For decades, Republican political operatives like Karl Rove have used the right — both Christian conservatives and Ayn Randian Libertarians — to win elections. Once in power, however, Republicans have been loath to govern on conservative principles, believing — with some merit — that the actual policies would be widely unpopular.
Instead, GOP politicos have tried to force the right into the cuddly branding of “compassionate conservatism” or the “ownership society,” rather than presenting the ideology as it is — and selling it the way the right imagines Ronald Reagan did. That’s the main conservative critique of the Bush years. (The trouble with the myth, of course, is that Reagan never lifted a finger to ban abortion, plus he raised taxes, exploded the deficit and granted amnesty to illegal immigrants, none of which has interrupted his deification by conservatives.)
Eight years later, the far right need no longer worry that its ideology is being hidden under a bushel, or wasted on politicians too timid to act.
The 2010 elections brought to power conservative governors and state legislatures, not to mention the tea party-heavy 112th Congress, particularly the U.S. House of Representatives, who together have floated literally hundreds of abortion-related bills, pushed for “personhood” amendments that would ban the IUD and fought for religion-based restrictions on the distribution of birth control through employer-provided insurance plans.
It’s ironic that Christian conservatives are returning to political prominence at the same time as laissez-faire, 1-percenter-worshipping Ayn Rand Libertarians — Rand herself was an unabashed atheist, who was contemptuous of the “mysticism” of religious people.
Contradiction aside, that duality is at the heart of Republican politics today — witness Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential candidate who is at once a religious fundamentalist on the question of abortion, and a Randian when it comes to, say, Medicare privatization, tax cuts for the rich and slashing spending on programs for the poor.
Ryan cosponsored tough anti-abortion legislation in the House with troublesome Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, now the scourge of his party for daring to say what many, mostly men, of his ideological strain (Ryan included) believe: that rape is no excuse for granting a woman the legal right to an abortion. Akin took it further, resurfacing the old anti-abortion canards that not all rapes are “legitimate,” and that a woman who is pregnant cannot, by definition, have been raped in the first place.
And so, the party of personal liberty, on the question of abortion, believes that the awesome power of the state should be brought to bear to compel a woman to give birth, even if the woman — or the girl — is unwilling, or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. The “legitimacy” or “forcible” nature of the conception is, in the purest form of conservative dogma, irrelevant. It’s the righteous force exhibited by the state, acting under religious dictates, that counts.
It isn’t pro-life, so much as it is a “forced birth.”
Today’s Republican Party is a far cry from the one that under the leadership of intellectuals like William F. Buckley Jr., drove out some of its wilder elements, including the John Birch Society, with their conspiracy theories about Republican President Dwight Eisenhower being a communist plant and paranoid fears of fluoridated water, during the 1950s.
The Birchers are back in the fold, prominently displayed at conservative gatherings. Little remains of the party of William Howard Taft, who ushered in both the personal and corporate income taxes, or even Richard Nixon, who for all his divisive “southern strategy,” signed into law the Environmental Protection Agency. Today’s GOP finds environmental science to be heretical. Roll over, Copernicus.
Movement conservatives, whether they are of the Koch brothers — “end the minimum wage and child labor laws, and cease all regulation on big business and the extractive industries” strain — or the evangelicals who even now are writing into the platform for next week’s Republican convention a plank opposing abortion rights for women, even in the case of rape or incest, are finally having their day.
It may make GOP political operatives — and possibly Romney himself — uncomfortable, but the far right is no longer a nuisance they put up with every two years at election time, only to abandon them to a back room when company comes over. They (and most decidedly not Mitt Romney) are in firm control of both movement conservatism and Republicanism.