Democracy Under Assault
Theopolitics, Incivility and Violence on the Right

Michele Swenson

"Good Conservative-Bad Liberal" Dichotomy

For over three decades the political right has practiced wedge politics, aggressively spinning language into Orwellian distortions and mind-bending inconsistencies, in efforts to silence and render irrelevant their political opposition. Framing issues to disempower historically marginalized groups, the right brands women "murderers"; gays "pedophiles"; immigrants "criminals" and public schools "unconstitutional and unbiblical." As occurred during the welfare reform debate, poverty and injustice are dismissed, and all problems attributed to the moral failure of women, minorities, gays and immigrants. On PBS "Think Tank" in 1996, Independence Institute fellow David Kopel pronounced gun control laws "dangerous" because they divert attention from welfare and single parenthood as the "primary cause of crime." Tom DeLay linked school shootings to birth control, small families, daycare, working women, evolution, the absence of prescribed school prayer, etc. Blanket indictments of women and minorities for societal ills have historically served a dual purpose of oppressing women and minority groups, while preserving male/corporate dominance and prerogatives of behavior.

Scanning the radio dial on a California trip early in 2005, I heard Sen. Orrin Hatch railing against liberal money - large sums of cash allocated to liberal causes, by the likes of George Soros. He mocked liberal "inheritors of wealth" who "never worked a day in their lives." Hatch’s outburst marked a low in civil discourse that has been conspicuous for efforts to silence and demonize the political opposition. Corrupted language and distorted religion of contemporary culture wars are wielded as tools against disfavored groups, contributing to a vastly degraded public dialogue, and undermining democracy.

The "good conservative—evil liberal" dichotomy is an example of what Chris Berlet of the Research Policy Institute calls the "3 D’s" - efforts to dehumanize, degrade and demonize liberals, toward silencing adversaries. The subversion of language and religion maligns civil rights gains and religious freedoms that exemplify liberalism at the heart of democracy. "Liberalism brought us a pact with the devil," proclaimed Newt Gingrich. Liberals "aided by Satan" have taken control of government, media and education, preaches Pat Robertson. Tolerance promoted by liberals has brought us a "downward moral slide," echoes Gary Bauer. Wrapping religion around their politics renders any disagreement an attack on the faithful.

Furthering linguistic treachery, ultraconservatives level charges of "class warfare" for any mention of huge tax breaks for the rich and increased tax burdens on the working class. Distorted populism that vilifies liberalism and government is traceable to the 1968 presidential campaign of George Wallace, who likewise, equated social change and civil rights advances with moral corruption. Overtly racist political ads that in the ‘70s south identified Democrats as the party of "high taxes, crime and domination by blacks," mutated into more subtle racism, as taxes have become code for minority-associated government programs.