Conservative Democrats: The New Right Wing in America

The last two years have been nothing if not extraordinary for students of politics and history. A historic and ground-breaking President, elected through a groundswell of hope in democracy, civil rights for all, and an end to Republican rule:

• remains opposed to marriage equality

endorses signing statements (having opposed them as a candidate)

opposes habeas rights for those suspected of terrorism

• has rounded up, imprisoned, and deported record numbers of people believed to be illegal immigrants where they may languish for years without access to the judicial system

• apparently no longer believes individuals are legally innocent until proven guilty by a court of law or that his comments, as Chief Executive, could affect the ability of individuals to receive a fair trial.

How did this happen? How did Americans, so enamored of the principles this nation was founded on, rally to elect an historic President, then proceed to shrug their shoulders as the work of democracy languishes?


The first echoes of this movement occurred during the Health Care debate, when Obama was presumably trying to advance a public option. As you know, he later expressed his opposition to it. Even later, it was revealed that he had secretly negotiated it away.

That was when defenders of the public option began to take heat from defenders of the administration for being naive with regard to politics, economics, health care, or policy in general. Angry upon learning what happened to the public option behind closed doors, they were scolded for being impractical, unrealistic, and “ideological.”

What was happening is that ideals (such as the ones the campaign ran on) were becoming a hindrance, and had to be dealt with somehow. So they became ideology, and defenders of this point of view became “pragmatists.”

The summer of the health care debate was also the summer of the Tea Party. This was a pivotal one: far more, I think, for the Democratic Party than for the nation.

That was also the summer of the loudest, most obnoxious, and frankly frightening political displays in recent memory.

You remember the Tea Party, don’t you? Yes, they’re the folks who called Obama a socialist. This comes easy, of course, after years of being told by right-wing radio and television that “liberal” is a dirty word.

Now the Tea Party has fallen on hard times, but they’re not gone. They live on, though not in the way you’d think.

Where did the Tea Party go, along with its signs and slogans? To find out, just ask yourself: where and when is “liberal” still a dirty word?

Where do you go to meet, greet, and befriend the kind of good, sensible Americans who just know the country’s biggest threat lies in the progressive viewpoint and its adherents? You know those bleeding heart liberals, the ones always championing causes like social justice, the undocumented, unions, and the due process rights of even the most heinous defendants?

Probably haven’t bathed in years.

Yes, I know, you can find the right kind of American (pun intended) on the radio and on TV. But where else?

Hop on Twitter and look up hashtags like “firebagger” and “emoprog.” Now look at the people using them.

Ask yourself: when did people start looking for newer and better ways to say “dirty fucking hippie?” What kind of person prefers to call their opponents names (like “socialist”) rather than say how and why they disagree?

And why are they so angry?


Imagine being progressive during the Reagan and Bush years. Imagine championing the cause of unions like PATCO, for example, or questioning the invasion of Grenada. Imagine being called every name in the book because you weren’t waving the flag or making racial slurs at recipients of public assistance.

What happens to people subject to relentless criticism? They often feel powerless (because they often are). What do they do then? Well, they can identify with the strongest power around: that of the critic. They can find someone else to criticize.

This is what’s happening inside today’s Democratic Party. The party that championed Social Security and the rights of working families is, in some pockets, fighting unions and excoriating defenders of social spending. Not surprisingly, they’re not too fond of those who criticize the intervention in Libya, either.

Lawrence’s message is interesting in this regard. Social spending cuts are inevitable, he claims (just like conservatives of both parties) and anyone who disagrees is simply not as astute as he is about history or how to win elections. Social spending has been cut before, and this makes such action not only morally defensible, but fiscally and civically laudable.

Democrats Against Liberals.

It’s not Republicans punching Democrats anymore; now it’s conservative Democrats punching liberals and progressives for doing anything they feel threatens the President’s re-election.


To hear conservative Democrats tell the story, a block of people shifted to the far, far left immediately following the election of a centrist President who always campaigned as a centrist. (PS: If you disagree with that, then you’re one of them.)

Conservative Democrats say they and their candidate never moved, they’ve always occupied the sensible center. Everyone knows you have to govern from the center, right?

Oh come on, you don’t stand for a “principle” and try to lead a nation! That’s not how you win elections! That’s ideology!

