Conservatives are Fighting a Rear Guard Action
The heart and soul of conservatism is the desire to maintain a traditional culture and protect established social norms. But with each liberal political victory conservatives feel that the culture is eroded and norms are jettisoned, and they lose ground. Here are a couple of recent examples that explain what I mean
Starting in the 1970’s liberals proposed and conservatives opposed moves to broaden opportunities for women in the military. Conservatives opposed allowing women in the military academies, and they lost that battle. They opposed allowing women in combat support roles, and they lost that battle. They opposed allowing women to fly fighter aircraft, and they lost. They opposed allowing women to serve on ships in the Navy, and lost. Now the military is opening all career fields to women.
There was a similar trajectory for the advancement of gays in the military. After his election in 1992, President Clinton proposed ending the ban on gays serving openly in military. This was met with a firestorm of conservative opposition, and the end result was “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This was supposed to prevent commanders from asking about a service member’s sexual orientation. DADT ended up being the worst of both worlds, and was frequently used to dismiss gays from the military. Democrats have opposed DADT since it was instituted in 1994, and finally Congress repealed it in December 2010.
This was only one skirmish in the broader battle over gay rights. Conservatives sought to politicize the issue in 2004, when Karl Rove and his allies pushed ballot amendments across the country defining marriages as between one man and one woman. These ballot measures drove high conservative voter turn-out, which is credited with helping George W. Bush win re-election. But supporters of expanded rights for gays and lesbians didn’t stop. They pushed for favorable laws in liberal states and challenged bans in conservative states, and slowly but surely gained ground. And then, in 2015, the Supreme Court struck down bans on gay marriage, thus invalidating the Rove inspired marriage amendments.
If you think about this trajectory from the conservative perspective you realize that for them each battle is a rear-guard action. With each loss they give more ground, as is clear from these examples. But these are only the tip of the iceberg. For conservatives this steady erosion has played out in virtually every public policy issues, from civil rights to environmental regulation. This history shows a slow and steady push by liberals, and a slow and steady advancement of liberal programs.
With each loss conservatives lose something they once held dear. With each loss a social or cultural norm is forever abandoned. They know that if they lose any fight it only means that they’ll be pushed back even further, and will have to fight again deeper in their own territory. They know that they’re fighting a rear-guard action.
The history of the last century has been the story of repeated conservative inability to stop the liberal advance. Civil rights, voter’s rights, worker’s rights, environmental laws, workplace safety laws, women’s rights, the list goes on and on, and continues unabated. If you doubt me, think about how gay rights have advanced in the last twenty years. And, then think about how desperate this must make conservatives feel.
Conservatives have learned that they must fight every battle. They know that every fight is critical, and must be engaged at all costs. They know that no issue is too trivial to ignore. Every issue is the tip of the iceberg, evidence of bigger things yet to come. Every liberal proposal, no matter how obscure, is potentially the camel’s nose under the tent flap. Conservatives know that many liberal policies start out in academia, are bandied about in liberal public policy journals, then eventually fall from a politicians lips, gain a constituency, and eventually become a piece of legislation or the basis of a legal challenge.
Keep this in mind as you watch Fox News and hear commentators like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, freak out over the most trivial things. And then think about how conservatives act, how they engage every issue, and fight every battle as if it were an existential fight for the soul of the nation. Because, to them, it is.