Friday, November 4, 2011


This is my personal response to an editorial in the Tacoma News-Tribune today by a self-proclaimed "black conservative," named Walter. He suggests in his essay that black conservatives have to be very courageous to buck their own community. He says he used to be a loyal Democrat, but that people in the Democratic Party can't be anti-abortion, against gay marriage, or religious. He says his conversion to conservatism was a "come-to-Jesus" moment, but he didn't realize the cost. He has been called a traitor, an "Uncle Tom," and been accused of giving aid and comfort to the "enemy." He says he does not support Barack Obama, and agrees with most of the positions of Herman Cain. He says he wonders if his dying father, an Obama supporter, was proud of him, particularly for standing up for his belief: "no excuses."

Walter –

Thanks for your essay today in the News Tribune. I am always eager to learn more about the mindset of that rare and elusive creature you call the black conservative.

I admire that you stood up for what you believe in, and had the courage (or foolhardiness, as you intimate) to go against the grain of your clan, the African American community in establishing your own identity. You were exercising your liberty. Good for you. That doesn’t mean, however, that you made a wise choice. When departing from the “common sense” of your own community, you are either a spiritually gifted prophet who perceives an entirely different dimension, or someone who is deaf, dumb and blind to truth that everyone else can clearly see.

Like many contemporary conservatives, I think you may not have a very good idea of what conservatism really is. Many people think being conservative means being prudent, frugal, Christian, all-American. But liberals are these things, too. (You show stupendous ignorance – and a degree of malice - when you declare that liberals are not “religious,” and even more audacity in claiming that your becoming conservative was a “come-to-Jesus” moment, in reference to one of history’s greatest liberals. It would have been far more accurate to say you had a “come-to-Pharisees” moment.)

Political conservatism is the predilection to “conserve” established hierarchy, institutions and traditions. We can see this dynamic working throughout human history, and its modern political incarnation dates back to the Irish politician Edmund Burke (ironically something of a liberal for his time) in the mid to late 1700s. We see it still working today in almost every showdown between liberal and conservative, where liberals see a new and better way, and conservatives are desperate to retain or restore an older order.

Conservatives were against the founding of the United States of America. The conservatives of that era were called the Tories, the same as they are still called today in Britain. Those early American conservatives were determined to “conserve” the tradition of kingship and their traditional ties with Britain, and so fought fiercely against the patriots in their own country. The first American “civil war” was patriots vs. conservatives. Following independence, many conservative Americans moved to Canada.

Conservatives also fought, tooth and nail, to “conserve” such “traditions” as education only for the male elite, slavery, Native American subjugation (and sometimes actual genocide), women’s subjugation, unfettered rights of aristocracy and wealth, child labor, feudalistic economic structure, lack of worker’s rights, the right for corporations to pollute at will, and, of course, they fiercely resisted civil rights and affirmative action. In short, conservatives have been the very bane of culture – worldwide, and in America – since the dawn of culture itself. They have always been the party of “no.”

We have to scratch our head and ask a couple of questions. "What have conservatives ever offered the world?" And, "who are the conservative heroes of history?" And for the most part, we simply draw blanks.

Find an arch-enemy of the poor, the non-white, the female, the natural world, even science, and his (almost always his) face will be conservative. That is as true today as it was 2500 years ago when Socrates was being convicted by the Athenian court, 2000 years ago when Jesus was accused by the Pharisees,  600 years ago when Joan of Arc and “witches” across Europe were being burned at the stake by the Church, 500 years ago when Galileo and Copernicus were persecuted for their scientific awakening, 230 years ago when men of the enlightenment sparked a revolution among the patriots of America, whose first rebellious action was to attack a corporation, 150 years ago when conservative madness sent this country into a bloodbath of unimaginable proportion (again, patriots vs. conservatives), through over 100 years of reconstruction and Jim Crow policies of continued subjugation and prejudice against the now free black people, to 40 years ago when Martin Luther King and the freedom riders were beaten and harassed by conservatives waving the Confederate flag, to today when conservatives try mightily to deny liberty, equality, justice and pursuit of happiness to gay, lesbian and transgender Americans, as well as immigrants who happen to be poor and brown.

Yet the history of America, and the world, is the continual refutation of conservative ideology. Yes, it wins elections and sets us back from time to time, but the arc of history is toward ever greater liberty, equality, justice, pursuit of happiness, oneness, cooperation, love for one another, forgiveness, non-judgment, the very ideas conservatives so desperately attempt to thwart. Overall, conservatives are the biggest losers in world history. They have stood against progress at every turn for thousands of years.

