The fact that conservatives don’t really believe in conservatism is well-known: their self-serving rhetoric is conveniently abandoned whenever they themselves need a government job, a government handout or subsidy (man, do they love government handouts and subsidies!), an abortion, the protections of the law and its many guarantees of rights and due process, useful civil infrastructure, redress of their interminable grievances, or any other convenient benefit of the civilized, mixed-economy, welfare state that liberals have given them. No one expects honesty, consistency of principle, or a sense of shame among them, so no one is disappointed by their behavior. But it’s instructive, nonetheless.
Just in the past two weeks, we’ve seen two high-profile examples of conservatives seeking the rights and benefits to which any person ought to be entitled in a decent state, but which they and their movement have dedicated themselves to demonizing and barricading when sought by others. When Bret Schundler was forced out as head of the New Jersey state Department of Education, after bungling a federal grant application that cost the state $400M, he asked, as a favor, to be fired rather than forced to resign so that he could collect unemployment benefits, because he was broke, he had a daughter in college, and it was a bad time to look for a job. The “small-government” Republican Governor agreed. And just now it was revealed that hapless Delaware Senatorial Teabag candidate Christine O’Donnell, in addition to her many batshit crazy campaign statements, bizarre lies, and weird and falsified resume, had in 2005 filed a “gender discrimination” suit against her then-employer, demanding $500,000 for “mental anguish” and $4M in punitive damages, in addition to another $3.5M in past and future wages, after having an inexperienced man promoted over her and being subjected to “a crude and demeaning reference to an artificial male sexual organ used by some females in order to act like a male in sexual acts”. She claimed that her abuse was a consequence of “[her employer] ISI’s conservative philosophy [which] dictated that women must be subordinate to men” (why she was surprised at this after signing on to work to promote “the values, customs, conventions, and norms of the Judeo-Christian tradition” is not explained).
Now, it should be made clear that both these moves are perfectly legitimate. People who lose their jobs should have protection during times of unemployment, and more so during a recession. People who have suffered harassment on the job should have legal recourse, and have the right to compensation for all the harms they have suffered. There is nothing wrong in these people seeking the support, and the recognition of rights, that everyone in a decent society should be able to expect. And the NJ Governor’s action in making that available to Schundler was compassionate and correct.
But both these people (and the Governor) were committed to political movements that have devoted themselves to destroying access to those same rights and benefits for others. Schundler, a lifelong conservative, served a Governor who had campaigned on reductions in government benefits and opposition to workers’ rights, most prominently against the union that represents the employees of the Department Schundler himself headed. It was a dispute with that very union that led to the loss of the education grant that Schundler was fired for. Yet Schundler – who, arguably, may not even have been eligible for unemployment benefits, since his firing was clearly “for cause” – openly asked for, and was gifted with, financial benefits that were originally created for the support of the working class, not professional politicians in administrative roles, under circumstances in which he would normally have been forced to forego them – and his far-right boss was happy to oblige, when it was the personal benefit of one of his appointees, and not the working class, that hung in the balance. O’D0nnell is a far-right, anti-choice, anti-sex, anti-sex-education, anti-masturbation (really) religious wingnut beholden to a political movement that has exhausted itself demeaning women, attacking feminism, and decrying “frivolous lawsuits” and the very notion of “gender discrimination”. Suddenly she’s all about women’s independence and workplace equality when she’s the one facing discrimination, and she didn’t hesitate to use the legal tools erected for her by feminist lawyers to seek a $7M payout for her $65,000 job, more than half of it for intangible injuries or punitive damages also made available by progressive legal theories. She also cites the very religious-right values she has spent her entire life flogging as [shock!] the reason for the anti-woman behavior she claims to have experienced while working for an organization promoting those same values.
Again, the claims sought, or granted, here are not unreasonable. But they are exactly the kinds of claims and benefits these same people have devoted themselves to denigrating and denying when their personal interests were not involved. The bottom line is that conservatives simply don’t believe the things they say, or don’t believe them when they themselves have some skin in the game, or at the very least suddenly come to recognize their delusions, falsehoods, and inhumanities only when they are the ones harmed by their own dismissive and soulless rhetoric. (But not likely that last. Just like anti-choice activists who come to the same clinics they were picketing for a secret abortion, and then go right back to picketing them afterward, you can bet Schundler will be more than happy to take a job in another anti-worker administration as soon as he gets off unemployment, and O’Donnell will keep spouting her insane sex-negative rhetoric and working against women’s rights for years after her sex-discrimination lawsuit against a right-wing organization has ended [in fact, she already has done so!].) And they are perfectly representative of their entire movement.
Whether conservatives are simply too stupid to understand the relationship between the things they say and the things they do, or conservative rhetoric and ideology is just a Machiavellian road to privilege for opportunistic grifters (likely both, in varying percentages), the right wing is not merely unprincipled but actively jettisons their own proclaimed principles out of self-interest when it suits them.
There is surely no reason we ought to take their bullshit more seriously than they do.