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Bayan’s Field Guide to the Right

September 11, 2009

We passionate moderates are like the Light Brigade charging headlong into the valley of death: cannon to the right of us, cannon to the left of us. We’re flanked by open hostility on both sides, and we love the mad dash through the crossfire.

But it helps if we know a little about our opponents. Just who are these immoderate souls who make our lives so challenging? Let me start with the right. (I promise equal time for the left in my next installment.)

The American right consists of upper, middle and lower divisions, different as silk , cotton and burlap — yet strangely united by a common ideology.

The Upper Right

Old-money conservatives. Think of George Bush the Elder, who was actually a borderline moderate — but you get the picture. Privately schooled, groomed for the ruling class, bent on perpetuating their privilege in an understated but insistent manner. Generally upright, clubby and benign. Overwhelmingly Protestant and Anglo-Saxon. A declining influence, reduced in numbers but still formidable.

New-money conservatives. Smart, aggressive, often weasely and therefore hugely successful in business. (Think Gordon Gekko of “Greed is good” fame.) They made their own fortunes, ethically or not, and they’re intent on doing whatever they can to secure their hard-won socioeconomic status. The general idea is to flaunt that status as visibly as possible in the form of luxury cars, flashy jewelry, second homes, oversize boats, and rear-window decals from top-tier colleges.

Conservative intellectuals.  A fascinating sub-caste subdivided into three distinct sub-sub castes. Paleoconservatives (e.g., William F. Buckley, Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, Peggy Noonan) tend toward Catholicism, small government and traditional social values. Neoconservatives (e.g., Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Norman Podhoretz) are social moderates who favor a hawkish foreign policy in general and a vigilant defense of Israel in particular. Classical Liberals, despite the L-word in their now-archaic label, are rationalists who believe in responsible individualism, civil liberties, free enterprise and the free marketplace of ideas. Columnist and pundit George Will is a stellar example of the breed. Conservative intellectuals aren’t especially preoccupied with money or social status, though their pundits score handsomely on the talking-head circuit.

Libertarians. A hybrid species characterized by capitalist zeal and freewheeling amorality. Generally contemptuous of society’s losers. Think Ayn Rand or Ted Turner.

The Middle-Tier Right

(Note: You could also call this sector “the Reasonable Right.” In fact, it seems a shame to consider them right-wingers at all. Of all conservatives, they’re the closest to us.)

Mainstream churchgoers. They’re virtuous folk who embrace traditional beliefs and values without feeling the need to force them down your throat. They can be Protestant, Catholic or anything else, but they don’t believe they own an exclusive ticket to heaven.

Middle-class capitalists. They won’t make the Forbes List, but they work hard, grow their businesses, suffer setbacks and still believe in the American dream. (Think of George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) They own most of the shops, restaurants and services that make your community a more vibrant place.

The Lower Right

Angry white people. Ordinary, put-upon taxpayers who have bottled up their resentments for decades and now find themselves boiling over at the likes of illegal immigrants, minority victimologists, government spending, creeping statism and Barack Obama. Increasingly susceptible to the hectoring of conservative demagogues like Messrs. Limbaugh and Beck. Sub-groups include gun nuts, tax rebels, xenophobes, right-wing populists, tea-baggers, town-hall shouters, “birthers” and the usual assortment of conspiracy buffs.

The Religious Right. The staunch cultural rear-guard of contemporary America, bound to an inerrant Good Book and terrified of cultural change. An amalgam of Bible Belt Protestant fundamentalists and working-class Catholics, profoundly distrustful of intellectuals and the avant garde. Openly despised by the educated left, and who deny them the PC protection granted to “favored” minority groups.

White supremacists. The slimy underbelly of the right: skinheads, neo-Nazis, KKKers, militant survivalists and other scary creatures who crawl out from under the rocks. We don’t know what to do with them, and they won’t go away.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Priscilla permalink
    September 11, 2009 11:10 am

    Ah, Rick, I think you have left out an important cohort of the right – the group to which I believe I belong, and probably always have, save a brief period in the late 60’s and 70’s when I was swayed somewhat by some of the leftist rhetoric that bubbled up from the anti-Vietnam war movement.

    That group is the “classical liberals,” although this particular form of liberalism is, by today’s American political standards, right of center. To paraphrase a definition of classical liberalism that I found on the internet, “the philosophy of classical liberalism includes the importance of human rationality, individual property rights, natural rights, the protection of civil liberties, individual freedom from restraint, equality under the law, constitutional limitation of government, and free markets.”

    Ultimately, the bogey man of the classical liberal is the modern social welfare state, and, unfortunately, it seems that opposing that in this political climate, qualifies me as an “angry white person.” That characterization is inherently unfair, I think, and sort of implies that those who do not see redistributionism as the solution to our society’s woes, are somehow motivated and influenced by demagogues.

    Maybe you could add, “worried middle income capitalists” to your list…..or even “concerned closet moderates” 😉

  2. September 11, 2009 12:03 pm

    Good point, Priscilla. Here I’m so concerned about polarization, and yet I’ve polarized conservatives into “upper” and “lower” castes. The middle would consist of the George Baileys of the world: hardworking, traditional-minded business owners and professionals who aren’t rich enough for the “new money” tag or frazzled enough to be described as “angry white people.” There used to be a lot more Americans in this class (as usual, the middle is being squeezed out), but they’re still a significant contingent. I’ll go back and add them to my Field Guide.

    As for classical liberals, I don’t know whether to consider them conservatives or moderates. Today’s conservatives aren’t quite as willing to tolerate the free marketplace of ideas, for example. But I think a rational conservative like George Will would be a good example of a classical liberal in our time. Maybe I’ll squeeze them in under “Conservative Intellectuals.”

    Thanks for the valuable feedback — I really appreciate it, Priscilla.

  3. Priscilla permalink
    September 12, 2009 10:43 am

    Like the revisions. I really enjoy your work.

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