Right-Wing Ideology Run Wild

The Radical Right – reflecting the overlapping ideologies of Ayn Rand capitalists, Christian fundamentalists and neo-Confederate white supremacists – is set on crippling the federal government and humiliating the first African-American president. But the extremism could shatter the Republican Party, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

In the Eighteenth Century, the western world shifted from mercantilism to capitalism. Mercantilism was an economic system that gave governments wide-ranging regulatory powers over commerce, mostly to ensure a positive balance of trade. It also allowed for strong guild structures and protection for domestic industries. But the Industrial Revolution ended mercantilism and brought to power a business class that wanted to be free to operate without government oversight.

In the generations that followed, as this capitalist worldview evolved, the business class made a fetish out of the “free market” and viewed government as, at best, a necessary evil. Any sort of regulation was seen as the equivalent of slavery, and the proper role of officialdom was reduced to maintaining internal order (police), defending the realm (military) and enforcing contracts (the courts).

Author Ayn Rand, an advocate for unrestrained capitalism.

Any government involvement in social welfare was disapproved of because it allegedly promoted laziness among the poor, but this was just a convenient myth. The real reason for keeping government activity to an absolute minimum was the rising business class’ fear and loathing of taxes.

In Europe, the rationalizations for capitalism remained primarily secular, looking to the maximization of efficiency for the sake of profit. In the United States, however, where little happens that one side or the other does not ascribe to an overseeing God, secular rationalizations were soon complemented with the notion of divine will. God wanted unregulated economic freedom and minimalist government to prevail.

This religious view continues to exist. Today’s struggle to return us to minimalist government and maximum economic “freedom” is led by a collection of fundamentalist Christian right-wingers and Tea Party mad-hatters. Journalist Chris Hedges lays out a worst-case scenario of the drive for power by the Christian Right in his recent article, “The Radical Christian Right and the War on the Government.

He tells us that “the public face” of this political force is “on display in the House of Representatives” and its main ideological aim is to “shut down the government.” Hedges also points to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as the archetypal fundamentalist politician leading the charge against big government. Hedges thinks this is just the first step toward the real goal of men like Cruz, which is to make the U.S. a Christian fundamentalist nation.

The Ensuing Struggle

In the struggle that has ensued, the radical conservatives’ enemy is the Democratic (or “big government”) Party in general and President Barack Obama in particular.

As an indication of just how isolating and distorting ideology can be, focus groups of conservative Republicans have revealed a deeply held conspiracy theory. According to researchers who conducted this study, “What drives the Republican base . . . [is] a genuine belief that Obama has a secret agenda to drive the country in a socialist direction.” They also believe that he is the head of a cabal, that he seems to be a politician who “came from nowhere,” and that he is “propelled by some secret forces.”

The focus groups revealed this belief to be held by “two out of every three self identified Republicans.”

In the 2010 election, a high conservative turnout gave the Republican Party control of the House of Representatives and – at state levels – the power to aggressively gerrymander congressional districts that enabled Republicans to retain control of the House in 2012 despite losing the national popular vote by about 1½ million ballots.

The 2010 election also infused the House Republican caucus with many radical right-wing conservatives whose districts often were made politically safer by redistricting in 2012. These radical politicians and many of their constituents shunned the sort of compromise that is, or should be, at the heart of democracy.

For the radicals, principle was more important than compromise. That attitude led to the recent political confrontation with its shutdown of the federal government and the near default on the public debt.

Within days of the shutdown, moderate Republicans began deserting the radical conservatives and expressed their willingness to end demands for such things as the defunding of federally subsidized health care, popularly known as “Obamacare,” the elimination of the government deficit, and a radical reduction in government programs and regulatory power.

However, it was only when House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, finally allowed a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives that these moderate House Republicans could join their Senate colleagues on a bipartisan resolution which restored the flow of funds that reopened the government and saved the nation from default. In so doing, however, the moderates split the Republican Party in two.

Victory Denied

What the moderate Republicans did was deny the radical conservatives their “victory” – for that was what a shutdown of the federal government and a default on the debt represented to the conservatives. Ideologically, the goal of these radicals is to reduce government’s role in society to a minimum. They had hoped that shutting down the entire federal operation would position them for negotiating its eventual minimization.

Second, the campaign to reduce federal taxes to a minimum through the creation of a bare- bones balanced budget was to be aided by their ability to push the Treasury Department to the brink of default. All the hard-Right Republicans had to do was sustain these two tactics long enough to make the Democrats concede. But that was what the extreme conservatives could not do, thanks in good part to the desertion of the more moderate Republicans.

But the battle is not over. The resolution, supported by the moderate Republicans, keeps the federal government open through Jan. 15, 2014, and allows sufficient funding of the debt through February 2014. So we may well face a second round of disruptive confrontation in a few more months.

In the long run, however, things do not look good for the Republican Party. Many radical conservatives have come to see their moderate compatriots as worse than any liberal Democrat. They see them as traitors to principle – as politicians who ran scared in the face of Obama’s “socialist” agenda. Under these circumstances, most of the party’s energies might well be taken up with self-destructive infighting.

The Republican Party now runs the risk of shrinking down to its radical base while its moderates are defeated in primaries, flee to the Democratic Party, or stake out positions as independents. Democratic voters may now be motivated by the recent spectacle of disruption to turn out in higher numbers to win back the House from the Republicans. If that happens, the Republican Party will be hard put to stay alive as a single entity.

Ideology is a form of debilitating shortsightedness. It replaces reality with an idealized version that usually has too little to do with the real world to be workable. The economic aspect of radical conservative ideology is fatally anachronistic.

Earlier, in the Nineteenth Century, it led to devastating business cycles of boom and bust and left much of the population without basic services. The Great Depression should have been its death knell.