Now I think Unions, public employees, the poor, and peace have always had their defenders, and that they used to reliably be called Democrats. That started changing with Reagan, who very effectively wooed former Democrats to his side with promises of power, patriotism, and privilege. It accelerated, of course, under both Bushes, continued to some degree under Clinton, and seems on its way again with Obama.

“Don’t be a naive dirty hippie. Be a clean, sensible (ie prosperous and respectable) conservative!”


Yes, the center has shifted in American politics. But not according to the conservative narrative, the political equivalent of the geocentric universe.

I think those Democrats once in the Tea Party’s line of fire got sick and tired of being called socialists, dropped their guns, moved to the right, picked up new ones, then began hunting “emoprogs,” “firebaggers,” and anyone else who has the audacity to criticize their leader.

Now ask yourself: in what system of government do people applaud one another for “taking down” a member of the opposition, rather than convincing them with reasons and arguments?

In what form of government do parties and politicians become the most cherished and defended objects, rather than principles (I don’t know, like maybe the ones a nation was founded upon)? Where and when is criticism of a party or leader experienced as so toxic that it must be silenced, rather than argued against?

In what system of government are the “pragmatics” of winning elections opposed to “ideals?” Where are you most likely to find “pragmatic, sensible, adult” people (projectively, I think) accusing their opponents of being childish ideologues?

If we don’t already know the answers to these questions, we most certainly know who to ask.


6 thoughts on “Conservative Democrats: The New Right Wing in America

  1. During the presidential campaign, I felt David Axelrod packaged Barack Obama as one would a product. I never saw in Obama—though I wanted to—the passionate liberal some saw. When the Jeremiah Wright scandal occurred, I watched Obama change positions in relationship to Wright until he found one the most people were happy with. I supported Clinton for president, rather than Obama, because his inexperience and his inconsistencies worried me. But, there was no candidate anywhere near liberal enough for me in the election. Our lack of concern not just for safety nets for the poor, but for the beleaguered fight for the existence of a middle class troubles me deeply. So: My name is Katherine C. James. I am a far-left liberal. I believe in social nets, marriage equality, habeus rights for all, a new immigration policy that demonizes no one, the recognition that we founder without the legal precept that all of us are innocent until proven guilty. I believe integrity, consistency, and the truth matter; not just when it is easy, but every moment of our lives. I believe an educated citizenry is a necessity. I believe we get the government we deserve if we do not speak truth to power. I am a far-left liberal, but not dirty in the least; I’m so shiny clean, I sparkle. I keep hoping we will do the right thing, and that we will inspire others to do the same. In our current atmosphere of ignorance, I am discouraged.

    1. I’m with you, and hope to see more of the former community organizer and law professor as he’s making his case to the American people.

  2. I’m a Democrat and I think we’ve become a part of cowards and cowerers. What do we do when confronted with a Big Lie told in a chorus of loud voices? We retreat. Are we too polite or too lazy or too so-called sophisticated to go out in the streets and shout down the liars? I am afraid so, and I am disgusted.

    1. Still not sure how budget talks are going to go (and still not sure who he sees as his opponents exactly) but it’s nice to hear Obama negotiate from a position of strength.

      Needless to say, I wish he’d advocate more for than against things like social spending; time alone will tell how he stands on marriage equality, unions, and reproductive rights.

  3. Great points. I think that right now many are terrified of what is happening to our country – the depression, the rising inequality, the loss of our super powers, the rise of teabags and the loss of reliable media. It is this fear that I believe has many turning on “their own” and so it’s important that people take a moment to really think about what is going on within the Democratic party, and with our leadership. One of, if not the most important thing I appreciate as an American is the ability to critique leaders, policies and programs without the fear of imprisonment or death. As humans we should all start a conversation with a level of respect, and move to discuss the issues not the personalities, as hard as many (AK and MN “politicians” for example), make it. I respect humanity, but must be reminded that it is not the person I am against, but the ideas, and to remember to have the humility required to have my mind changed, if an argument is done respectfully and successfully. Beliefs are not facts, we must be open to the possibility that disagreeing with a stand, statement or policy of our POTUS or Congressperson, does not mean we are abandoning our party or our country, but that we appreciate the freedom and ability to have a respectful disagreement, and hopefully a respectful debate.
    Thanks for this (and other) reminders. :o)

    1. Thank you! I’m like you and have no problem supporting a candidate I don’t agree with 100% – just wish his most ardent defenders used their brains more than their lungs.

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