As a general rule, if you want to know what someone is really about, it’s always best to pay less attention to what they say, and more attention to what they do. This is especially true when it comes to politics.
If all you did was listen to what conservatives say they believe in, you might come away thinking they stood for smaller government, lower taxes, a balanced budget, and personal liberty, free from the constraints of the state.
But if you look at what they do, rather than what they say, you might notice something altogether different.
After all, despite their paeans to small government and personal liberty, these folks have a little problem with expanding the role of the state in areas like surveillance, law enforcement, and intrusion into the reproductive choices available to women. They are fine with restricting liberty for LGBTQ folk, to whom they would deny marriage equality, as well as equal opportunity in the workplace, free from discrimination.
Likewise, they don’t mind higher taxes, so long as these falls mostly on the working class, as with sales taxes. Indeed some even call for a massive increase in sales taxes in the form of a national value-added tax to replace the income tax. It is the latter the right opposes, not taxes in general. They certainly don’t dislike all taxes equally, as one can tell by their desire to keep taxes on capital gains much lower than taxes on income earned from actual work.
So too, the right rarely minds deficits when they result from massive tax cuts for the wealthy. Time after time, deficits are the result of their fetish for “trickle-down” economics and never do their tax cuts pay for themselves due to increased growth, as has been promised. But they continue to support such tax cuts, even as they explore the very deficits they swear they oppose.
Is the Right Hypocritical? Or do We Misunderstand Their Goals?
When we look at what the right does, as opposed to what they say, we notice something that readily explains the resulting contradictions. The policies the right supports, which seem to run counter to their stated beliefs, all work to the benefit of more powerful groups in society. They reinforce traditional hierarchies.
So although heightened surveillance and more overbearing law enforcement may represent an expansion of state power and endanger certain liberties, the right doesn’t mind because these will typically be deployed against less powerful groups. Lower-income folks, political dissidents (on the left), people of color, and religious minorities will bear the consequences of these policies. Even as the threat of right-wing domestic terrorism has grown — accounting for far more violence in the U.S. than Muslim terrorism — government resources continue to focus on the latter, while largely discounting the former.
Likewise, “law and order” policies rarely focus on the crimes committed by more powerful players, like Wall Street bankers. Even though wage theft results in about three times as much money being stolen each year as all the monies taken in street robberies combined, very few law enforcement resources go into combatting it, and employers who steal from workers will rarely get jail time (the way those workers would if they stole from the boss). Similarly, conservatives seeking to police the law-abidingness of poor people who receive public benefits, by drug testing them, never apply the same logic to corporate executives, even though their companies receive billions in subsidies, bailouts and preferential tax treatment.
When it comes to deficits, the right’s willingness to increase them for the sake of tax cuts makes sense when you recognize the impact of such deficits: namely, they allow those same conservatives to then call for austerity measures and budget cuts. Naturally, these cuts will primarily impact programs that serve lower-income Americans, which reinforces hierarchies of class and leaves poorer folks dependent on low-wage labor, absent adequate safety nets to cushion the blows of economic privation.
In short, what appear as contradictions between conservative thought and behavior, or policy preferences, really are not contradictions at all, so long as one understands the right’s real purpose. Yes, their actions may betray their claimed preferences for limited government, fiscal responsibility, low taxes, and personal liberty, but given their actual desires — to maintain power in the hands of wealthy, white, straight, Christian men — all of their actions prove eerily consistent. This is nowhere more evident than with regard to the issue of abortion.
The Right Doesn’t Want to End Abortion — They Want to Control Women
The right’s claim — that they desire the elimination of abortion and protection of the unborn — is entirely belied by some of their other policy preferences, and their unwillingness to support several policies and practices that would drastically reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and thus, abortions.
For instance, the easiest and most effective way to bring down rates of unplanned pregnancy, thereby reducing the incidence of abortion, is the provision of comprehensive and affordable preventative birth control.
And yet, who most vociferously opposes easy access to birth control, or even providing young people with information about contraception and sexuality? The very same people who scream the loudest about abortion and “saving the babies.” In effect, their desire to limit abortion and save hundreds of thousands of fetal lives each year is less concrete for them than the desire to restrict sexual activity outside of marriage, or sex for pure pleasure without even the possibility of procreation. Their views about sex (and especially potentially consequence-free sex) are more important to them than their desire to reduce abortion. Sure, they’d like to “save the babies,” but mostly through slut-shaming women and reinforcing their religious and antiquated notions of purity.
Sound harsh? Perhaps, but it’s easy to prove.
For instance, imagine scientists developed a medicine that could be administered to men once a year, which would render sperm nonmotile for 12 months. Additionally, let’s imagine a companion drug for women, which could be administered once annually and prevent them from being able to conceive for the same 12 months. And then let’s imagine a third drug, which could be administered to both men and women, which would reverse the effects of the first drugs given, when and if they decided to become fertile again.
