Commentators, even ones supposedly on the Republican side, are talking about how the Republican Party is being “dragged further and further to the Right” * by the victories of e.g. Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Marco Rubio in Florida. This phrase is supposed to be ominous, filling the reader or listener with fear about…what?
The traditional leftist definition is that “The Right” is somewhere near Nazism, which I have always found fascinating, because not one person on “The Right” would ever be in favor of National Socialism, nor of a police state where your rights are severely diminished, nor of killing Jews or other groups. That definition is reserved for “The Left” with its pseudo-paradises of Cuba, North Korea, Maoist China, and of course the Soviet Union. Hate groups like the KKK are always called “right-wing” by The Leftists, when in fact hatred and extermination of groups disliked by a self-proclaimed elite are left-wing phenomena stretching back to Robespierre and The Terror of the French Revolution, and proceeding to Hitler and his camps, Stalin and the GULAG, and Mao Tse-Tung and the Great Cultural Revolution with their millions of bodies.
Also implied in post-Communist times by the phrase “The Right” is some sort of theocracy with fundamentalist preachers forcing a Puritanical police state onto everyone: honorable mention should be given to the fantasyland of an America ruled by BIG BUSINESS where about 1% of the population lives nicely, everyone else is a wage-slave at 10 cents and hour, the rivers and streams are chemical conduits, and the sun never shines. The former describes Iran and Saudi Arabia, the latter partially describes present-day Russia and China, all countries positioned on the Left!
And so why exactly would anyone on “The Right” (or The Left) desire such states?
Conservatives need to seize control of the definition, seize control of the debate, and seize control of the stereotypes. One of the great lessons from George Orwell’s book 1984 is that control of language is the beginning of mind control.
Conservatives need to emphasize that the conservation of Freedom is where the term “conservative” originates. It has nothing to do with the protection of a dull status quo, the continuation of injustice, of discrimination, or of hatred between rich and poor. Conservatives “conserve” your basic human rights as written in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Conservatives do NOT “interpret” those documents in ways that limit your freedom. Conservatives struggle to conserve the original intention of the Founding Fathers, which, as any decent historian will tell you, was NOT to create a modern-day nanny state swallowing ever more of the American people’s wealth and rights.
“The Right” is “right” because it defends personal liberty against governments wanting – even with a gently smiling face offering money for all sorts of seemingly wonderful causes – to limit those liberties.
I once heard a Russian historian muse about his country’s tendency toward oppressive governments: he wondered if the way Russian babies were swaddled might be involved. Russians, he said, are usually tightly wrapped in blankets, when they are babies, and literally cannot move their arms or legs, or at least not much at all. The inability to move freely, to be able to kick and wave one’s arms at will, is connected to mothering: he theorized that the message to the Russian child’s mind is, therefore, that the freedom to move is somehow bad. The idea of freedom becomes tainted and suspect.
America needs to choose whether it wants to be tightly swaddled for our own good, or to risk that freedom is better, even though we might roll around and hurt ourselves now and then.
Conservatives need to refuse and refute any definition or implication that their positions somehow lead to a worse life. Being “dragged further and further to the Right” should be seen and understood as offering greater freedom and opportunity to all individuals. If we let “The Left” define what Conservatism stands for, we have only ourselves to blame.
The time for polite silence is over: it is time for a polite assertion of the truth!
* David Frum, “Republican commentator” quoted in the Financial Times in an article by Edward Luce, September 15, 2012.