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The Twisted New Republican Conservatism

Jan. 5, 2016
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My favorite definition of capitalism has always been Kurt Vonnegut’s: “Capitalism is whatever people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today.”

Go see the terrific new film, The Big Short, for a spectacular, real-life example we’re still living through.

Every day the latest news out of Madison brings more real-life examples of Wisconsin Republicans enacting their own remarkably similar, twisted new definition of conservatism.

In Wisconsin, conservatism has become whatever Republicans controlling state government, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today.

That means those who have the power to rewrite any laws they want are no longer restrained by any of the traditional, bedrock principles of political conservatism.

Take the example of a Republican bill to facilitate destruction of Native American burial and effigy mounds, a religious art form created by an early Wisconsin civilization somewhere around the year 700 C.E.

Shouldn’t conservatives insist on conserving what historians and archeologists call a world archeological wonder—enormous earth mounds formed by Native Americans more than a thousand years ago as religious and spiritual monuments to the natural world in the shape of bears, deer and birds with 600-foot wingspans?

Are you kidding? Modern-day Republicans don’t even care about preserving the natural world itself. They ridicule the idea of spending any of their massive corporate profits to take steps an overwhelming majority of world scientists agree are necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change from making the planet unsuitable for human habitation.

It’s a startling reversal of boasts by conservative Republicans that they are fervently pro-life.

Conservative Republicans may be willing to leave a few token undeveloped areas. But the new Republican mission for the Department of Natural Resources is to assist private developers in maximizing profits from Wisconsin’s landscape. That benefits wealthy campaign contributors a lot more than preserving some old piles of dirt.

But even if conservative Republicans no longer care about preserving Wisconsin’s natural environment, surely they’re still deeply committed to protecting all those great conservative principles they’ve always praised as far more important than any worldly concerns.

Shouldn’t conservative Republicans at least demand respect for the religion of the state’s native people?

Republicans have always used freedom of religion to fight any government action they don’t like, from the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion and marriage equality to President Obama’s expansion of public health care.

Most of those ancient Indian mounds were hallowed burial grounds and the overwhelming majority already were destroyed by private developers before the state ever got around to passing laws to protect the few that remain.

Fortunately, there were no reports of swirling spirits arising out of the earth to wreak horror movie revenge upon the culturally ignorant white plunderers of those sacred grounds, but it was still a lousy thing to do.

The Republican bill would allow private owners of land containing protected Indian mounds to determine whether they contain any human remains. If they didn’t, owners would be free to destroy them. Wilfred Cleveland, Ho Chunk tribal president, said his tribe opposes destruction of the ancient mounds whether the sites contain human remains or not. 

“These are sacred sites,” he told a reporter. It would be like destroying ancient churches or mosques, he said.

Uh oh. He probably shouldn’t have mentioned mosques. Republicans aren’t nearly as protective of strange, alien religions as they are of their own. 

 

Protecting Human Life?

In fact, Republicans want to write the religious opposition to abortion by Catholics and fundamentalist Christians into law to force the entire population to abide by those religious beliefs regardless of what anyone else may believe.

The frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination even wants to ban followers of Islam, the world’s second largest religion, from entering the U.S.

Conservative Republicans aren’t even so sure they believe in the Constitution any more. Another presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, is calling for a new constitutional convention to get rid of any constitutional freedoms Republicans don’t like and limit the power of the Supreme Court.

So if modern conservative Republicans no longer care about long-standing conservative principles such as protecting human life or basic constitutional guarantees of freedom and equality, what exactly do they actually believe in?

That’s really not terribly hard to figure out if you look closely at everything they’ve done in Wisconsin since gaining total control of state government.

Modern conservative Republicans believe in low wages for working people and low taxes for the wealthy. They’re willing to sacrifice every other previous conservative belief to achieve those goals.

Republicans have consistently lowered public employee wages with Act 10 and private employee wages with a right-to-work-for-less law. They pass tax cuts going overwhelmingly to the wealthy that working people barely notice. They funnel millions into an economic development agency in name only that exists primarily to distribute large tax breaks to wealthy corporations.

In other words, as Vonnegut noted, modern Republican conservatives believe in doing whatever the people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, want them to do today.

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