Let’s say these new drugs had no side effects and were 100% effective. Also, let’s imagine this drug was going to be provided for free to all who wanted it because a group of billionaires had agreed to donate the medicine to eager recipients.
So let’s review: two 100% safe, effective, and reversible drugs, which would be entirely free to users, at no cost to taxpayers, and which would almost certainly result in millions of fewer unplanned pregnancies each year. Even assuming many would not take the medicine, and thus, some unplanned pregnancies would still occur, such a drug would undoubtedly result in hundreds of thousands of fewer abortions each year. If you are someone who views fetal life as fully “ensouled” from the point of conception onward, this would mean saving millions of souls each decade.
And yet, how many anti-abortion zealots would support such a plan to give millions of people shots that would relieve them of the fear of unplanned pregnancy? How many would applaud the development? Although some might, most would surely oppose the concept. Why? Because even though it would “save babies,” it would free up men and women to have sex without fear of pregnancy as a consequence. For some, such sex is inherently immoral and should never be encouraged or facilitated, but even for those who don’t take such an extreme position, the knowledge that such a drug would no doubt increase the incidence of sex outside of marriage (because it absolutely would) would bother them deeply.
Or consider the hypotheticals offered by Gabrielle Blair in her now-famous piece about the real cause of unwanted pregnancy — namely, irresponsible male ejaculations.
As Blair notes in her first thought experiment, we could impose castration as punishment for any man who causes an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. Harsh? Perhaps in theory, but not really in practice.
After all, if men knew castration was the consequence of causing unwanted pregnancies, they would be guaranteed to reduce or eliminate their irresponsible sexual activity. Condom sales would go through the roof. Men would pull out even with the condom on, just in case. Others would abstain altogether until they and their partner were both truly ready to have a baby. In the end, there might still be tens of thousands of men put to the knife each year. But in return, literally hundreds of thousands of abortions would be prevented! Why don’t conservatives love this idea?
It can’t be because it restricts liberty or amounts to too much government intrusion — I mean, they’re more than willing to restrict women’s liberty for nine months, and intrude on women’s lives. No, they would hate the idea because even though it would dramatically reduce abortions, it would invert the power structure and upend traditional hierarchies, which are about controlling women’s choices and bodies, not constraining the prerogatives (let alone testicles) of men.
Or consider her second hypothetical, which is far less harsh but also would not be embraced by the right, and for the same reason. Imagine a policy that required all boys to get a vasectomy at the age of 14, and disallowed them from having the procedure reversed until they were married, and they and their partner both agreed to have a child. From that point forward, they would be unable to impregnate a woman unless they had the reversal or used sperm they had banked before the operation, and even then only after they found themselves in the kind of committed relationship conservatives insist is proper for all (well, at least all heterosexuals).
Again, would the right endorse this idea? Of course not, even though it too would drastically slash the number of abortions. In fact, over time such a policy would pretty much end them altogether. And the only reason the right would never endorse such a thing is that despite such a policy achieving their stated goals regarding the ending of abortion, it would free up folks to have consequence-free sex. Oh, and it would require a sacrifice of male potency, which would invert the traditional hierarchies of power and domination.
One final proof that the right cares only about controlling women, and virtually nothing for “saving babies,” is the way conservatives address in vitro fertilization (IVF). As Jessica Valenti points out if fertilized eggs are human beings when in the womb, they must be equally so in a lab, waiting to be implanted in a woman who has stored them for later usage. But if this is true, why do abortion foes not seek to prohibit the discarding of such humans, which occurs regularly, typically after successful implantation and once a couple (or single woman) decides they are done having children? Why don’t they seek to prosecute the couples who discard their “extra babies,” or the labs who do so?
As Valenti notes:
…when Alabama State Senator Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, was asked recently if his state’s sweeping abortion ban would punish those at IVF clinics who discard embryos or fertilized eggs, he replied, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”
Right, because abortion restrictions are not about saving human life, they are about restricting the rights and autonomy of women and nothing more.
The right is not about small government, or low taxes, and surely not the other thing they claim to endorse — personal liberty. They talk a good game on all three, but when it comes down to it, their actions (or inactions) suggest their only real concern is the maintenance of rule by the traditional rulers.
They want affluent, white, straight, Christian men in power because they believe these to be the better people whose rule and domination are natural. To improve the position of the poor relative to the rich, women relative to men, or people of color relative to whites would flip traditional order on its head, and this they cannot countenance.
The right is solely and entirely about domination and subordination. The left is about challenging that domination and subordination and ending both. It is that simple.
Fortunately, so is picking a side.
. . .
I’m an antiracism educator/author. I Facebook & tweet @timjacobwise, podcast at Speak Out With Tim Wise & post bonus content at patreon.com/speakoutwithtimwise
Previously published on Medium.com.
Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com