In its current meme form, the word conservative distracts attention from the recent history of the Republican Party while obscuring an extremist takeover of the party.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Republican Party was made up of people who shared certain principles and goals, with positions ranging from liberal to moderate to conservative. There was a public effort to create a “big tent” where people with a range of opinions about how to reach the party goals could coexist and work together.
Over the course of several decades, we have seen liberal and moderate Republicans leave (or be driven from) the party, and now we can observe even conservative Republicans who are perceived as being “not conservative enough” being ostracized from the party. Now there appear to be only conservatives in the Republican Party. (And what happened to those liberal, moderate, and not-conservative-enough Republicans? They’re now right-wing conservative Democrats, blowing the Democratic Party’s Senate majority.)
Something else happened during these several decades, particularly since 1994 when the Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952. The Republican Party “brand” was severely damaged. This phenomenon seems to have been exacerbated by two terms of former president George W. Bush (2000–2008). We know this because during the last several election cycles, we have noticed the term “Republican” be replaced by the meme “conservative.”
Recently I watched a long tv segment on the campaign of current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in which the word “Republican” was never uttered, while there were dozens of references to “the conservatives.” This was not a report about the conservatives within the Republican Party, mind you. The report was about the Republican Party’s presidential campaign, but the deletion of the term Republican is nearly complete. Apparently, people running for office prefer not to be openly identified with the Republican Party because the “brand” or the “frame” is perceived so poorly.
So the “conservative” meme comes to the rescue. Riding on the back of the gutted party structure, the conservative wing is successfully distancing itself from the damaged and damaging Republican brand while saving itself the trouble of starting a third party.
It is as if the conservatives of the Republican Party are vampires, sucking the lifeblood out of the party structure, returning for another helping only when necessary to maintain the illusion. Don’t worry, they seem to be saying, we’re not really Republicans. We’re Conservatives.
What is of particular interest here is how the meme conservative, by creating a “neither in nor out” identity, bestows the former inclusiveness of the traditional Republican Party to the current controlling extremist faction, while allowing them to avoid taking on the damaged history and damaging record of the Republican Party.
In fact, as Vice President Joe Biden says, “This is not your father’s Republican Party.” It is a group of people who ascribe to positions that are generally considered to be on the extreme right, people who in the not so distant past were confined to the fringes of the Republican Party. Now they have broken the legislative branch of our government with intransigence, and they are the party’s presidential candidates.
Call them what they are: Republicans.