By MANIFESTO JOE
Rod Dreher, a conservative columnist for the Dallas Morning News, stirred an amusing controversy with a recent book, Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (Or At Least the Republican Party).
I won't describe the book; the title is all one really has to read to get the gist of it. But professional right-wingers, among them Jonah Goldberg (of "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" fame), have taken slaps at Dreher, saying that in making a case for a rustic, hippie-ish, back-to-the-earth, Burkean conservatism, he's giving credence to liberal stereotypes of conservatives.
These pop culture stereotypes, in the baby-boomer era, have been: (1) Alex P. Keaton -- the Young Republican, free-market-worshipping, affluent philistine who always joins the right preppie frats and majors in social climbing -- or, (2) Archie Bunker, the worst bigot on the loading dock, the oblivious victim of white working-class ignorance.
It's interesting that Dreher even felt compelled to write this book. There's nothing new here. As a teen, I was that rarity -- a libertarian-leaning conservative who sometimes had long hair. I enjoyed '60s folk-rock and comfortable, unpretentious clothing and shoes; and I thought the home-cooked veggies from our backyard garden were most delicious. I even preferred whole-grain bread when it was available. I was a moralist in the best sense of the word. And to me, beauty was the most important value.
True, when sounding off on politics, I sounded way too much like Alex Keaton. The more laid-back kids at my high school regarded me as a "superstraight" moralist. But, my family was working-class and considered quite eccentric in that small Texas town, so that role worked only just so well for me. It took me awhile to discover that I was playing against type.
Basically, I was a "crunchy conservative" of sorts long before the term was coined. But a funny thing happened to me on the way to adulthood.
I found, after I went away to college on an academic scholarship, that when I was around other "conservatives," the culture gap between me and these shallow, narrow, upper-middle-class youths was a canyon. I was virtually alone. There was no "tribe" to belong to. Right-wing hipsters were almost nonexistent (a self-destructive Jack Kerouac notwithstanding). It seemed a phenomenon that existed only among elite intellectuals and artists, and rarely among them.
I hate to break it to Dreher, but "crunchy cons" are a rare breed indeed, for many reasons. And I hate to break it to Goldberg, but there are innumerable reasons why "cons" are stereotyped.
For me, the stereotypes proved mostly true, time after time. Right-wingers usually are either crass, greedy philistines who only admire short-term material success -- or else they usually are gun-loving, jock-sniffing, militaristic, racist rednecks. The exceptions seem rare in Middle America.
The specimens may even mean well, but getting their heads out of their asses is surgery that's not even in research right now. This is a place where hardly anyone knows who crime novelist James Lee Burke is, let alone who 18th-century political philosopher and literary critic Edmund Burke was. Most folks here never read. Anything. Ever. (Not even Ann Coulter, Dude. They do listen to Rush. And regurgitate the dope-addled bilge.)
Over a few crucial years, my dissonance about the cultural values of the right (or lack thereof) led me to read much more about leftist ideas. I didn't change overnight, nor did I move "all the way" to the hard-core left for very long. My short time on the right gave me a sense of balance that has made me abhor extremism of any kind. I still hold views that some people, at least the sane ones, would consider centrist, perhaps even conservative (gasp!) here and there.
But I found my former political views to be mostly at odds with my personal values. When I became a voter, I found I could not bring myself to vote for candidates of a party that (1) has sided again and again with ruthless, amoral polluters; (2) has supported or conducted activity in places like Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Iran (the 1953 coup), etc., that would be called terrorism or war crimes if Arabs had done them; (3) has historically supported economic policies that, contrary to the rhetoric, has always enriched the few and impoverished many; (4) has doggedly pursued a "war on drugs" that has, with the apparent goal of state-enforced "sobriety," has turned the U.S. into the world's biggest jailer; (5) has consistently supported assaults on Americans' civil liberties; and (6) led "us" in what was in essence a war of aggression against, yes, a brutal dictatorship, but one that had nothing to do with 9-11.
I forgot to mention all the vicious dictatorships this party has openly supported. (Yeah, the other major party has, too -- but at least less openly. I have rarely heard their politicians and pundits crow and tout the policy as brilliant strategy. Not even Joe Lieberman, now that I think of it.)
Dreher needs to wake up to simple reality -- if the "green and granola" minority among conservatives is ever going to even influence the GOP, let alone "save" it, they're going to need more money than Bill Gates has. That's the only language that really talks in that party.
More likely, these confused people will go on voting for candidates who are, in many ways, the worst enemies of their "crunchy" side. It's not that these candidates aren't "traditionalists" in a sense. Bigotry, exploitation and greed go back to antiquity -- they just represent a different, uglier "tradition."
I also forgot to mention another "conservative" stereotype -- Bible-beating fanatics. "Crunchy cons" describe themselves as religious traditionalists who do things like join the Eastern Orthodox Church and home-school their kids.
But I don't think they want to teach their college-bound offspring that the Earth is 6,000 years old, or that God really did groove, B.C., on having lots of barnyard animals senselessly sacrificed for Him. (Aside from the foolish, capricious slaughter, it seems like that meat could have fed lots of poor, hungry folks. But I suppose that when you're the God of Republicans, such considerations are trifles.)
And, I'm not sure the Christian fascist movement deserves a separate category as a stereotype. For one thing, they're too damned stupid to dignify in such a way. And, there's far too much overlap, ironically, with the materialists and the militarists. But, who says zealots have to be logical?
Dreher and his "crunchy cons" need to realize something else -- the Republican Party, with the exceptions of Lincoln and the long-extinct progressive wing, has usually been a party run by grown-up Alex Keatons who demagogue and manipulate the hapless Archies and Bubbas with chickenhawk bluster and wedge issues. It is likely to remain so, regardless of its immediate fortunes, or lack thereof.
To paraphrase Ann Richards, you can put lipstick on a pig and call it Monique, but it's still a pig. And hey, "crunchy cons" -- those split hooves don't fill out Birkenstocks worth a hoot, either.
MANIFESTO JOE IS AN UNDERGROUND WRITER LIVING IN TEXAS