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Conphobia By: David Keene
The Hill | Thursday, August 14, 2003


Things never seem to change. Liberals have never been able to grasp the fact that sane, responsible men and women might disagree with them for substantive or even intellectual reasons, and have been trying to dismiss conservatives since the 1950s as cranks, nuts racists and misfits.

When I was in college in the early 1960s, there weren't that many of us in what has come to be known as the "conservative movement." There were the folks at National Review, of course, and there was a small publisher in Chicago that kept publishing books by NR founder Bill Buckley and a little known professor by the name of Russell Kirk, but there was no Heritage Foundation, CATO Institute or American Conservative Union.

Buckley and his friends had conspired a few years earlier to organize a group calling itself Young Americans for Freedom, but it had at most a few thousand members and was largely ignored, and there was what was then known as the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists or ISI, which worked hard to educate those who began rallying around the flag of the movement.

Young conservatives in those days, however, faced real problems. Insight & Outlook was published by students at the University of Wisconsin and was one of the oldest student journals of conservative opinion in the country. But when we tried to organize a Young Americans for Freedom chapter on campus in the mid-60s, we discovered that no faculty member was willing to serve as a "faculty advisor," a prerequisite to recognition as a legitimate student organization at the time.

We overcame the problem by recruiting the only conservative we could find as our "advisor." The man was technically a faculty member, though he didn't teach any classes and signed on with the caveat that he was doing so only because he actually believed that all views should be heard so that some -- like ours -- might be rejected by an enlightened community.

The problem in those days was not just liberal bias, but the fact that what we called the liberal establishment rejected the very idea of a coherent American conservatism. Conservatism was rejected as a political "pathology" that could be found only among the demented or under-educated in society. Intellectual journals accepted this view of conservatism and those of us who dared call ourselves conservatives were dismissed as muddle headed, crazy or just plain dumb.

Some liberals found us amusing as long as there were only a few of us. Bill Buckley, for example, was welcome on campus because he was, well, amusing in those early years. As the movement began to grow, however, that amusement changed to nervousness and, finally, hatred.

In the mid-60s, I debated a campus leftist before an audience of some 600 students. My opponent, who was later elected to the Madison, Wis., city council, rose after I finished my presentation, looked at me and said he would not dignify what I said with a response. "I will say only this," he intoned, "come the revolution you and those like you will be among the first we execute." The amazing thing was that these remarks won the man a standing ovation.

There are more of us now. We nominated a presidential candidate in 1964, elected a conservative to the White House in 1980 and today dominate the politics of the country. But we are still hated and dismissed as ignorant know-nothings by our supposed intellectual betters. Remember the Washington Post's dismissal some years ago of the emerging religious right as no more than a collection of barely literate and easily led country folk?

Now, we find that federal tax dollars are being spent to dissect us as the social psychological and political misfits the liberals have always known us to be. The study, called grandiloquently, "Political Conservatism as Motivated by Social Cognition," was undertaken by assorted professorial types at Stanford and the University of Maryland at a cost of some $1.2 million. The National Institute of Mental Health dished out the money and the results were recently published in the Psychological Bulletin of the American Psychological Association.

It "proved" what liberals already knew. That we conservatives are a rigid, close-minded bunch with low self esteem who adhere to a political philosophy marked by pessimism, contempt for others and driven by fear, anger and aggression. The thoughtful authors of this "study" manage to link George W. Bush and Rush Limbaugh with not only Ronald Reagan but also Adolph Hitler and everything that rational, thinking Americans reject.

And all this on the taxpayer's nickel. No wonder the deficit is growing.


David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental affairs firm.


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