There is a clash of civilizations going on, and it has nothing to do with the Burlington Coat Factory Community Center. It's more fundamental than Christian vs. Muslim. It's reason vs. fear. Civilization vs. anarchy.
That clash is happening right here in America.
Don't misunderstand me. I don't believe that being a conservative equates with being evil. Over the course of our nation's history, many conservative figures have raised questions deserving of an answer. They framed their issues with ideas that were testable. They contributed to the national conversation in a meaningful, beneficial way. They acted not just out of raw self-interest, but with sincere desire to do what they believed best for our nation and its people.
After more than two centuries of trials both at home and abroad, we have results from those tests. Conservative economics haven't just brought on repeated failure here, they've done the same everywhere and in every time. Conservative social policies aimed at producing a country that's joined around a less diverse set of ideas haven't engendered strength through unity, but an inflexible fragility. Those questions have been asked and answered, but the results don't mean those who raised the conservative position were any less dedicated to discovering the truth and serving the nation.
Only that's not what's happening now. Those conservatives, the men and women who argued with reason and passion for the positions they believed best for our nation, have been replaced by something else altogether. The two sides in our national debate can no longer be characterized as simply "left" and "right." In a remarkably short time, we've witnessed the overthrow of the right by something new... only it's not really new at all.
For a long time I viewed this new crew with something of the same assumption that Jesus made on the cross: "forgive them, because they don't know what they're doing." Surely those tearing at the foundations of science would not have done so if they recognized the real danger their actions represented. Surely those calling for defense of the Constitution through limits on the freedoms it enshrines didn't grasp the contradictory nature of their positions. Surely those working to wrest the last crumbs of control from the powerless and carry them back to the powerful were unaware of years spent and lives lost in obtaining even this modest share of equity.
I no longer believe this is true. When Rush Limbaugh blames the BP disaster on "eco-terrorists," I don't believe he really thinks this is in any sense factual. When Newt Gingrich compares Muslims to Nazis, I don't believe he does it out of ignorance. When Glenn Beck says that President Obama will force doctors to perform abortions and Michael Savage says that the president will disband the Marine Corps, it's not because they are badly informed. When Sen. Pearce insists that the 14th Amendment doesn't apply to the children of immigrants, when Fox news moves the beginning of Obama's presidency so that the disasters of the Bush years land on his plate, when those who were so shocked that Godwin's Law might have been dented in a blog post two years ago are now shouting "Hitler" on the floor of the House and Senate -- I don't think it's because they've been pushed there through no choice of their own. Death panels? Do you think the people making that claim believed it? What about global warming being caused by sun spots? How about the threat of Muslim terror babies?
The question of protecting the nation or the principles on which it was built is no longer the focus of "conservative" arguments -- it's not even a side note -- because this group no longer makes any distinction between the common good and their own self interest. They have reached the conclusion that their success is worth any price, even if that price is fatal to the founding principles of the nation. They have no canon but victory, no concept of restraint.
It's not surprising that this generation of Republicans has made a hero out of Joeseph McCarthy. They admire the way in which he cowed his enemies and the way in which he distorted the meaning of liberty. They admire him because he generated fear.
The question of "have you no sense of decency" has been answered. They do not -- at least not one that rises above their hunger for power.
For the unobservant, what's happening this November is just another in two centuries of mid-term elections. The press is already dusting off their talks from past cycles, ready to note how the numbers of each party in the House and Senate have been altered. They expect to devote an hour -- maybe two -- to highlighting what these changes say about the popularity of the president. They may go so far as to discuss how the results affect the fate of some bit of legislation (but don't count on it). You can bet that have some absolutely spectacular new charts prepared to show poll results and the rearrangement of seats in the legislative chambers.
But the story in this cycle isn't just numbers. What's at stake this November isn't holding Democratic gains in the House and Senate. It's not protecting Barack Obama's mojo. It's not advancing a progressive legislative agenda.
What we're facing in a few short weeks is a critical test; one that I believe may do more to determine our future than any action inside our own borders for over a century. More important even than the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Because the ideas put forward by men like Glenn Beck are not "just like fascism," they simply are fascism. It's the idea that personality can outweigh facts, and that force can author "justice" as well as any law. It's the conviction that those with hard-won knowledge are dangerous, and need to be overruled by "common sense." It's the view that history has an unfortunate bias, one that can be adjusted with a careful "correction" of the textbooks. It's the doctrine that only a portion of the populace is Real Americans deserving of liberty, and the rest must be dealt with as enemies. Those poisonous thoughts are sickeningly familiar, and they have lost none of their vile potency in the last sixty years.
Those that have taken the place of the traditional Republican Party (and the once reasonable politicians who have thrown over their long held ideals to grovel for these new masters) are not just battling with some aspects of science, they're waging war on reason. Not just tinkering with immigration policy, but sharply narrowing the meaning of the word "American." What's at stake isn't whether laws will be passed favorable to our positions, or whether laws will be passed that we don't like -- the real question is whether the United States will continue as a nation of laws.
We've been told, and polling data reflects, an "enthusiasm gap" between those who saw Barack Obama into office in 2008, and those who want to unseat him. Those massing on the right -- the birthers, Beckers, and baggers -- smell blood in the water. They've already seized the Republican Party and they mean to seize the nation. Somehow, for those not part of that movement, this election remains just another election. If that's going to change in the few short weeks that remain, it's going to have to be because some were willing to work, to raise the alarm, and to elevate what's at stake beyond a squabble between "left" vs. "right."