Conservatism is the problem
For what its worth, Barry Goldwater was a classical liberal. He did not like big government, cared about individual rights and civil liberties, and was a staunch defender of free enterprise. He was your typical Old Right Republican that developed his worldview as a reaction against communism and New Deal social democracy — the latter of which put him at odds with Dwight Eisenhower during the 1950s.
Despite the fact that he was painted as an extremist in the 1964 presidential election, Goldwater’s classically liberal brand of conservatism was not too far out of step with most of the Republican Party at the time. During his second act as Senator from Arizona, Goldwater began to care a little bit more about the institution of government rather than just being simply opposed to it — he convinced Richard Nixon to resign in 1974, backed Gerald Ford over the more ideologically-aligned Ronald Reagan in 1976, and most importantly, recognized the writing on the wall during the 1980s about the Republican Party’s deepening relationship with the Christian Right.
Towards the end of his life, Goldwater became increasingly hostile to the Judeo-Christian takeover of the Republican Party; he defended abortion rights, gays serving in the military, and supported legalizing medical marijuana. During the 1990s, he criticized the Republican Party — at this time more or less led by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia — for being too extremist. He effectively disowned the mainstream conservative wing of the party. He saw modern liberalism as a necessary counterweight against conservatism and cooled on the idea that modern liberalism was an existentialist threat.
In a way, he was right about what happened to the party after Ronald Reagan was elected president — who, by the way, Goldwater did think positively of (granted, he would later say Eisenhower was the best president he worked with, despite the fact that he decried Eisenhower’s liberalism during his presidency). However, as much as he lamented about the party itself, the real issue is what happened to conservatism, period.
Conservatism went from being a defense of classical liberal values against the more activist liberal policies of the New Deal era to an embrace of a cancerous level of tribalism; so much so that the movement is no longer serious about anything whatsoever except countering the big liberal boogeyman of their own creation. It is an enormous grift that fuels a $2 billion right-wing mediasphere, nearly $2 billion in campaign donations every two-year cycle, and a relationship between a bourgeoisie that’s getting richer and a proletariat that only cares about being better than the worst liberal (or Black or Brown person).
Conservatism is now a glorified farce, shaped by a perverse relationship between irrational populism and domineering and egotistical authoritarianism. It’s an orthodoxy with a Dixiecrat stench; a belief that their values are simply superior to so-called “liberal values” as an end in itself; a worldview that they believe justifies itself in the eyes of God, purported liberal failures without investigating underlying context, natural inequality…whatever the fuck. In fact, I am perplexed by how conservatism has crafted its own sphere of reality, a toxic echo chamber filled with carnival barking primetime pundits on Fox News, snake oil salespeople of alleged comedy and logic in the conservative talk show circuit, and populist anti-left conspiracy theories festering in various right-wing online communities.
Conservative politicians care more about crafting policies that take on liberalism instead of crafting policies because it’s simply good, human policy. Florida, for example, has a comical unemployment insurance program that’s designed to artificially keep unemployment numbers low. Texas actually passed a constitutional amendment banning the creation of an income tax because of reasons. Republican-controlled states preach liberty, then pass laws to violate bodily sovereignty. All of this is on top of the fetishization of low taxes (that don’t pay for themselves), loosely regulated law enforcement (that gives cops too much power), unencumbered capitalism (that destabilizes societies), and Judeo-Christian-influenced cultural wars (which turns their defense of human dignity into an unbridled lie).
This commitment to a perceived order is as appalling as it is unsurprising. Anything that could help the public at large is “socialist” or “communist”; anything that could restrain the unrestrained exercise of power is inconvenient unless it is used to dominate others; that anyone that remotely challenges their worldview is a bat shit liberal; that any excuse is a worthwhile excuse so as long as it seemingly counters any narrative or belief labeled “liberal”. However, most of us know the simple truth: conservatives have little to nothing to offer.
Conservatives over the past 60 years have defended white supremacy; the subjugation of minorities and disadvantaged populations; the erosion of worker protections; the dismantling and privatization of the welfare state; market fundamentalism; expanded executive authority; the glorification of conservative wealth; unsustainable unilateralism; the restriction of human identity; an idealized view of human existence that’s ultimately submissive in nature; unhealthy and destructive governing; the rejection of our common humanity; and a disgusting view of religion that replaces lessons of love and brotherhood with gospels of selfish prosperity and transactional human existence — and all the while celebrating the hypocrisy of doing so.
Liberals and progressives offer human ideas — even if some of them are not always good and generally do not hold up after close scrutiny. However, I would argue that liberals and progressives care for the human costs that are charged in society than conservatives, libertarians, and others on the right. This is not to say a person is bad for simply being conservative or libertarian — that’s irresponsible to say and I would never agree with that sentiment — but the ideas and the policies that I have seen from the left are far more human than what is seen from the right.
And this, perhaps, brings me to my biggest gripe about conservatives and the right-wing: a harrowing belief that they have a monopoly on what is truth, and anything that is regarded as a sleight against their perceived truth must be an example of a left-wing conspiracy. Even when conservatives and others on the right acknowledge the lie — just look at their rabid defense of the incumbent — they will peddle it as truth because they believe that truth should be the confirmation of bias, not the confirmation of verifiable facts. Severe, extremist partisanship cripples our ability to reason; however, tolerance of the unreasonable seems to be a feature that’s more profound on the right than the left; begrudgingly to the right’s credit, I will concede that they do a masterful job of projection and highlighting the worst examples of the left to enhance their narrative.
Pat Moynihan, the late Senator from New York, opined that “the central conservative truth is that culture, not politics, determines the success of a society.” It’s a discerning statement, but over time it has left out a very expansive corollary. The society they aim for does not live up to the buzzwords of “life”, “liberty”, and “freedom”. Their ideal society is one that is a lot less dynamic, a lot less plural, a bit more rigid, and far more hierarchical. It’s where dignity is transactional, grievances can only be held by whites, and the selfish should reign supreme over the selfless.
I’ve seen loads of excuses, weak counter-narratives, and lack of context and reflection coming from conservatives in their observation of the latest waves of protest against the explicit and genteel systemic racism and bigotry in our society. From stretching studies to counter the argument against issues in law enforcement, to routinely throwing up violent crime statistics in Chicago with shallow callousness and little in the way of insight, conservatives are more concerned with arguing against what they believe to be left-wing bitching instead of acknowledging and accepting the responsibility of persistent issues in our society that have, more or less, been rooted in acquiescence to conservatives past and present.
I can somewhat respect the conservatism of Barry Goldwater — it was a spirited defense of classical liberalism and personal liberty. While I do have views that can be clearly described as socially liberal for that I am supportive of a government that is active in protecting an individual’s civil and human rights, I am a classical liberal at heart. The government cannot be a panacea for every last fucking issue and self-actualization is necessary for our growth as human beings.
However, this cancerous form of authoritarian, populist conservatism — more obsessed with controlling anything that they perceive to be from the left than actually trying to improve the human experience — will be subject to disrespect, derision, and discontent from me. I don’t take it seriously. I don’t commend it. I don’t think it’s anything worth a shit. I have no issue regarding that as partisan — I am not going to sit here and claim that I am unbiased.
You can say that I am being no better than the conservatives that I am criticizing with my own harsh rhetoric towards conservatives, but I will counter with this: I see a “right side” that cares more about the order of society and I see a “left side” that cares about the humanity of society. As a black man, can you blame me for ridiculing the former and siding with the latter?