I just finished reading an article in the Wall Street Journal that was very enlightening, if not disturbing, about the philosophical shift in the conservative movement. The article focused on South Carolina Republican Representative Bob Inglis and the struggle to retain his Congressional seat. He was first elected in ’93, left for a failed Senate run, and was re-elected in 2004.

Inglis was a fire breathing dragon in the ’90s, and pushed for significant abortion restrictions and bringing down the Presidency of Bill Clinton. He was an ardent member of the class of ’93 and strong supporter of the Contract with America. He agreed to serve three terms when elected in 1993 and after three terms he was true to his word. He ran for the same seat again, in 2004, and easily won. He won re-election in 2006 and 2008 but this year it looks like he might lose his solid Republican district.

During the five years he did not serve his district in Congress, he had what one may call an epiphany.  According to the WSJ article by author Louise Radnofsky, Inglis talks about his transformation by saying, “Washington hasn’t changed me; God’s grace is changing me.” So, how is he changing that has so upset his constituents? Simply put, he has gone from that fire-breathing dragon to becoming an agent of reconciliation.

In practice, that means he refocused on climate change and energy, among other concerns. He has asked his constituents to stop listening to Glenn Beck, spoken out against climate change skepticism, spoken against offshore oil drilling, and is against warrantless wiretaps. He is for a revenue neutral carbon tax and opposed the 2007 Iraq troop surge. He also voted for TARP, a rescue program for the financial industry engineered by the Bush administration.

Inglis’s opponent in the race is reported to have said, “The world would be a better place if more people were like Bob Inglis.” He went on to say, “But, Congress would not be.” A constituent explained his refusal to vote for Inglis this time by saying, “He’s gone to the left.” The fact that Inglis has the support of the NRA, the National Right to Life organization, and has a 93.5% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, apparently does not influence or impress his constituents.

In my wildest imagination, I cannot see this person as “left.” What does this say about conservative philosophy and goals if this Congressman is “too liberal?” A 93.5% lifetime rating by a conservative organization and he is too liberal? The current ideological purity demands no exceptions to that purity.

Aristotle told us to follow the Golden Mean. He went on to explain that to veer too far in either direction from the mean led to extremism. It certainly sounds as if conservatives are moving far to the right. The movement appears to be following in the footsteps of the John Birch Society; an ultra-conservative, anti-communist group in the 1950s which became so extreme they had little credibility with the mainstream.  Could this happen to the current conservative movement that edges further and further to the right?

When four conservative lawyers in California say God has called them to run for judge, it smacks of deliberately introducing bias into an alleged impartial system. Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical leader of the Religious Right, wrote an article last week titled, “Christian Conservatives Target Seated Judges.” In the article, he reports Craig Candelore, a family law attorney who is one of the group’s candidates, as saying, “If we can take our judiciary, we can take our legislature and our executive branch.” Frank’s conclusion is little different from my own: “Those values aren’t democratic. They aren’t patriotic. They are revolutionary and seek to impose a theocracy.”

When a Bishop excommunicates a nun for endorsing an abortion that saved the life of the mother of four living children (the only other option was to allow both to die), the position on abortion has gone too far. What about the four living children, do they not count? At one time, there were conservative exceptions to abortion – rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Now, the position seems to be that there are no exceptions. They want to use the heavy hand of government to dictate what a woman can and should do with her body, without exception.

Extremism, in any form, left or right, leads us toward deeper divisions and fragments the very bonds of freedom that, in the past, have knitted us into the United States of America. The examples provided above used to reflect fringe thinking but the current political climate has encouraged the expression of ideas that used to repel the mainstream. In the past, would Rand Paul have dared to suggest that businesses should have the right to discriminate?

At one time, both parties, church and state, mutually agreed upon the belief in separation of church and state. History has amply demonstrated the disasters that occur when church and state merge or have very fuzzy boundaries. However, that barrier has been breached and the church increasingly attempts to impose theology on everyone. In some respects, it is a tacit admission that the church has failed, by its teachings and its walk, to assert the kind of influence on people that would make imposition of moral law unnecessary.

Could we be in danger of becoming another Bosnia? The greatest threat to America is not external terrorists but the frothy, angry divisions that separate us into pockets of extremism. As I have said before, we are a better country than this and are capable of finding mutually agreed upon solutions if extreme thinking is refuted and saner minds prevail. It should send a danger signal that the conservative movement has gone too far when Bob Inglis is seen as “too liberal.”

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Jim Fitzgerald

Jim Fitzgerald

A clinically trained psychologist, Jim had a private practice in Cobb County for almost 30 years. For the last ten years he has been a Professor of Psychology at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, but lives in the North Georgia Mountains.