Mind Your P’s & C’s

Posted on April 25, 2010


I never thought it might happen to me, but I think I’m becoming a conservative. It’s enough to make me contemplate hemlock. But I am feeling like maybe we should go back to what things were like 40 or 50 years ago. Specifically, I’m casting my reflections back to 1964 — the first presidential election I remember paying attention to. Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate for President and he was the conservatives’ darling. His rhetoric was outrageous, as well as his preference for wanting to set the clock back another 40 years (to the early 1920s). What I find endearing (and want to return to) in that age (1964, not 1924) is that most of the American public found Goldwater’s rhetoric and vision to be dangerous, ill-conceived and untenable — that, frankly, many thought him to be a kook (and insinuated so).

[It’s interesting to note that Ronald Reagan gave a rousing speech at the 1964 Republican Convention and started his appeal as the poster glamor boy of conservatives.]

I’ve always viewed the political dialectic as one where Progressives were never satisfied with the way things are, but viewed we could move society to something better. Conservatives, in my view, were the ones who tempered the vision of Progressives — the Conservatives were ones to dutifully determine exactly what was baby and what was bathwater (what was still working versus what really needed changing). Moderates listened to both sides and muddled their way through.

But somewhere in the last 40 or so years, Conservatives lost hold of their role as a reasonable voice to temper the pace of change. Now, they want to go back in time, as if we can step into Marty McFly’s DeLorean and go back to the way things were at some predefined golden time in history (when they feel it was not mucked up by Progressives). This type of la-la-ism would have been scoffed at 50 years ago by many serious Conservatives. You really can’t go back home again.

Also a problem these days is the rhetoric that spawned fears that Goldwater would lead us into nuclear war has now become “normal” discourse. People can make a bad joke and pray for the President’s death and 1.5 million sign on without thinking. If Sarah Palin should remark (& for the record, she has not as of yet — as far as I know) that we should nuke Iran & obliterate it before they nuke us, you’ll find millions to scream, “That’s right, Sarah, lock and load!” Yes, we have free speech, but when that free speech came up for a test, Oliver Wendell Holmes said that one may not falsely shout fire in a theater and cause a panic — to wit, one must be mindful of the repercussions, veracity and accuracy of said speech. (Nowadays, for Conservatives, truth resides in saying something loud enough and often enough and usually denigrating someone else in the meantime.)

[It’s interesting to note that Goldwater found the escalating irrational rhetoric and bullying of conservatism unacceptable in the early 1980s.]

Life is change. The absence of change is death. If we did not have Progressives in one form or another, humans would still be wearing skins, dwelling in caves, eating raw meat, lucky maybe to live 30 painful years until we died without any means of recording what has gone on. Sarah Palin would not be where she is now without those pesky Progressives. Pesky Progressives got women the right to vote, not to mention to read & write & own property. Without pesky Progressives her daughter — and her whole family — would have been ostracized for an illegitimate birth. Without pesky Progressives, medical science would not have progressed enough so that those with Down’s could live beyond childhood. (And she should be thankful we have progressed beyond our old versions of society where a child with “birth defects” was looked at as Satan’s progeny, that the mother had gone over to the “dark” side.)

Progressives move for change. As we know from science (& evolution), most change leads us to dead ends. But without taking these risks, no advancements — in economics, in technology, in customs and mores, in literature and the arts — can ever be made. And without those advancements, we’d still be living in caves, beating each other over the heads with clubs.

Or, maybe the Conservatives have really won, and we are back there again, today… Right now, the bathwater stinks…