One side saw threats in our midst, they sought to muzzle expression. The other side saw freedom of expression as America's strong suit. One side saw Social Security as creeping toward the nanny-state thinking of communists. The other side saw it as marching away from the Great Depression's lessons toward a brighter day for society.
In their conservative heart of hearts, Republicans who liked Barry Goldwater stood for the individual’s rights to do with dignity. Yet, they were comfortable with hobbling programs to help the underclass improve its lot. They tended to support states rights. They embraced military solutions more readily than liberals. These conservatives could co-exist with the pro-big business wing of the Grand Old Party.
In that same time lefties were pro-labor, as they had been for decades. The liberals in the Kennedy mold were also seen as being for civil rights. As the ‘60s wore on, they turned against the war in Vietnam, earlier and more so than right-wingers in either party. In embracing the plight of the working class, those liberals could stay in the same political party with Southern Democrats who were segregationists.
Forty years ago liberals appeared to be more in tune with the trends of popular culture, conservatives stood square and they distrusted anything that seemed to challenge the establishment.
Well, all that was a long time ago. The Cold War’s need to classify everything as friend or foe, Spy vs. Spy, is 20-years in its grave. And, in truth, the left-to-right political spectrum was always an over-simplification. Moreover, once the Berlin wall came down, thinking in such absolutes simply lost its mooring.
For instance, a 1991 radio news story described a political dustup in Russia between the ascending free-market style reformers and the old guard -- the stubborn communists, who were going out of style faster than a Leningrad minute.
No, make that a St. Petersburg minute.
The report labeled those clinging to the Soviet system as “conservatives” and those in the process of sweeping them out of power as “liberals.” Yet, when considered in light of the familiar Western view of matters political -- capitalists on the right vs. socialists on the left -- the role reversal of this situation’s fresh context was striking and amusing.
In the 2000 presidential campaign George W. Bush called himself a “compassionate conservative.” Once the hanging chads fell and Bush won, his unprecedented accumulation of debt and his steering of the nation’s economy were hardly conservative. Not in any traditional sense of the word. Nor was Bush’s swaggering, go-it-alone foreign policy the least bit prudent.
So, in retrospect, it turned out “compassionate conservative” was simply Bush-speak (or perhaps Rove-speak) for what used to be called “double-talk.” Its oxymoronic taint lingers to the Republican Party’s disadvantage.
The aftermath of its poor showing in the last election has Team Elephant members searching their memories and imaginations for what their party stands for today. Consequently, some disgruntled Republicans are somewhat at odds with others within their party, as new directions are being considered.
In the meantime, the vacuum of the moment has sucked the most willing and visible windbag, Rush Limbaugh, into the limelight.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Limbaugh is more than willing to serve as the voice for the post-Bush Republican Party as long as anyone will let him. In doing so, Limbaugh will also be happy to frame today’s problems in yesterday’s context, because in such a pretend world his stale opinion still matters.
As President Barack Obama moves to deal with the myriad of crises he faces, at home and abroad, the new enlarged version of Limbaugh likes to cast Obama as a 1960s-style “redistribute-the-wealth/soft-on-defense pinko.”
It’s bound to be bloating Rush’s ratings for him to mentioned at the top of the news every day. His angry white man radio persona thrives on it. Solving problems isn’t Rush’s schtick ... ruffling feathers with jokes is.
The political issues of 2009 divide groups along many lines. There are urban vs. suburban arguments. There are differences in opinion that split generations, classes, regions, lifestyles and you-name-it. The voters don’t need more labeling/name-calling. Instead of finger-pointing propaganda, they want action on today’s problems.
Yes, in uncertain times, perpetuating Cold War labels may still get you a laugh, in some circles. But the change that is sweeping over post-Bush America means those labels don’t cover anybody’s backside, anymore.
Some backsides are just way too fat to cover, anyhow. Just ask Dick Cheney.