The modern American conservative movement is an unique example of authoritarianism based upon propaganda and misinformation coming from sources which, while technically outside of the government, are closely aligned with the Republican Party. They attempt to achieve their control by promoting an alternative reality in which liberals, who actually are promoting an increase in liberty, are falsely portrayed as attempting to impose a wide variety of controls on the population while ignoring the real restrictions on liberty coming from the right wing. We saw an example of this last week in a story about a lunch room in North Carolina which does provide some insight into how the right wing operates.
A story from The Carolina Journal (a right wing site which promotes conservative false narratives about liberals) reported a story last week claiming that a child had her lunch from home replaced because it didn’t meet government nutritional standards. Conservatives, who have no concept of fact checking, not only reported this as fact but also added unsubstantiated claims that this was a policy promoted by Democrats. Never mind that liberal sites were also arguing that the action was wrong if the story reported was true.
Initially this appeared at worst to be a case of a worker in a school misinterpreting North Carolina law, but the actual facts turned out to be quite different from those reported. There was certainly no federal agent imposing Democratic policies as many conservative blogs and commentators were claiming. Over the course of the week the actual facts came out and were reported by blogs which didn’t stick mindlessly to the conservative narrative, such as The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Among the key facts that came out was that this was a voluntary program which parents must make a decision to opt-into. The program is to provide food to children who do not receive meals from home with sufficient nutritional value by giving additional food–not taking away the food they brought in. In this case, a worker at the school noticed the child did not have any dairy products and advised her to go back through the line and receive a free milk. Hardly tyranny from Big Brother as conservatives described the case.
It appears there were misunderstandings between the pre-school student, a school employee, and later the student’s mother. This led to some misunderstandings in the original story, and most likely considerable distortions from conservative sites. Reading conservative accounts, it is clear that they had no interest in finding the truth but instead were interested in finding ways to portray Democrats as imposing their rules upon innocent pre-school children. In some cases the distortion was probably intentional. In other cases, conservatives believed what they read and repeated this as it reinforced their view of Democrats. Of course this story had nothing to do with Democrats, and it was reinforcing not an accurate view but a view they held due to multiple other episodes of misinformation.
Conservatives have been misled to believe that liberals support big government to impose their will upon them. In reality the situation is reversed. Speaking simply of big government is misleading as, if we are to look at size alone, government is primarily the military, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Of course conservatives typically ignore the parts of government they support, such as the military, when complaining about big government. Going to war in Iraq based upon lies was the largest expansion of big government in quite a while. We see the same phenomenon when members of the Tea Party carry signs demanding that government keeps its hands off their Medicare. Even for more consistent conservatives who seek to eliminate or greatly reduce Medicare and Social Security, taking away someone’s Medicare might lead to smaller government, but it won’t make them more free.
What really matters is not the total size of government, which will vary little regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in office, but how intrusive government is in the lives of individuals. Once again, conservatives ignore the policies they support. It is conservatives who repeatedly have supported the use of government to impose their desires upon others, frequently as part of imposing the agenda of the religious right. This includes restrictions on reproductive rights, along with government intervening in personal end of life decisions in the Terry Schiavo case. Not only do conservatives fail to see this as the real problems of big government imposing its will on individuals, many actually misunderstand freedom to mean the freedom to spread their religious beliefs, and impose them upon others.