Garry Wills: Conservatives Consider Themselves ‘Superior People’ Who ‘Have License to Circumvent Democracy’

E.J. Dionne, the liberal Washington Post columnist, and Garry Wills, the author, scholar, and ex-conservative, disagree on whether the “hard right” has more or less permanent control of the Republican party. Dionne believes that so-called reform conservatives such as Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, and David Frum might, in Wills’s words, “ride to the rescue.”

On the other hand, Wills, assessing Dionne’s Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond in the February 11 issue of the New York Review of Books, contends that the GOP is solidly in the grip of movement conservatives who tend towards paranoia (“to be on the right is to feel perpetually betrayed”); hostility to “reason, facts, science, open-mindedness, tolerance, secularity, modernity”; and indulgence of racism.

Republicans, Wills alleges, “rightly intuit that there is only one Enlightenment party in America, and [that they] are not it. That is why they have to oppose in every underhanded way they can the influence of younger people who are open to gays, to same-sex marriage, to feminism.”

From Wills’s review (bolding added):

To be on the right is to feel perpetually betrayed. At a time when the right has commanding control of radio and television talk shows, it still feels persecuted by the “mainstream media.” With all the power of the one percent in control of the nation’s wealth, the right feels its influence is being undermined by the academy, where liberals lurk to brainwash conservative parents’ children…

…[The right] growls against moderation, swelling at times or diminishing, but continuously present and becoming more embittered. It is appropriate that this feeling has been in alliance with the Confederate South, the loser of a war it still thinks it should have won. The rest of the Republicans may not be as racist as the South, but they cannot prevail at the federal level without it. All grievances gravitate toward one another…

This feeling that superior people have license to circumvent democracy is still with us—when strategic gerrymandering and restrictive voting procedures freeze out minorities, the young, and the elderly, giving Republicans stronger representation in Congress than the popular vote warrants. Chief Justice John Roberts perpetuated this inequity when he voided Section Four of the 1965 Voting Rights Act…

The idea that America has somehow outgrown or transcended racism is an ever-renewable delusion. Some hoped that the election of a black president would mark the end of racism. But in fact it blew on the embers of racism we have beneath us all the time…

…Remember, [Donald] Trump first became a political factor by claiming that Obama has no valid birth certificate…

…To accept Enlightenment values—reason, facts, science, open-mindedness, tolerance, secularity, modernity—is to lower one’s guard against evils like evolution, concern about global warming, human equality across racial and sexual and religious lines—things Republicans have opposed for years and will not let their own members sell out to. They rightly intuit that there is only one Enlightenment party in America, and the Republicans are not it. That is why they have to oppose in every underhanded way they can the influence of younger people who are open to gays, to same-sex marriage, to feminism…

…The right hated George H.W. Bush’s plea for a “kinder and gentler” party kindling “a thousand points of light.” They had no more kind or gentle feeling about George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” and his promise to “leave no child behind.” They think that is Democrat talk. And they are right.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters