Stephanie Salter: Conservatively speaking, the term is used too liberally
Good morning. I am here on behalf of the word “conservative” to request a cease-and-desist order against thousands of Americans.
Consistent with my client’s characteristic caution and discretion, “conservative” wishes to apologize to the court for having to bring this matter into the public arena. However, the word contends it has no recourse.
In a sworn affidavit, Exhibit A, “conservative” declared:
“My good name, which dates to a Latin root meaning ‘to keep guard, observe,’ has served me well in this nation since the early 1800s. It is now in grave danger of permanent besmirchment.
“People who are about as conservative as a runaway train are identifying themselves as ‘conservatives’ in such great numbers as to render the true meaning of the term extinct. Worse, these impostors lead young Americans to associate the most aggressive, loutish, un-Christian speech with conservatism. I implore the court to put an end to this identity theft.”
With the court’s permission, I wish to present several more exhibits. Chief among them, of course, are definitions of “conservative” and “conservatism” from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition.
But first, I call the court’s attention to Exhibit B, a recent column by so-called conservative Ann Coulter. My client maintains this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Titled “Conservatives need 12-step program to manhood,” the Internet essay ran earlier this month. Coulter’s initial focus was the drunk-driving arrest of U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and what she sees as an inadequate response by the GOP to that and other Democratic transgressions.
“Patriotic Americans don’t have to become dangerous psychotics like liberals, but they could at least act like men,” she wrote.
Coulter then switched targets, to an Afghan man who joined the Taliban when he was 16 and served as the sect’s “ambassador” when he was 21. The man, Rahmatullah Hashemi, who says he has changed many of his opinions about human rights and no longer espouses Taliban-style punishment and repression, is now enrolled at Yale University.
Coulter wrote: “Why hasn’t the former spokesman for the Taliban matriculating at Yale been beaten even more senseless than he already is? … Where are the skinheads when you need them? What does a girl have to do to get an angry, club-and-torch-wielding mob on its feet?”
My client notes this is the same “conservative” who “joked” about a need to put rat poison in Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ dessert and who said in 2002, “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.”
With these statements in mind, I now read from Exhibit C, the aforementioned definitions:
“Conservatism — disposition in politics to preserve what is established; a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change; the tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change.”
“Conservative — tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions or institutions: traditional; marked by moderation or caution … relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style or manners; one who adheres to traditional methods or views; a cautious or discreet person.”
Since when, my client asks, does a call for men to “act like men” and beat an individual “senseless” satisfy the above criteria for conservatism?
This brings me to Exhibit D, part of a transcript of MSNBC’s May 3 “Scarborough Country.”
After a federal jury voted to sentence al Qaeda conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui to life in a super-maximum security prison without parole, host Joe Scarborough interviewed radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish:
“Michael, I just cannot believe that the man known as the 20th hijacker, who was begging the jury to execute him, got away. How did the Justice Department, the Bush administration, the entire federal government botch this case?”
Another so-called conservative, Smerconish told Scarborough he was reporting “from the heartland” — the city Philadelphia — where people urged him to “get out the door right now” and deliver the message that “this dog should have been put down.”
Referring to a relative of a 9/11 victim who spoke publicly against executing Moussaoui, Smerconish said he respected the woman, “but I can’t buy into this logic of transcending hatred. This is the sissification of America.”
When Scarborough re-used that phrase, Smerconish said: “Yes. Yes. Root word, ‘sissies.’ That’s what we’ve become!” The radio host then told the TV host to see “United 93,” and added:
“The only conclusion one can reach in watching that movie is that we must kill these SOBs before they kill our kids! Because that’s all they’re trying to do right now. And I can’t take this touchy-feely mindset of trying to battle radical Islam! They’re cutting throats with box cutters, and we’re sending a guy away to a can above ground for the next 30 years!”
Lest the court misinterpret my presence, let me state for the record, my client and I do not argue politics or suggest that people such as Coulter, Scarborough and Smerconish be prevented from speaking freely and passionately. Far from it. Any attempt to take away that right would find us here again, arguing on their behalf and the First Amendment.
My interest in this case is as a lover and protector of words — a conservative, if you will — committed to guarding the authenticity of the English language.
I have tried to demonstrate that the speech of these three and others with similar philosophy — e.g., advocating vigilantism, maligning the U.S. justice system, calling key teachings of Christ “sissification” — is not the speech of conservatives. Returning to Webster’s, I close by offering — for the sake of truth and accuracy — pertinent elements of this alternative identifier:
“radical — marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional: extreme; tending … to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions … advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.”