|Congressman John Boehner|
Representatives at the end of next month.
As might be expected, there was a good deal of commentary in the media about the Boehner news. Much of that commentary involved conflicts between the Speaker and members of his own Republican Party in the House. For example, NPR’s Renee Montagne noted, “The Republican speaker has battled with conservatives in his party for years.” Other NPR stories (e.g., this one today) have noted Boehner’s conflicts with his party’s “conservative base.”
Such rhetoric seems to suggest that John Boehner is some kind of liberal, a conclusion that could not be further from the truth. By any measure, Boehner is conservative—very conservative, in fact. His problem with members of Congress from his own party is largely about tactics, not about fundamental objectives. The conflict in the House was nicely characterized (again on NPR) by David Brooks:
And John Boehner is an institutionalist and a politician. He believes in politics. You’ve got a Democratic president. There’s only so much I can do; I got to compromise here; I got to adjust there. A lot of his opponents don’t believe in politics. They believe in self-expression. They just want the pure stand. And so they hated him because he didn’t do the pure stand. But he was practicing politics as it is conventionally practiced.(The above quotation is from a transcript. I’m sure Mr. Brooks would edit it if given the chance.) Those representatives who are more interested in self-expression than in politics are not simply “conservative.” They are radicals, and calling them “conservatives” does not adequately distinguish them even from the mere right-of-center. They are more extreme than even the likes of John Boehner, and they are more about dismantling the government than governing. They long for a time—perhaps a mythical time—that lacked taxes, government regulation, social welfare programs, and actual facts, a time when women and niggers knew their place. The 1870s might do the trick. The 1880s might be better still.
We need a name for such people. They are sometimes described as tea partyers—read this essay if this spelling disturbs you—but this too seems inadequate for a number of reasons. It suggests an antipathy toward taxes, perhaps, but the philosophy (or philosophies) of these folks is much broader. The term suggests that there is such a thing as the Tea Party, but there isn’t, possibly because these people are wary of organizations generally. They are individualists that don’t give a fig about any wider community. Among them are nativists, racists, narcissists, religious fundamentalists, anarchists, hysterics, anti-intellectuals, science skeptics, homophobes, misogynists, anarchists, and political reactionaries. Of course, not all right-wingers exhibit all these pathologies, but you get the idea.
So, how should we refer to Republicans who are beyond “conservative”? This is a bit of a tough question, because the group is not homogeneous, and decency requires a name that is descriptive without being blatantly insulting, tempting though that might be. (“Political terrorists” comes easily to mind.) My word choice would be “reactionaries.” No doubt, many would prefer a term like “traditionalists,” but there are, of course, many traditions to which one might or might not want to return. “Reactionary” simply implies returning to the past.
Does any reader have a better idea?