As to the size of government and range of its activities, we must keep in mind that there are nearly 317 million people in the United States. Going back to a pre-Great Depression government – much less one sized for Eighteenth Century needs – would undermine social stability by withdrawing all the protections that keep destitution at bay and unleashing all the prejudices that current federal law discourages.

Ignore these facts and eventually you will have real revolution on your hands. The radical conservatives are stubbornly blind to these problems because this reality calls into doubt their “principles.”

All such shortsighted ideologies, be they of the Right or the Left, have proven unrealistic and so have failed. Unfortunately, they have wreaked havoc in the meantime. We have only seen a shadow of the potential for damage of the present ideological challenge. Let’s hope we can avoid its full force.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism. 

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9 comments on “Right-Wing Ideology Run Wild

  1. Ben Chifley on said:

    It’s Time: Return of the Atlas Shrugged Guy‏
    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/10/its-time-return-of-the-atlas-shrugged-guy/280641/

    Rand Paul: Liberals, Islamists Waging War on Christanity
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYuMzKFXOLA

    daily paul telling it’s uses to read revilo oliver‏
    http://www.dailypaul.com/123387/an-old-rant-on-occasion-of-hard-to-find-books

    Spate of attacks on Shi’ite Muslims kills 59 people in Iraq
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/17/us-iraq-violence-idUSBRE99G0JU20131017

    Israel Joins the Sunni-Led Anti-Assad Coalition
    http://www.thenation.com/blog/172557/israel-joins-sunni-led-anti-assad-coalition

    Saudi Arabia snubs seat on UN Security Council – hours after winning coveted place
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-snubs-seat-on-un-security-council–hours-after-winning-coveted-place-8890581.html

    Saudis Sending Death Row Prisoners To Fight With Rebels In Syria
    http://news.firedoglake.com/2013/09/13/saudis-sending-deathrow-prisoners-to-fight-with-rebels-in-syria/

    Saudi Prince Calls Murdoch And Changes Fox News‏
    http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2005/12/12/2831/saudi-prince-calls-murdoch/

  2. Ben Chifley on said:

    Fox News Affiliated Saudi Prince: ‘We Don’t Want The West To Go Find Alternatives’ To Oil
    http://thinkprogress.org/security/2011/05/31/231253/saudi-prince-alternatives-oil/

    The World Bank will fund coal only in rare cases: Ashish Khanna
    http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/the-world-bank-will-fund-coal-only-in-rare-cases-ashish-khanna-113101100737_1.html

    Saudi prince, worth billions, gets World Bank loan to build luxury hotel‏
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/may/1/princely-loan-for-a-luxury-hotel-in-ghana/?utm

    Funny how Murdoch, Saudi Arabia and others have the same political views of the WORLD BANK!!!!!!

  3. Hillary on said:

    “the Republican Party will be hard put to stay alive as a single entity.”

    Wishful thinking ?
    .
    Sadly there is no difference between Democratic & Republican Foreign Policy.
    .
    As Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild said “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws” —

  4. Berry Friesen on said:

    Only a few weeks ago, Senator Cruz and former congressman Dennis Kucinich put the brakes on the Obama Administration’s rush to commit the U.S. military to an expansion of the war in Syria by calling it a plan to provide al-Qaeda with an air force. It was a powerful moment of truth that delegitimized the Administration’s plan and exposed the deceit of the war on terror.

    And only a few week before that, liberals and Tea Party members in the House nearly prevailed on a vote to reign in the NSA’s surveillance of the American public.

    Through the turmoil of the shut-down and debt crisis, these shining moments have quickly receded from public view. Still, among those who operate the levers of power, they will long be remembered as serious threats to the imperial project. A return to rank partisanship will be one of their defenses. Another will be propaganda that marginalizes Tea Party leaders.

    I will trust media that don’t play the empire’s game.

  5. John Hoctor on said:

    Defund Wars on two cont’s that Sonny Boy Bush started, police state, snoop state, and the old stand by the MilIndustComplex, and of course the constantly filled to the brim funnel of Too Big to Fail to F ing Wall St ‘bootstrappers’ like Dimon and Blankenfink and guess what? You have OUR, OUR OUR OUR priorities not the blood sucker Koch, Murdocks and others!!! You see there is money. We pay more in taxes than they do. Let’s roll and have it out. And Jesus loving pukes in Dixie can leave anytime.

  6. Danton on said:

    As they say in the hinterland, these strange conservative religio-free marketers are cruisin’ for a bruise. When their silvery haired proponents and their children feel the effects of their pooping on social security and medicare, then ah then, will you see an upheaval to stun and awe and even shock all mankind.

  7. Burke Chester on said:

    As Ayn Rand wrote, men deal with one another by trade or by force. There are no other alternatives.

    Capitalistic idealists recognize this principle and choose to deal by trade. Socialists (the author’s “pragmatists”) choose force.

    Essentially, such pragmatism is just a rationalization for thuggery.

    And socialism, another kind of slave state.

  8. America does not need anyone in the govt trying to sabotage the USA. The Republicans are hell-bent to start a war against the Iranians, as laid out in the PNAC 1996 documents, as George Bush tried to do with the 2 years of headlines about Iran supposedly doing all the killing of US GIs in Iraq, never substantiated, culminating in the British Sailor Incident and ending when Admirals and Generals told their commander Hell No.
    The purpose of the PNAC war against the Iranians is to drown American Democracy, not to fight Iranians.
    With American Democracy drowned in war, through bankruptcy and through exploiting the terrorist attacks caused by the war, the real face of the Republicans would finally appear – peonage, public sadism, monopoly, and cops not bothering to pull over a Mercedes when it runs over a shabby-dressed family in the street.