There are really three types of conservatives out there, and knowing that they are different is important to understand. The material issues are fairly clear. The wealthiest people in this country are making more money than ever before, and are controlling the political system better than ever before (just try to observe the ridiculous debt-ceiling debate dominated by whining little Republicans). At the same time the recovery is very anemic, unemployment rate stays high, demand and job creation are appallingly low. What we need is a vigorous investment policy like a WPA paid for by the unproductive proceeds of the millionaires and billionaires in this country. Wall Street profits are back to usual, corporate profits are back to usual. The resources are there, the policies are not.
But at the same time as the ‘class warfare’ issue has become more important than ever, since 30 years of Reaganomics has gotten us into this point of class disparity with the personal (childhood poverty, drug addiction, divorces etc.) and economic (anemic recovery, no opportunity of valorizing capital in the United States) repercussions, the political atmosphere has heated up along the way. The distinction of the three different types of conservatives become more important than ever. What are the three groups of conservatives we are talking about? To whom can we reason, and to whom it doesn’t make any sense? And I am sure many on the liberal-socialist spectrum of the political process, or anyone that has remained sane in observing the political process, many of you will already know about this distinction.
The first group of conservatives are the superrich and superwealthy people in this country. From a class viewpoint they are the owners of the means of production, and are highly class-conscious. They send their kids into private elite prep schools to inculcate them into the elite value system, attend golf courses, cocktail parties, country clubs, and weekly corporate board meetings. The sociologist William Domhoff makes a great distinction between what he calls the moderate-conservative and ultra-conservative wings of the corporate community in the policy-planning network.
“The policy-planning network is not totally homogeneous. Reflecting differences within the corporate community, there are moderate-conservative and ultra- conservative wings within it. Moderate conservatives favor foreign aid, low tariffs, and increased economic expansion overseas, whereas the ultra- conservatives tend to see foreign aid as a giveaway. Moderate conservatives tend to accept the idea that governmental taxation and spending policies can be used to stimulate and stabilize the economy, but ultra-conservatives insist that taxes should be cut to the very minimum and that government spending is the next thing to evil. Moderate conservatives accept some welfare-state measures, or at least they support such measures in the face of serious social disruption. Ultra-conservatives have consistently opposed any welfare spending, claiming that it destroys moral fiber and saps individual initiative, so they prefer to use arrest and detention when faced with social unrest.
The reasons for these differences are not well understood. There is a tendency for the moderate-conservative organizations to be directed by executives from the very largest and most internationally oriented of corporations, but there are numerous exceptions to that generalization. Moreover, there are corporations that support policy organizations within both camps. However, for all their differences, leaders within the two clusters of policy organizations have a tendency to search for compromise due to their common membership in the upper- class and corporate community.”
So, if the ultra-conservative elites in this country, who are controlling both parties in the political process want more tax breaks for corporations and the rich, and financing this by slashing social welfare spending for the poor and middle class, then they will succeed especially in the current environment. The most important thing to keep in mind is that they are lobbying in their interest, and from a micro-economic perspective there is no disconnect between what they fight for and what they intend to receive as a consequence of their fight. It would make no sense to try to convince them to be more benign, and redistribute some wealth to the poor and middle class people.
The second group of conservatives are the ideologues. The ideologues can be conservative members of the Republican party, politicians, policy advisers,
conservative think-tanks, conservative news media like the National Review or Fox News, academics, economists, journalists, writers or bloggers (and many more). This group is located right underneath the richest people in this country, and they are very likely financed by those very wealthy people. From a purely economic viewpoint, one can not know whether they genuinely believe in their conservative orthodoxies, but they surely receive corporate subsidies, proclaim those orthodoxies and their mandate is to convince large parts of the American people that trickle-down economics works to their benefit, or at least keep everyone away from ‘liberal academia’ or other parts of society, who are pointing out what is actually happening to the economy and society. People’s anger over the wars and their economic depression (no jobs, no health care, no retirement security etc.) is certainly mounting higher and higher, which elevates the role of those conservative ideologues even more, because they have to convert popular anger into targets that actually don’t solve the problem, but hopefully distract the people as long as possible. Take immigrants, abortion- right activists, gay right activists, liberal academia or government in general. The Tea Party is guided by those corporations and ideologues. Chris Hedges calls them a fake grass roots movement. It may make fun to debate those conservative ideologues, but eventually it is non-sensical to expect them to change their opinion. They have an economic interest to sustain the status quo, and will unlikely challenge this system, i.e. you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
The third, largest and most important group are the working and middle class people who embrace those conservative ideals. I would call them ‘useful idiots’. The term was originally invented to describe the Soviet sympathizers and sycophants of the Western countries. As Noam Chomsky noted, we are very eager in trashing the ideological control and totalitarianism of the Soviet Union, but we can’t turn a critical eye on the US system itself, which is dominated by the blind embrace of American values like freedom or democracy (without noting that these concepts can easily be undermined by a mind control system). For Chomsky this makes the US intellectual system more pernicious than the Soviet system, because in the Soviet system oppression and subjugation was obvious for all, whereas in America mind control- on Orwell’s line the thinking of permissible thoughts- should make a critical analysis of the US power structure difficult or impossible. Thomas Frank wrote a book titled “What’s the Matter with Kansas”. He questions how it can become possible that a large group of working-class voters could vote for a Republican Party that relentlessly violates their economic interest, and how they could elevate social fringe issues like abortion or gay marriage (that is not to say that one should not care about those issues, but that they should not be elevated as the deciding factor for casting one’s vote) over economic issues like jobs, education or health care. It seems to be that there is a fundamental mind control going on, which under very difficult circumstances can be overcome, because many common views are very hard to disband. But these are the people that liberals, socialists, leftists or moderates should take up and attempt to convince and bring them on a side, which would more genuinely reflect their economic interests.
The exhaustion of strategies from the ideologues and billionaires, their inability to deliver long-term solutions to the intractable political and economic problem might give the progressive cause a boost, but it can not be taken for granted. The capitalist could get away with seeking for a lower standard of living for the majority of the people. This is not an unknown in history. But nothing is set in stone. The Greeks, who are ridden by huge public debts to private banks, are as of yet unwilling to relent to this reduction in standard of living, but it takes all our effort to envision and realize an economic system that truly serves human needs instead of capital interests for the few.