Do We Even Know What the Definition of ‘Conservative’ Is Anymore?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

There are a few so-called “conservatives” left in the republican party, but most still associated with that label are charlatans.

The definition of “conservative” is, of course, something or someone intended to conserve. We’re urged to conserve water, conserve food, conserve energy. When it comes to politics, we expect our elected officials to conserve democratic values like the sacrosanct inalienable rights delineated in Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Only by conserving an educated, civilized society can we expect this precarious experiment known as a constitutionally limited democratic republic to continue.

Yet, those defending the “conservative” moniker are those who support legislation designed to roll back women’s reproductive freedoms; voting rights, mostly for people of color; environmental regulations; education; civil rights; freedom of assembly; a living wage.

The list goes on.

What is conservative about handing massive tax cuts to the morbidly rich?

What is conservative about allowing internet service providers carte blanche to hoover up our online data and sell it to private corporations?

What is conservative about a handful of for-profit companies owning and controlling most of the media landscape?

What is conservative about plunging millions of Americans into crippling debt for believing that if they go to college, they will live more prosperous lives?

What is conservative about a private healthcare industry making a handful of CEOs more superfluous rich by denying coverage?

What is conservative about transferring our manufacturing base to low-wage countries to avoid paying workers living wages?

What is conservative about corporations buying back their own stocks instead of reinvesting profits back into their companies and workers?

What is conservative about two-thirds of American industries more concentrated than 40 years ago?

What is conservative about the richest 1% and .1% paying a lower tax rate than their employees?

What is conservative about CEOs making 400 times more than those employees?

What is conservative about the richest country in world history having the highest rate of income inequality and infant mortality?

What are we trying to conserve by perpetuating these abysmal outcomes?

Yet this is the reality in the United States today, driven mostly by four decades of neo-liberal economic policies touted as “conservative.”

It’s time we begin calling them what they are- radical.

“Wait a minute,” I can hear someone say. “Bernie Sanders is radical. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is radical. Elizabeth Warren is radical.” Some even have the courage to propose the risible suggestion that Joe Biden is “radical.”

Here’s why that’s wrong.

Let’s not even consider for a moment the policy proposals of the current establishment Democratic party. Let’s examine the “radicals.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, during his 2016 and 2020 presidential runs, introduced millions to the concept of Medicare for All. Those in the corporate media and beltway establishment — even many so-called “liberals” — treated it as if it were an idea no one had ever heard of before, like some utopian fantasy out of a science fiction novel. What the nay-sayers failed to tell us is that of the 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, only one refuses to provide its citizens with healthcare coverage as a basic human right from birth to death.

That country is the United States.

Medicare for All is not a new concept by any means. Looking at just the U.S., several administrations tried to institute a national healthcare system stretching all the way back to Theodore Roosevelt. Every time, the healthcare lobby, like clockwork, stepped in with stereotypical scare tactics and screams of “Socialism,” and shoveled obscene amounts of money toward politicians happy to parrot industry talking points no matter how fallacious or mendacious.

What the nay-sayers also conveniently omit is the fact that, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Medicare for All could save us $650 billion annually, not plunge us into penury, as industry talking heads would have us believe. Currently, 20 percent of healthcare costs go toward overhead. For Medicare, however, the figure is two percent.

This is just pertaining to cost. What about outcomes?

The private insurance industry, like every other private industry, is in the business to make money, not provide care physicians wish for their patients, which it makes by denying coverage. The sicker we are, the richer the industry gets.

According to a Commonwealth Fund report from last year, the U.S. ranks dead last compared to 11 other wealthy countries in four out of five areas pertaining to access to care, process, administrative efficiency, equity, and outcomes.

What is conservative about us literally being the only developed country in the world where healthcare costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy?

This is a radical, illogical, inhumane, dystopic approach to something supposed to resemble “healthcare.”

But what else is radical disguised as “conservative?”

How about our tax structure?

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the richest Americans paid a 91-percent tax rate that built the middle class and ushered in the longest stretch of economic prosperity in history. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson dropped it down to 74 percent, where it stayed until Ronald Reagan dropped it considerably more, to 25 percent. In 2017, Donald Trump signed the “Tax Cuts & Jobs Act” that handed a $1.5 trillion tax cut to the economic royalists who didn’t need another one. Today, the richest Americans pay less than 26 percent. But this is only on income above $523,000. Our tax laws being what they are, the rich don’t even pay that, so they take a modest “salary” — or no salary at all-and borrow against their assets at one percent. Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, only reported $81,840 in income in 2020, yet he increases his wealth more in one second than most make in a week.

But we mustn’t pick on Bezos. He is just operating within the system we have created to keep the wealthy morbidly rich which the rest of us have to contend with just getting by.

Is this conservative?

Speaking of contending with just getting by, why we are the only country with crippling student debt while our capitalist allies have figured out how to invest in their intellectual infrastructure tuition free?

Up until the 1980s, tuition covered 20 percent of college; federal, state, and local subsidies covered the remaining 80 percent. Now it’s reversed, and with the Supreme Court approving a system of legalized political bribery, Wall Street banks make a killing on interest.

Is this conservative?

Consider that for every dollar we invest in a student’s higher education, we get back seven over that person’s lifetime in taxes. That sounds a hell of a lot more conservative than punishing people with decades of debt that prevents them from getting married, buying homes, starting families, or starting businesses.

Should we even mention the federal minimum wage, still stuck at 2009-level $7.25 an hour?

What about the climate emergency and the republican party, the “conservatives’, denial it even exists lest they offend the fossil fuel polluters despoiling the environment for profit?

Do these things sound conservative?

Let’s consider what Rep. Jamie Raskin wrote in his recent memoir Unthinkable:

“These days, my favorite think to call myself is a conservative, because I want to conserve the land, the air, the water, the climate system, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Social Security, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Clean Water Act, the Civil Right Act, and the Voting Rights. I don’t even know why you guys want to call yourselves conservatives anymore, because you want to tear everything down. That’s not conservatism. That’s nihilism.”

Need more proof?

Have a look at Fla. Senator Rick Scott’s “ 11-Point Plan “ to “Rescue America.”

Is it conservative?

Originally published at https://theleftplace.substack.com on April 23, 2022.

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Ted Millar is a teacher, poet, and political writer for Liberal America and the Left Place blog on Substack: https://theleftplace.substack.com/.

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Ted Millar

Ted Millar

Ted Millar is a teacher, poet, and political writer for Liberal America and the Left Place blog on Substack: https://theleftplace.substack.com/.

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