Gray Flannel Dwarf

5/11/2005

The Politics of Phraseology

Today’s Republican party has been criticised, be the claims true or not, for conveniently taking credit for names and phrases coined or adopted by others (see: “compassion”), while being quick to dispose of terminologies of their own creation that turn out to be cancerous (see: “nuclear option”). Lately, however, I am wondering if the GOP isn’t having such a honed skill used against itself, by those in its own party.

Let’s go back to Political Science 101: When it comes to the term “liberalism”, vis a vis “conservatism”, one need look back to the Enlightenment. Rooted in an age of advances in science and reason, and embracing philosophical ideas of the Renaissance, “liberalism” came about as a movement against orthodoxy and “absolute” power, whereas it touted progress and individual rights. Adam Smith, John Locke, both of these could be considered liberals in the traditional sense of the term.

Skip ahead a few centuries, to modern politics. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are tossed around like political confetti… sometimes as badges of honour, other times as derisive harangues, but rarely used in their original context. Both today’s Republican and Democratic parties would be considered liberal under this definition of the term. Embracing, to whatever varying degrees one might support oppose, capitalism, individual rights, and political freedoms, neither party can truly be considered “conservative” as compared to a pre-Enlightenment worldview.

These things said… more and more I am seeing the uneasiness within the GOP, with regards to the evangelicals and neocons versus the more traditional Republican party, and while I am still not 100% convinced that the GOP is being held hostage by the religious right, there is a very definite divergence in political aims between the two. This manifests itself in the current political pressures that some GOP politicians are apparently facing, in addition to the party itself. In recent months, tensions have been at what seems to be nearing all-time highs, with the far-right ardently (and often victoriously) shaping the party’s policy.

Along with this power grab is the rhetoric, and it’s the rhetoric which I feel is a particularly telltale sign. Amongst the squabbles within the party (it is too early yet, I think, to call it infighting), one often hears the calls to separate the “[real] conservatives” from the “republicans/GOP/party”, in any variation thereof, or in other flavours not mentioned. It shows up time and time again, a rhetorical call to separate the wheat from the chaff — and this cannibalism invariably turns into the questioning of others’ “conservatism”.

I find this to be a particularly interesting development, and while it may actually be more accurate in the original context of the term — a dangerous proposition, indeed, having the whole lot of theocracy-seeking, science-fearing “conservatives” running around, shaking down the power structure — I do wonder if this has given the traditional GOP some pause. The GOP has long been known as the “conservative” party, yet it almost looks as if they are running the risk of having the rug yanked right out from under them by the more radical elements of their own party.

The Republicans, who arguably have done a superb job over the years at donning the mantle of whatever catchphrase the pollsters say is going over well with the public at any given time, seem to me, at least, to be running the risk of losing a major descriptor at the very heart of the party’s political identity. This is a very real possibility, in my mind, unless they can reign in these more reactive elements within their ranks and keep them from splitting, taking the phrase with them.

The GOP without the blanket of “conservatism”. What would they be with out it? The “Un-Cola” of modern politics?


cswiii @ 12:40 am

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