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America's 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 language around.

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 be about.

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 on it.

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.

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