During the Republican primary debates, there was much posturing about who was more conservative than whom. To prove their conservative credentials, candidates lambasted illegal aliens, contraception, abortion, government regulation, income taxes, infrastructure spending, the poor, President Obama and gay soldiers. A picture emerged of a "conservative" that ought to puzzle Americans who know their history.
A conservative is one who wants to conserve our way of life, one who is suspicious of change and likely to be heard uttering "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" or its equivalent. Yet in 2012 we have a Republican party that is the most radical of the past 100 years, clamoring to overturn much of the 20th century.
Don't build or repair bridges, roads, dams or public transportation. Close public schools and replace them with a privatized system. Hand over prisons to for-profit businesses. Eliminate regulations on banks or industry, whether for worker or consumer safety, monopolies or the environment. Eliminate taxes on the wealthiest. Stop supporting colleges, rolling back access for poor and middle class students. Eliminate Social Security and Medicare. Destroy unions. Defund pensions.
You can argue each of these any way you like, but you would be hard pressed to identify any of these programs targeted by today's GOP as something new. What's new -- what's in fact quite radical -- are these very platforms. The past century was a gradual building of national infrastructure, of schooling, of progressive taxation, of increasing access to higher education for all Americans, of worker organizing and worker protection, and of building the social safety net.
Today's "liberals" espouse little that is new. Liberals are kept much too busy trying to plug the dike, battling ever-more radical assaults on the 20th century gains that made the U.S. the economic, military and political leader of the world (remember that we were none of these 100 years ago).
Republicans are welcome to continue attacking traditional American institutions and values. That's what a vibrant political sphere is all about. But please, please stop calling the assault "conservative values". That mantle belongs to the folks working to preserve what we have, not those railing against it.
See also: On Being Politically Correct
Note: While searching online for images of "conservative" and "liberal" for this post, I was surprised that nearly everything popping up for conservative was pro-conservative, yet nearly all those for liberal were anti-liberal, often offensively so. Liberals, you're losing the Google image search.