According to Mitch Perlstein,
"Conservatism is not mean-spirited. In poll after poll taken across America, at least a plurality of Americans identify themselves as conservative. Therefore, conservatism is not mean-spirited."

Looks like Perlstein is to logic as Dan Quayle is to spelling.

The vast majority of people in public life who describe themselves as "conservatives" are openly pursuing some form of theocracy. The speeches and voting records of the Republicans in Congress are not a secret.

There is a small minority of self-described "conservatives" who profess right-libertarian views, who claim that they are the only "real conservatives", and who claim that the theocrats they vote for don't actually represent them. It's fashionable among these people (see David Horowitz) to accuse all ordinary conservatives of being liberals in disguise: If we define "authoritarianism" as "liberal", why then all authoritarians are liberals by definition! This is gibberish. Furthermore, when the chips are down, these right-libertarians posing as conservatives usually turn out to be conservatives posing as right-libertarians. They'll support absolutely any crazy theocratic nonsense that the GOP barfs up, and they'll try to spin it as in increase in liberty. "Freedom of worship", for example, means the freedom of Christians to make the rest of us worship as they see fit.

This is closely related to descriptions of Hitler as "left wing", and in rare extreme cases it degenerates into Holocaust Denial. The impulse to lie shamelessly about history, politics, and everything else in sight is characteristic of the right wing in general. See also "Creation Science", the "liberal media", Whitewater, Vince Foster, etc. ad infinitum. The impulse stems from a reductionist Manichean worldview which holds that everybody but them is consciously and perfectly evil. Once you've made that assumption the bedrock of your worldview, any fact that contradicts it (and most do, given the complexity of the world and the general halfassedness of the human race) is a threat.

Some conservatives are sincere, reasonable people. I've met them. They exist. It's a shame they don't have the leaders or apologists they deserve. In time, the current fashion in right-wing maniac nonsense will burn itself out, and we won't have to listen to them any more.

By then we'll have somebody else crawling up our national ass, I'm sure.

I agree with wharfinger in that I don't feel that conservatives have the leaders they deserve. Trent Lott is an ass. Then again, if you feel Bill Clinton is the kind of leader liberals deserve, you've got problems.

I'm getting a little sick of nodes that try to paint all conservatives as stupid or evil. Conservatives are just like liberals, in that there are good ones and bad ones. I consider myself to be conservative, although most of the people around me assume me to be liberal (you would too if you saw the way I look and act). I am also the sweetest, kindest little guy you'll ever meet, certainly free of mean spirits. Much to the surprise of people who have preconceived notions of conservatives in their mind, I:

People have this feeling that all conservatives are Angry White Men. You'd be angry too if you were constantly portayed as dumb, gun-toting, women-hating, ultra-Christians, when nothing could be further from the truth. Liberals complain that the word "liberal" has been ruined by conservative spin-meisters. I ask you, what's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "conservative"? Conservatives have been slandered just as much as liberals. Both parties are now associated with their extremist elements. Both sides print and say so much bullshit about each other, creating a kind of stereotypical mockery of the other party. Can't anyone look across the aisle and see that there's people over there and not monsters? Very few elected officials have the goal of ruining the country - their main goal seems to be maintaining power.

Look, I want a small government based solidly in the Constitution. Does that make me mean-spirited?


The problem you are running into is that is not a very meaningful thing to say "so-and-so is a conservative." This is for two reasons. The first one is that it is far too general. Pat Buchanan is a conservative. Charles Murray is a conservative. Bill O'Reilly is a conservative. You are a conservative. What do these folks have in common? Not much. If you wanted to be more specific, you could say "I am a minarchist," or "I am a anti-federalist," or whatnot.

The second problem is the verb "to be" is insufficient for discourse. (see E-Prime) Instead of trying to say what you are, why not say what you believe? Instead of "I am a libertarian," why not "I believe that the government should play a smaller role in people's lives than it currently does." The latter is a statement of fact, the former is just a label.

Labels are nice for simplifying, but sometimes they can be taken too far. Certainly most people's minds can grasp that political beliefs are more complex than "liberal" vs. "conservative." Why then, should our politics turn into some sort of strange football game between the Democrats and the Republicans?

But I digress. The question now at hand should be: why do you feel compelled to label yourself as a conservative? You say that conservative means only someone who wishes to shrink the size of the government, but that's simply not true. In common parlance, conservative usually refers to someone who dislikes the federal government, but has additional connotations of one who is in favor of the social status quo, and the strengthening of "traditional values". Indeed the federalist position might simply be seen as an extension of a love of tradition, and a desire to emulate the philosophies of certain founding fathers.

Since the word itself refers to being resistant to change, or risk-averse, I see it as more likely that you are in fact not a conservative by the common definition, than that people are wrong when they sense a disparity between their perceptions of you and your self-proclaimed political affiliation. If it were up to me, I'd call you a libertarian, but like I said, I'm no big fan of labels.

I can understand why you might prefer the "conservative" label. After all, many people have a lot of positive connotations with that word. Perhaps you were even brought up to believe that you were a conservative, and the conservatism = goodness, so now you label yourself that way regardless of what you believe. Unfortunately, you must accept the negative connotations of the word along with the positive ones. So if it truly bothers you, the things people associate with conservatism, perhaps you should find a better way to express yourself than a one-word team-designation.

And now, an obligatory on-topic paragraph. Are conservatives mean-sprited? Well, some are and some aren't I suppose. I could argue that their philosophy makes them more likely to be, but so what? We could volley "conservatives are mean," and "liberals are dumb" back and forth all day, but haven't we had enough flag-waving yet?

I have met many people and have myself been in many walks of life, have been all over the United States, and have talked to all sorts of people about politics. So for what it’s worth I feel qualified to psychoanalyze conservatives (and everyone else for that matter).

From what I have seen, when people adopt or advocate traditionally conservative viewpoints1, it is almost always out of reasons other than compassion, sympathy, or generosity. It is very often a visceral and negative reaction to things about the world that they don’t like or understand. This is not to say that one can’t arrive at traditionally conservative positions with a heart full of good intentions, it is just to say that people don’t usually arrive at them that way.

In the most common situation then, conservatives, IMHO, are indeed mean spirited as regards their politics. They want the government to control how you or I spend our free time and who we choose to love simply because they want to exercise authority. They hate welfare not for any of its specific (and many) policy failings, but simply because it is benefiting someone unlike them.2 In what is possibly an extreme example, the Wall Street Journal editorial of November 25, 2002 actually advocated for increasing the taxes on the poorest Americans.

This is not to say that traditional conservatives have a monopoly on mean-ness, but they are mean more often than not.

1 By ‘traditionally conservative,’ I mean ‘conservative’ as it is understood in contemporary American political discourse - favoring fewer government programs and less regulation of corporations but more regulation of people’s private lives. Conservative can have a host of different meanings, but this is the one that is used in this node.

2 If this doesn’t ring true, think about how infrequently (traditional) conservatives rail against corporate welfare and subsidies, even though they are much more costly to the federal treasury. Not often.

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