I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, raised by liberal, politically- active, borderline- hippie parents. (Borderline- beatnik might be more accurate.) So growing up, I heard the word “reactionary” thrown around a lot.
And I never really understood it. I got that the word meant “very conservative” or “hard right wing” — but apart from that, I never had a sense of what “reactionary,” specifically, meant.
I am beginning to understand.
Like a lot of people, I have been watching the flailings of the Republican Party with a combination of repugnance, entertainment, and unholy glee. Like a lot of people, I have noticed that the Republican Party essentially has little or nothing to offer in the way of actual ideas or constructive suggestions. And like a lot of people, I have noticed that the only thing the Republican Party currently seems capable of doing is reflexively saying “No!” to anything Obama and the Democrats say or do. (Imagine that “No!” in the Ted Stevens voice.) If President Obama and the Democratic Party were to put forth a statement declaring that puppies are cute and apple pie is delicious, the GOP would be on the cable news shows within the hour, denouncing this as the vilest piece of rabid socialism and government invasion into our private lives, an intolerable insult to cute kittens and chocolate chip cookies, destined to destroy our moral foundation and undermine everything that is good and right about our great nation.
All they’re doing is reacting. They aren’t even reacting against specific ideas they disagree with. They are reflexively reacting against every single idea to come out of the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress.
In other words:
Now, as entertaining and deeply satisfying as it is to watch the GOP repeatedly shoot itself in the foot, there’s an odd way in which I find the spectacle disappointing. I actually think political disagreement and debate is a good idea. I think our ideas are sharpened and clarified by criticism from smart people who disagree with us. And it’s not like I think every idea coming out of the Obama White House and the current Democratic Congress is a good one. (Boy, howdy, do I ever not think that.) I’m probably going to disagree with 95% of the ideas generated by conservative Republicans… but I’d still like to see them generate some.
Take a classic Democrat/ Republican debate point. Take government spending. Now, on this issue, I’m even further to the left than the most liberal Democrat in Congress. I am that variety of “tax and spend/ big government liberal” known as a social democrat. When conservatives scream that liberals are trying to turn America into France, I’m one of those people who replies, “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” I think government is — or should be, and could be, and often is — the central means by which a society pools some of its resources to make life better for everyone… and weirdly enough, I think this is a good idea, and that we should generally be doing more of it.
But I also think that, when it comes to any given government program, it’s useful to have a serious debate about whether it’s a good idea. I think it’s useful for smart people to debate whether this particular program is the best use of our pooled resources: whether it will be effective in accomplishing its goals, whether some other program might accomplish these goals better, whether some different goals might be more important, whether these goals are even worth accomplishing. And I think having some people in politics who are generally excited about action and programs and change, and other people who are generally more cautious and want to put on the brakes, is not inherently a terrible idea. It keeps society adaptive, without being chaotic.
We’re not getting that. We’re not getting Republicans who are saying, “Hey, this particular government program is a bad idea, and this is specifically why, and here’s what we propose instead.” Instead, we have Republicans who are reflexively reacting against all government programs, against the very idea of government programs, of any kind, ever. (Begging the question, “So why did you get into government, anyway?” But that’s a rant for another day.)
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I think I’m just trying to say this: If people are arguing against political changes, I don’t have a problem with that. I mean, obviously much of the time I’ll have a problem with the specifics of it — but I don’t have a problem with the basic principle.
But that’s not what I’m seeing in the GOP. They’re not against this change, or that change. They’re against change. They’re against the idea of change. No matter how bad things are, now matter how horrible the status quo is for the vast majority of Americans, they’re against the very concept of change.
And they’re not arguing against it. They’re reacting to it.