Chalking up another 9/11 anniversary last week brought to mind that it’s been a few years since we’ve had the right flank making like true monarchs of all they survey in America. Talking about those warfare-obsessed super hawks, the blinders-wearing social conservatives and such. That set last felt emboldened to strut the landscape in the manner of designated signal callers for all of the body politic during the reign of George W. Bush, confident that imposing on the social order a severe rightward shift would be easy enough to accomplish.
The Bush administration’s resort to a “cowboy” brand of foreign policy following the 9/11 attack, as exemplified in the bone-headed invasion of Iraq, gave impetus to the ideologues framing not just foreign but domestic policy. The country was clearly at a place, they figured, where a hard pull to the right was the way to go. They would likely have had an easy time of it too, had the stubbornly potent Iraqi resistance not made the right-wing masterminds appear not too smart after all. Had the Iraq misadventure turned out to be the three-week walk in the park the “experts” guaranteed, Lord only knows what other dumb ideas for incursions elsewhere would have emanated from the macho interventionist bluster then influencing U.S. policy.
While increasing popular awareness of the senselessness of an Iraq quagmire put a crimp in the designs of authors of that flawed undertaking, on the domestic front the very fact of a sitting president and some key administration (and congressional) figures who were of ultra conservative bent lent assurance to efforts to keep that pot boiling. Bush’s deliberate move to embrace the religious community, the so-called faith-based initiative (probably the support sector most responsible for his 2004 re-election), served as a major infusion of power among social conservatives. And although they may not always be riding high as the element really calling the shots in our space, we’re constantly reminded that hardly are they going away.
Certainly, during a period like the Bush tenure, the forces on the far right had good reason to believe the stars were lined up in their favor. They considered the president to be of their ilk. And in Congress, they could desire no more devoted champion of the cause than a Tom DeLay, the Texas Congressman who was a big noise among Republicans in the House, including serving as Majority Leader. In flashpoints like the famous Terri Schiavo case in 2005, or one anti-abortion push after another, it was a time when we wondered whether the point of view on that side would prevail. In the Schiavo imbroglio, a legal fight between the husband of a woman several years lying in a vegetative state and her family, both the president and his brother Jeb, then governor of Florida, weighed in…to no avail eventually, as the court nullified the legislation passed to prevent Schiavo’s feeding tube from being disconnected.
Another nemesis on the right has been Grover Norquist who, with his “no tax increase” advocacy has virtually held Capitol Hill Republicans over a barrel, with the celebrated pledge not to raise taxes that Norquist has required of them. Albeit he perhaps more properly belongs under the rubric of fiscal rather than social conservative, Norquist’s stranglehold on Republican lawmakers remains one of the truly confounding developments of current-day politics in America, and must rank as probably one of the conservatives’ top chest-thumping boasts.
In truth, there seems never to be much of a respite from some conservative-rooted issue breaking into the headlines. We continue to be treated to news morsels about the county clerk in Kentucky who had to be thrown in jail because of her refusal to obey the law and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. How preposterous is it of an individual to think to cease issuing licenses to anyone because she disagrees with the law as laid down by the Supreme Court! Very troublingly have we learned, too, that in her law-defying antics in Kentucky, Kim Davis has quite a bit of company in places where the conservative ardor holds strong. We shouldn’t be surprised if news breaks of a Davis copycat scenario elsewhere. Whatever happened to the fierce law-and-order stance with which we normally associate forces on the right?
And we haven’t run the table yet on conservatives trying to mess with the mainstream flow. A congressional battle royal supposedly fixing to happen is conservative Republicans’ determination to block passage of any appropriations bill that includes funding for Planned Parenthood — a battle with government shutdown potential. Which is to say, even if it is at times more muted, that drumbeat we’ve heard from the conservative quarter keeps right on going.