So there is DAMN GOOD reason that poor people, people of color, females, people of alternative lifestyles, people who revere nature, as well as those who are authentically religious and actually try to live according to the core precepts of their faith, find conservative ideology highly dubious, if not downright diabolical. The African American community is not wrong for leaning liberal and Democratic; the facticity of the matter proves them dead right!

The only “black conservatives” I have yet come across in my 59 years seem to be – coincidently? – those black males (almost always male) who have managed to succeed within the paradigms of so-called “mainstream” society. I take it that you, like Allen West and J.C. Watts and Alan Keyes and Clarence Thomas and Michael Steele and Herman Cain,  et al, are at least somewhat affluent. Good for you all. That’s what America is supposed to be about: opportunity for all. Liberals do not resent success based on merit and virtue; we cheer a Steve Jobs or Howard Schultz or Warren Buffet or Lady Gaga or Beyonce Knowles or Carl Sagan or J.K. Rowling. We resent extreme unfairness, and unmeritorious “success” as personified by George W. Bush and John McCain, for example, punks who would be lucky to be managers at Wal-Mart if not for their poppies and grand-poppies (will Mitt Romney be the next candidate of privilege and nepotism offered up by the conservatives?). Likewise, we disdain CEOs who make millions in bonuses while driving their companies into the ground, and financial traders who rake in billions while actually contributing nothing to the economy.

Despite America’s progress, we still have a long, long way to go. We have formed a more perfect union, but the game is still rigged. We haven’t yet completely succeeded in deconstructing all of the paradigms of conservatism, particularly unmeritorious, un-virtuous hierarchy. Indeed, the big political story of the past 30 years is the come-back of conservatism after half a century of being flat as a pancake. Since the “Reagan Revolution,” conservative ideology has held sway, fully putting into practice its two “great” ideas – no definitely not liberty, equality, justice, pursuit of happiness, oneness, cooperation, love for one another, forgiveness, non-judgment, virtue – but low, low taxes (especially for the wealthy) and deregulation. These twin “values” have steered American policy through three Republican administrations (20 of the past 30 years), one conservative (at least corporate conservative) Democratic administration (Clinton), and now an administration that has been described – by conservatives - as “moderate Republican” (Obama).

Now the clear-headed, around the world, see where this radical swerve away from the policies of the liberal New Deal and compassion, this “good effort at conservatism,” has gotten us: wildly out of balance economic disparity, the world economy on the precipice of depression (exactly like the last time a “good effort at conservatism” was tried in the 1920s), governments broke, global warming, technology out of control (crippled nuclear power plants, and mutant corporations like Monsanto threatening our very biosphere), horrendously non-virtuous farming practices (including the utter shame of industrial animal food processing), unions emasculated, poverty, hunger, depression, anxiety, despair and unhappiness rising all around the world, while a tiny cadre of the richest of the rich still pocket (often ill-gotten) profits, swill champagne and look down their snooty noses at the rest of the world, the 99 percent. They don’t realize they are so poor, all they have is money.

Meanwhile, the conservatives, undeterred by their historic sins and their contemporary failures, charge on into the Land of the Wrong. They now want to double-down on their philosophy: more low, low taxes and more deregulation. It is as if they are not satisfied with the world economy on its knees; their greed knows no bounds and they believe they can extract even more profit even as they risk total collapse and catastrophe. I can only surmise they have some sort of clever escape plan for themselves.

I suspect, Walter, that your dad was very proud of you for being an individual, for exercising your liberty, for making it in a white man’s world. Perhaps he was troubled, though, by your abandonment of the wisdom of your community, and of universal values for false and selfish values. You boast that you stand for “no excuses,” but in articulating that point you paint your entire community with the label of excuse makers, while being entirely blind to the art-form that conservatives have made of excuse-making for their ideology of selfishness.

I would argue a bit with Maya Angelou, and suggest that it is not courage, but heart, that makes all other virtues possible. Conservatives love to think that they are filled with courage, just as they like to think of themselves as “rugged individualists.” Both self-conceptions are actually laughable. Conservatives are conformists, and need to be told what to believe. The black conservative is an anomaly of sorts; one who rejects his own community and its values, but yearns to join and conform to a different, ostensibly superior community, that of the affluent, ruling society. It’s quite an understandable, egoistic desire; only the very strong could resist. Having earned a level of financial status and adopted their ways and beliefs, he may be welcomed into their ranks, even if only as a token symbol of their magnanimity.

It’s all completely false and selfish. Certainly conservatism is not based on courage or wisdom or any higher virtue. And it has always lacked heart. Someday, you may evolve forwards (or would it be backwards?) into recognition that liberals sometimes err in their zeal to be selfless, but conservatives always err in their zeal to be selfish.

Take care my friend.

Annie R.