The Recorder – My Turn: Mainstream media must remove the word ‘conservative’

Posted: 06/21/2022 12:48:56

Modified: 06/21/2022 12:48:36

Put politics aside for a moment, if you can. What does the word “conservative” mean to you, outside of this cursed arena? For me, this implies respect for tradition, caution in the face of change and fidelity to what has proven its worth. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “tendant or disposed to maintain existing opinions, conditions, or institutions; marked by moderation or caution; and marked by or related to traditional standards of taste, elegance, style or manners.

Coming back to the realm of politics, does this apply to so-called conservatives today? When Mitch McConnell even refused to hold hearings on Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination on the specious grounds that it could not be considered in a presidential election year, what sort of opinions, conditions or existing institutions maintain? And when he overturned that supposed rule to rush Amy Coney Barrett through the confirmation process just weeks before the 2020 election (when early voting was already underway), how did that show moderation or caution? When candidate Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter and trashed the parents of a killed American soldier, what traditional standards of taste or manners was he following? Once in power, when he lied again and again about almost anything, what principle of honest government was he serving? And when he knowingly and repeatedly lied that the 2020 election was stolen and plotted to overturn the results, how does that conform to any reasonable concept of conservatism?

Fox TV’s Tucker Carlson is often described as a “conservative commentator”. How? How does he respect tradition, prudence or moderation? When praising – “idolator” is probably a better word – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, what part of his tenure does he enjoy the most: restricting freedom of the press, trying to restrict or Eliminate LGBTQ Rights, or Embrace “Christian Democracy?” As if following Carlson’s playbook, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held in Budapest this year. Speakers included Trump and Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff. Another speaker was described in The Guardian newspaper as a “notorious Hungarian racist who called Jews ‘stinky excrement’, called Roma ‘animals’ and used racial epithets to describe black people”. It’s “conservative?”

And what is conservative about members of Congress who have attempted to portray the Jan. 6 crowd as a group of “tourists” quietly touring the Capitol, or those on the podium that day urging the mob “fighting like hell,” or the Senate Republicans refusing to endorse an investigation into that day’s riot?

Words matter. To call McConnell or Carlson or a riotous January 6 Tory is to normalize their behavior. “Conservative” is such a comforting word; it involves thoughtful reflection, reasoned debate, taking into account the points of view of others. It suggests obeying the law, not playing with the system or trying to overturn an election based on lies. It allows the reader or listener to relax: they’re not lunatics, they’re just conservatives and patriots. When McConnell said when he took over as Senate Majority Leader that his first job was to make sure President Obama was a one-term president, that was not a conservative statement. He was an extremist saying he had no interest in governing despite the fact that he ran a government institution. When Missouri Senator Josh Hawley raised his fist to salute the Jan. 6 insurgents, it was not a conservative act. It was a direct violation of his oath of office.

There are other words the mainstream media may use for these people. My favorite happens to be “extremist”. It’s short and professional. It needs no explanation; it holds up well on its own. It could be changed, if desired, to “right-wing extremist” or “anti-democracy extremist”, although this is probably not necessary. Certain members of this crowd may of course be identified more as white supremacists, neo-Nazis, racists and other similar categories. I hope wordsmiths in the news media can and will find many other terms that both clarify and elaborate on “extremist” or “extremism.” The bottom line is to give extremists no quarter, no place to hide behind comforting or compromising – and misleading – words like “conservative”.

Michael Dover is co-founder of Swing Left Western Massachusetts and a member of the steering committee of Individual Northampton — Swing Left Western Massachusetts. He lives in Leverett.