Last night on The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell presented a rewrite where he attacked conservatives—Bill O’Reilly in particular—about the one thing that makes them conservatives. The clip is below and it is worth watching. He says that conservatives always think that however things are, that is how they should be. So when there was slavery, well, that is how it should be. How could anyone have improved on the life of America in 1860? And similarly today, it is right and fitting for fifty million Americans to go without healthcare and for most of the rest to be one illness away from medical bankruptcy.
This is what I call “the end of history.” It is the belief that all of history was leading up to the present. We aren’t going somewhere, we have arrived. And for those in power, I guess the case can be made. But for the rest of us? I don’t think we only need tinkering around the edges. In particular, I’m thinking more and more that all markets are turning into winner-take-all. These are markets where those at the top make ridiculous amounts of money, while all the rest barely get by. Think: violin players. We effectively have the same sort of thing going on with other areas that should not be winner-take-all markets. For example, high tech has become a place where big companies use government policy to stifle small companies.
This is why we must not allow conservatives to claim that they are for free markets. They are for anything but. The only time they are for “free markets” is when it helps powerful installed interests. Take for example, “free trade” agreements. These are agreements to allow free trade in, say, tomatoes. But they don’t allow free trade in medicine, law, teaching, or anything else that would hurt American elites but help American poor. So it is critical to see conservatism for what it is and not for what it claims to be.
It is very easy to see how shortsighted conservatism is. Just look at conservatives of the past. Whenever conservatives hearken back to great minds, they always go to Edmund Burke. It is too dangerous to use any more recent conservatives. This is because it is all too clear that the basis of their thinking was racism, sexism, homophobia, and elitism. Whenever a conservative talks about William F. Buckley, they are careful to whitewash his extremely troubling early writings that are explicitly white supremacist. (Buckley spent much of his later career trying to backtrack on this.) Here’s a prediction for you: in 20 years, all conservatives will accept Obamacare as God given, but they will denounce any idea of a single payer system.
I can’t say for sure whether conservatives really believe that we’ve reached the end of history. It may just be rhetoric that they’ve created to justify the far less compelling argument that those who are down should be kept down and those who are up should be kept up. But given that American conservatism has always embraced the idea of opportunity, it probably is that they believe this end of history nonsense. And that makes them the kings of cognitive dissonance. They must know that their thinking of not long ago is now repugnant. And they must know (or have actively avoided finding out) that America does not provide “equality of opportunity.”
Regardless, we must push ever forward the truth about what conservatives believe. They are the party of the American aristocracy. Forget free markets. Forget religious liberty. Remember: the end of history.