*The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: On cannot step into the same river twice. The point being that change is constant. More importantly constant change implies different circumstances and different responses.
Conservatives, be they fiscal (lower taxes), social (gay marriage), political (bearing arms), or cultural (religiosity in society) in nature, look to years gone by and see a better America than the one we currently live in. The extrapolation is then made that if America 100 years ago was better then the original America must have been the best version possible. Ergo, the references to the Founding Fathers and what they envisioned in creating the United States of America.
And conservatives indeed deserve credit for accurately understanding American life in the 1790s. Having very little need of formal infrastructure meant the absence of a national income tax; the rarity of openly gay people dictated the rarity of gay couples and the lack of any argument over the sanctity of marriage; having recently fought a war of independence, and having the sovereignty of the nation and the individual states still in partial jeopardy, citizens possessing weapons made perfect sense; and the American colonies being founded larely by and for Protestant Christians, the degree to which the Bible was a central element in society was much greater.
Nevertheless the focus on this time period in American history by conservatives seemingly disables them from being able to appreciate how the country has changed since then. The realities of the 18th century, when the country was confined to the Atlantic coast and citizens could acquire the same weapons as the government are long gone. They have been replaced by the realities of the early 21st century where the interests of American society are international in nature and very few citizens, if any, have the ability to own a stealth fighter jet or nuclear submarine.
Their misguided focus on the origins of the country leads to unsubstantiated claims about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.
“The country was established as a Christian nation.” – Not exactly. While most people were Protestant, the Constitution (the document that formally established the country we live in) made sure that there would not be any national religion. Conservatives have not come to grips with the fact that freedom of religion essentially meant freedom to be whatever form of Protestant Christian you wanted to be in 1790 but it does not mean that today.
“The Founding Fathers advocated small government.” – Again this is a distortion of the facts. Certainly some Founders favored a limited federal government, but others just as fiercely favored a more expansive national government; in fact some wanted to return to a monarchy. In thinking again about the differences in the United States then versus now, it is easy to see how small government proponents took that stance regarding a country with few international interests and based primarily on regional trade networks. But the great thing about the Constitution is that it was applicable at the outset of the country and is equally applicable after over two centuries. The Constitution setup a government that could adapt to meet the country’s needs as circumstances changed.
All of this brings me to Rush Limbaugh. I wrote about is comments pertaining to Sandra Fluke last week having heard the comments but not his show in general. After hearing his show it is easy to see the basis of those comments. Limbaugh is conservative and may or may not believe some of the things he says. But more importantly he hosts a radio program that caters to prototypical conservatives who are not reacting to the current reality and do believe the things he says.
Part of the time I listened to his three hour program Limbaugh spoke from the perspective of someone living in an America of yesteryear, which helped to make his observations about the country today seem scarier. The other part of the time Limbaugh mischaracterized comments of others to create a straw man of liberalism he could then ridicule and tear apart.
Conservatives are not crazy. They are not unintelligent. But they are focused on the wrong stuff. And because of theat many conversations about what is best for the country are unproductive because conservatives are attempting to address issues from the perspective of people a few generations behind the times.
This doesn’t mean liberals are always correct. But at least they acknowledge the current reality and can identify the correct issues.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]