that we couldn't even win a war against Mexico.

And so it goes with the morality argument. Social conservatives didn't just recently dream up the idea of using the government to regulate personal behavior. They've been doing it since the dawn of civilization. If they're not trying to force children to pray at school, they're trying to regulate what married couples can do in their own bedrooms. And the way they justify these policies is by frightening people into thinking our country will go to hell in a handbasket if we don't crack down on "immorality."


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