The date and time that American conservatism morphed into a species unknown to political scientists remains unclear. Nevertheless, following the embryo’s incubation, what emerged then quickly infected an earlier, healthier version of conservatism which now reposes in its tomb.
The death throes of thoughtful Republican conservatism have rattled across the nation. Writer Dana Milbank put it well, saying that conservatives used to be the party of fiscal discipline but now seem to think little of running up trillion dollar deficits; they used to embrace free trade, but now condone the president’s trade war; they were the supporters of law and order but now stand silent when Donald Trump viciously attacks the Department of Justice and the FBI. Milbank added that, historically, conservatives stressed personal responsibility but presently can’t find their voices when it comes to our president’s hush money payments and obstruction of justice.
This new, people-eating conservatism has oozed its way down to the states. Nowhere is that more evident than in West Virginia. Consider the manipulative arts as practiced by the Republican conservatives who now control our state legislature. Defiant to the core when it comes to input from the people, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, upon realizing that his education reform bill would not pass out of the Senate Finance Committee, simply refused to allow that committee to consider the bill. Then House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, stacked the memberships of four committees so that the bill would pass the House of Delegates. Our part-time governor then signed it into law. As this paper’s Phil Kabler put it, it was clear that without such machinations, Carmichael and Hanshaw could not have enabled the out-of-state, big-money charter schools people to prevail.
On the social justice side, radical conservatism is killing Mountain State business opportunities. What business owner wishes set up shop where conservative Republicans like Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, describe LGBTQ folks as “perverted,” or where Delegate John Mandt, R-Cabell, calls them a “hate group” and Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, compares them to the KKK? As Kabler added, these aren’t rogue elements of a tolerant party. The state GOP platform itself opposes equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
When it comes to leading the charge backward, conservatives stubbornly refuse to accept the fact that the coal industry is in steady decline. Thus, state government is doing little in the way of planning for the ultimate demise of the industry. Our elected officials could have been pushing hard for training out-of-work miners to install and maintain wind turbines and solar panels. Instead, they saddled the citizens with a gooey sop to big coal — a reduction in the industry’s excise tax that will cost the state $60 million a year, cash that could have been used to re-train miners who instead sit idle.
In the recent session, our legislative conservatives pressed for guns on college campuses. They wanted school boards to have the option of closed-door discussions regarding strikes. They hoped to grant home schooling parents a tax credit and pushed for a tax break for parents to pay for private school tuition, while at the same time they opposed free feminine hygiene products for girls in public schools. As it turned out, those examples of their brilliance failed.
Today’s conservatism has lost its way. It is a dog in the dark woods, far from home, and its nose doesn’t work anymore.