Peacebuilding for Conservatives

February 17, 2010

by Winslow Myers

There is big money in polarization, as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other media kingpins understand all too well. But one of the many tragic by-products of our polarized political culture is the demonization of conservatives by progressives.

Left-leaners are often convinced that those on the right are all greedy, fearful militarists without consciousness or conscience — a grotesque and insulting distortion.

Conservatives Are Traditionally Antiwar

My late father was a lifelong Republican who delighted in undermining the conservative stereotype. He once returned from a trip to Nicaragua and scandalized his Rotary group by asserting that he hadn’t met a single communist down there, just a lot of farmers who wanted some land to cultivate peacefully.

As a self-defined progressive, I am mightily tired of preaching to the choir, my small circle of all-too-like-minded liberal friends. I am eager for dialogue with thoughtful people who still carry the same torch my father did for fiscal prudence, smaller government, incremental change — and caution in our international adventures.

As Kevin Zeese writes in his article “The Anti-War Peace Movement Needs a Restart” (www.truthout.org): “There is a long history of opposition to war among traditional conservatives. Their philosophy goes back to President Washington’s Farewell Address where he urged America to avoid ‘foreign entanglements.’ It has showed itself throughout American history. The Anti-Imperialist League opposed the colonialism of the Philippines in the 1890s. The largest antiwar movement in history, the America First Committee, opposed World War II and had a strong Middle America conservative foundation in its makeup. The strongest speech of an American president against militarism was President Eisenhower’s 1961 final speech from the White House warning America against the growing military-industrial complex.”

Transcend Polarization

For twenty-five years I have volunteered for an organization called Beyond War, which began with the assumption that preventing the world from blowing up just might be an issue of equal interest across the political spectrum. Some of us were Democrats and some were Republicans. In 1988 we even gave our annual Beyond War Award to Ronald Reagan (and Mikhail Gorbachev) — not because we assented to everything Reagan did, but because Reagan had bravely taken the political risk of changing his mind about the “evil empire,” responding positively to Gorbachev’s “new thinking.”

Liberal members of our organization peeled away in droves after that award, demonstrating among other things that they hadn’t understood — stood under, or stood behind — what the organization stood for: thinking big enough to transcend polarization.

The opportunity is to cut through the foggy distraction of polarized stereotyping to a common vision of enlightened self-interest. One conservative thinker who has done this effectively is Andrew Bacevich, an ex-marine and Professor of International Relations at Boston University. His book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, should be required reading for left- and right-leaners alike. Bacevich argues that American military adventures are directly related to our domestic culture of over-extension, our desire to have it all and put off paying the economic, military and environmental bills that inevitably come due.

Progressives have an opportunity to get off their high horses and reach out to mainstream Americans who are perfectly capable of seeing that it is hardly in their interest to saddle their children with trillion dollar deficits caused by dubious wars without end — wars which create more terrorists than they kill. Φ

Winslow Myers, the author of Living Beyond War, A Citizen’s Guide, lives in Boston and serves on the Board of Beyond War, a non-profit educational foundation.

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