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Who Is Really a ‘Conservative’ Nowadays?
A Fourth of July reflection on a redefined label.
[Editor’s note: Watch Not My Party every week on Snapchat.]
Commenter (voiceover): Are you conservative?
Tim Miller: All right, time that I answer that.
Legoized Homer Simpson (from The Simpsons): We need real answers.
Christof (Ed Harris in The Truman Show): There’s truth out there.
Miller: This is “Not My Party,” brought to you by The Bulwark. Because of my open revulsion at Donald Trump, and constant Aaron Gordon-style tomahawk dunks on the idiocy of the MAGA movement—
NBC Announcer: Gordon, oh my goodness!
Miller: —sometimes y’all ask me if I’m still a conservative.
Commenter (voiceover): Hey Tim, fan of the show. But I’m curious if you still consider yourself conservative.
Miller: But to answer it, we gotta step back and address the bigger question. What is a conservative anymore?
Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet): That is the question.
Connor Roy (Alan Ruck on Succession): Yes, indeed.
Miller: I figured Fourth of July week would be a good time to take that on, since the answer ties back directly to our nation’s founding. The ideology that the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were based on could best be defined in political philosophy terms as classical liberalism. This was a belief in fundamental natural rights, and that government should support individual liberty, private property, free-market capitalism, freedom of religion, limited government, and representative democracy. This framework was based on the theories put forth by classical liberal philosophers like John Locke, who believed government got its legitimacy from the people, not hereditary bloodlines.
The Man in Black (Ed Harris on Westworld): Probably better that way.
Manager of heavily graffitied building (from The Simpsons): So much better.
Miller: This is why dorky young Republicans like me carried around our pocket Constitutions, and why GOP politicians always talked so much about the Framers.
Antonin Scalia: The Framers.
Ameer Benno: The Framers.
Jeffrey Rosen: The Framers.
Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson on Stranger Things): You’re all so nerdy, it makes me physically ill.
Miller: But that isn’t the only way to define conservatism. In other countries, being conservative is more about conserving national identity and traditional values. Their right-wing parties have some similarities with Republicans, like being more supportive of religious values and being pro-business, for example. But they don’t tend to care so much about the whole freedom and natural rights stuff.
Princess Carolyn (from Bojack Horseman): It must be a foreign concept for you.
Miller: In the Trump era, the GOP has started to sound more like those foreign right-wing nationalist parties than the classical liberal party that I grew up in.
Ronald Reagan: A few isolated groups in the backwater of American life still hold perverted notions of what America is all about. . . . This country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct.
George W. Bush: What’s interesting about our country, if you study history, is that there are some -isms that occasionally pop up. One is isolationism, and its evil twin protectionism, and its evil triplet nativism.
Woman at McCain rally in 2008: I can’t trust Obama, he’s an Arab. . . . No?
John McCain: No. No ma’am, no ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.
Donald Trump (various clips): I would like to have him show his birth certificate. . . . “Ah, I don’t remember, I don’t remember. . . . Maybe that’s what I said.” . . . The American dream is dead.
Brian Griffin (from Family Guy): This is a nightmare.
Miller: Trump doesn’t care about the Constitution. He even bleated that he wants to terminate it. He sure as sh** has no respect for people’s individual rights. He changed the GOP platform on limited government, free trade, and liberalized immigration—all core tenets of classical liberalism and things that I like quite a bit. And here’s the depressing part. What we found out is that GOP voters mostly agreed with Trump on those changes. They wanted a party that wanted to conserve traditional white Christian values, not a party that cared as much about inalienable human rights. The result is that many Republicans—not all; still love you, Mitt!—have started to mimic Trump’s departure from what conservatism in America once stood for.
Ron DeSantis: Build the wall. . . . You’re fired. . . . Make America great again.
Miller: Check out what his closest challenger in 2024, Ron DeSantis, has been up to. His view is that conservative politicians should go after businesses like Disney and punish them if they don’t like their political views. He’s rejected the idea that immigrants have basic fundamental rights when he traffics them to other states as part of some big troll.
DeSantis: Yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.
Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson on The Office): This place has gone to hell.
Milhouse Van Houten: You got that right.
Miller: So that takes us back to the original question: Am I still a conservative? Well, it depends how you define it. If it’s this MAGA nationalism that’s in vogue now, fuck no. But I am still sympathetic to the classical liberal definition, as long as the liberty and justice is really for all, no matter their race or creed or sexuality or gender identity. I hope that one day our conservative party will rediscover those principles. Until then, as long as the lefties are calling themselves progressive, maybe it’s time for our people, the “Not My Party” crew, to take back the word “liberal.” After all, it was good enough for the Founders. Happy Independence Day. We’ll see you next time with more “Not My Party.”
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