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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Something very odd is going on in conservative thinking

In the continuing argument over ideology and violent extremism in America, conservatives are making some very odd assertions. Check out this statement by conservative San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders:

I reject the idea that James W. von Brunn, the alleged Holocaust museum gunman and known white supremacist and anti-Semite, is right wing — as well as the implication that racism and conservatism somehow are connected. The KKK is not welcome at any conservative event I’ve ever attended.

Look at what is going on here – the term “right-wing” and “conservative” are being treated as interchangeable and both terms are being counterposed to “white supremacists” and “anti-Semites” – who are no longer part of “right-wing” ideology. In effect, not only the term “conservative” but also the term “right-wing” is being rescued from any associations with racism and anti-Semitism.
And it’s not just Saunders. There’s actually a whole cottage industry over in the right blogosphere arguing this same notion – that white supremacy is not really a part of any known and recognized “right-wing” ideology. Instead, it is in some utterly unique category all its own or is actually a left-wing idea (please don’t ask for details on this second notion. It goes something along the lines of “racist=Hitler=vegetarian=feminist=Hillary Clinton=liberal”)
But, wait a minute. Wasn’t the whole heroic start of the Bill Buckley/National Review initiative designed to “rescue” true, Burkean conservatism from the nutty and disreputable “right-wingers” of the 50s– the John Birchers, southern racists, anti-Semites, anti-fluoridation paranoiacs and so on? Wasn’t this clean break with the racist, anti-Semitic “right-wing extremists” central to the entire ethos of the new breed of Goldwater-Reagan- conservatives who then rose to the leadership of the Republican Party?

It sure as hell was, as literally hundreds of admiring profiles of Buckley have detailed at mind-numbing length. Every one of these profiles describes racists and anti-Semites as part of the “right-wing extremists” Buckley opposed . So for what possible reason would a true conservative today want to deny this quite admirable chapter in the rise of modern conservatism and rehabilitate the term “right-wing” as a direct synonym for “conservative?” Weird, isn’t it?
Actually, it’s not. As more and more of the George Will, David Brooks, David Frum college-educated intellectual conservatives get thrown off the boat for excessive wishy-washy-ism, the core media institutions in the conservative Republican world — Fox news, RedState.com, talk radio – find themselves more and more promoting people and ideas that the rest of the media naturally describe as “right-wing” After all, it’s simply not plausible to describe most of the people who call into to talk radio shows or post comments on RedState.com as “Edmund Burke conservatives” – they’re not. On the contrary, many are distinctly “right wingers” and they include many individuals who say things that clearly reflect serious racial prejudice and anti-Semitism.
So, since these people are an increasingly large and important part of the ideologically committed Republican base, it becomes vital to somehow create a separate, artificial category in which to try to isolate self-proclaimed racists and anti-Semites (who are an embarrassment) on the one hand and separate them from “right wingers” (who are a vital part of the Republican base and must be cultivated) on the other. The Republican Party wants its “right-wingers” but not self-proclaimed white supremacists or anti-Semites.
Hence the oddity of conservatives today trying to rehabilitate the term “right wing” and defending it as their own. Oh well, at least Buckley (who did indeed sincerely detest the Burchite “right-wing”) does not have to watch as today’s Republican conservatives dismantle one of the more admirable parts of his legacy.

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