Zombie conservatives at the schoolhouse door


Last week, the president delivered an education speech that fell somewhat short of the standard set by Lenin in his address at the Finland Station, launching the Bolshevik Revolution. In fact, Barack Obama told Americas schoolchildren to work hard, respect their teachers and take responsibility for their own success. Which, in the language of the tinfoilhatters, reads:

Allahu akbar, comrades.

It would be a pleasant surprise if conservatives who took the president of the United States addressing youths as an opportunity to stumble toward the fainting couch realized that they had made fools of themselves. Fat chance. Obama Derangement Syndrome is pan demicon the right and its leaving conservatives like me politically homeless.

Ive always taken complaints about the Fox News Channel as evidence of liberal whining and intolerance. But I dont watch TV news. And then I tuned in to Glenn Becks popular Fox show the other night and saw him tutor his audience on the presidents conspiratorial plan to institute oligarhy (sic) in America. And I thought: How does a paranoid like this get on national TV?

Last weekend, I tuned into Huckabee, a Fox program hosted by the avuncular former Arkansas governor, of whom I am a fan. There sat actor Jon Voight, staring gravely at the host, who praised the thespians courage.

Were witnessing a slow and steady takeover of our true freedoms, Voight scowled. Were becoming a socialist nation, and Obama is causing civil unrest in this country. … I say that theyre taking away Gods first gift to man: our free will.

Voight then accused the president of trying to depose God and deify himself as, according to the Book of Revelation, the Antichrist will do. It may sound ridiculous after all, who looks to celebrities for political wisdom? but its deadly serious to millions of Americans. To his great discredit, Huckabee, a pastor, let this crazy talk pass unchallenged.

Perhaps conservative elites like Huckabee really believe this kind of vicious invective, which right-wing radio talkers routinely disgorge, as well. (A foul-mouthed Rush Limbaugh praised parents who kept their kids out of school for not letting a socialist radical have at em.) Or maybe theyre flat-out cynical. That is, they know that Obama is no more a socialist radical than George W. Bush was a fascist authoritarian, but theyre happy to ride the wave of populist spite because it suits their short-term interests.

A leading Republican congressman recently chirped that things are looking up for the GOP because of peoples fear. Another Republican lawmaker indicated distaste for school-speech demagogy but explained that one must understand that Washington is in the middle of a nasty health-care fight.

Which means what, exactly? That winning is the only thing, and to hell with the good of the country, civil society and the possibility of intelligent debate about serious matters? Watching the school-speech insanity blow up on the right, a friend who has been deeply involved for decades at the top of Republican politics e-mailed to say that she was done. The conservative movement is hurtling off a cliff and she was bailing out.

Take me with you, said I. And that was before last weeks You lie! infamy.

Well, a Democrat chortled to me the other day, I guess youre going to have to be a liberal now.

Well, no. Aside from his personal decency, its hard to find anything to say for Obama. He is a statist liberal who is continuing and expanding the centralizing policies of his predecessor, whose expansion of the national security state and uncritical embrace of Wall Street finds no real enemy in Obama (much to the surprise of some on the left). Unlike the president, Im a social and religious conservative. Unlike this or the last president, I believe in fiscal responsibility, limits, localism and foreign-policy realism.

I also distrust the mob and its passions which is why the degraded state of conservative politics today is so demoralizing.

Despite what Sam Tanenhaus says, conservatism is not dead. Rather, its undead. The conservative movement is herking and jerking like a zombie, dedicated to little more than frenetic gestures execrating Obama, and to regaining power. To what end? Given that theyre birthing a conservative party whose instincts are dictated by loudmouths, reactionaries and crackpots, and overseen by cynics, its dispiriting to contemplate.

Where can those who wish to think and debate clearly about a serious politics of the right go? The degenerate form of populism now dominant on the right loves to praise freedom but it has no use for freedom of thought, or thinking much at all. In turn, increasing numbers of thoughtful conservatives have no use for it.

Rod Dreher is a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist. –MCT