Political litmus test

Posted: May 06, 2006 12:05 AM
Some myths simply won’t go away. Look no further than the fallacy that while liberals are open-minded and independent, conservatives are a monolithic group, marching in lockstep to a tune called by fundamentalist religious leaders.

This incorrect assumption is about the only sort of stereotyping people are still allowed to indulge in. Nobody would dare say something such as, “All blacks support Democratic presidential candidates.” Saying that would make one a “racist,” even though one could make a convincing case for such a statement. After all, two years ago 88 percent of blacks voted for John Kerry -- down slightly from the 90 percent who voted for Al Gore in 2000.

But it’s still all right to assume that all conservatives must believe in cutting down trees and filling in wetlands to build megachurches we will drive SUVs across pristine fields to attend. A conservative who doesn’t do these things is somehow suspect in the media.

In a May 3 story, The Washington Post profiled “Crunchy Conservatives,” a group of supposed heretics described in a book by conservative Dallas Morning News editor Rod Dreher.

“Do you shop organic, live closer in, recycle, hike ’n’ bike -- yet oppose things such as abortion and gay marriage, on deeply held, faith-based principles?” the Post asks. Tick off the right boxes and, presumably, you’re a “crunchy con.”

But there’s no relationship between the first four traits and the second two. Whether one rides a bike or drives an SUV has nothing to do with one’s position on abortion. For that matter, even the two traditionally conservative positions are unrelated. Some conservatives oppose abortion but are on board with gay marriage.

Even those who oppose both usually reached each position separately, on its own merits. One could (if presented with new evidence) change either opinion without changing the other. And one would remain a conservative. There’s no checklist where a conservative must get 10 out of 10 positions right to be welcome.

In fact, the real checklist is on the left. It’s liberals who tend to be closed-minded and doctrinaire. It’s easier to be a conservative who rides a bike to work and listens to Melissa Etheridge than it would be to be a liberal who refuses to recycle and listens to Lee Greenwood.

Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut proves the point. He’s a solid lefty on all the social issues (abortion rights, gay rights, civil rights) but has one fatal flaw: He supports President Bush’s Iraq policy. So he’s facing a challenge from the left in his bid for reelection.

Liberal Web sites such as kissjoegoodbye.com have popped up to oppose Lieberman. The creator of dumpjoe.com explained Lieberman needs to go because the senator “supported Bush’s needless war and to this day, defends Bush’s dishonest and flawed Iraq policies.” So much for finding common ground.

Meanwhile, the notion that conservatives are dominated by religion is, well, a matter of faith. “The Republican Party has become the first religious party in U.S. history,” author Kevin Phillips asserted recently in The Washington Post. He writes that a key reason President Bush went into Iraq was to appease “millions” of Christians who believe “chaos in the explosive Middle East, far from being a threat, actually heralds the second coming of Jesus Christ.”

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright agrees. She told CNN that Bush administration “rhetoric has come close to justifying U.S. policy in explicitly religious terms, and that this is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”

Really? Let’s consider some of Bush’s rhetoric.

In his second inaugural address, Bush noted that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” But, he added, “America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.”

That might be a red flag to dictators in places including Iran and Syria, but it’s been a checkered flag for democrats in places such as Ukraine and Lebanon. Bush’s position is decidedly nonreligious. Bush wants to spread freedom and self-determination to Christian countries, Muslim countries and, presumably, atheist countries.

Albright adds “that President Bush is so certain about what God is telling him, and also making it clear that God is on America’s side.” But of course she has no way of knowing whether what she says is true. She just assumes that, since Bush is a conservative, his religion must be driving his foreign policy.

Of course, every once in a while it is possible to generalize about conservatives. “Those people sure seem happy,” The Post story about Dreher and his family concludes. Happiness is one trait most conservatives do share -- even if some are simply happy because we’re not liberals. But there’s no litmus test. Even if you’re unhappy, we’ll take you too.