Tea Party and the Right

How Conservatives Attack the Small-Town, American Values They Pretend to Love

The Right's latest freak-out over the Girl Scouts of America is beyond hypocritical.

Photo Credit: (Credit: sagasan via Shutterstock)

Last week Indiana State Rep. Bob Morris claimed, in an open letter magnificently disdainful of facts, that Girls Scouts of the USA financially supports Planned Parenthood and is a force of pro-sex, pro-abortion, pro-homo indoctrination, determined to reach our American daughters.  Since his original refusal to sign an Indiana statehouse resolution honoring the 100th anniversary of the GSUSA, Morris has made a nonsensical apology, saying that he “should never have written the letter,” while holding to the counterfactual argument that the GSUSA is partnered with Planned Parenthood.

Now, a Catholic church in Virginia has banned Girl Scout meetings and Girl Scout uniforms from the church and its affiliated school, and in January the Family Research Council’s president and resident, dedicated witch hunter called for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies.  These aren’t the first instances of conservative anti-Girl Scout hysteria based in misinformation, and, unfortunately, they’re unlikely to be the last. Past its false premises, condemnation of the Girl Scouts shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the organization works.  Most important, it betrays an ideological hypocrisy on the right – one that conservatives seem to be leaning on with ever greater zeal.

Rep. Morris’ concern was with an organization that is “quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood.”  The anti-Girl Scouts website Speak Now is based on the idea that unwitting parents and girls across the country are being brainwashed from above.  The site’s author describes the “eye-opening” experiences that led her to accept that she “had unknowingly been promoting and supporting a group that stands for the opposite of [her] beliefs…”

The Girl Scouts are portrayed as an indoctrinating, monolithic, top-down liberal organization: Conservatives took the Girl Scouts’ inclusion of a transgender girlin Colorado as the creation of a national policy that could be imposed on their local troops. But, the truth is, the Girl Scouts doesn’t function top-down. It’s run from the ground up, and that’s what makes this controversy so ludicrous. It’s run by the parents of girls in the troops, by teachers, by community leaders, and by aunts, uncles and big sisters. It’s run by the same “regular” people Republicans rely on each and every time they create a fictional portrait of the “true Americans” that support their social policies.

GSUSA Headquarters doesn’t, and by policy can’t, push a political or “lifestyle” agenda on local troops through national decisions. Leaders and parents have a huge amount of flexibility in all of their lessons and activities. Even the “badges” pursued, marking the achievements of the little, uniformed, flag-saluting ladies, are chosen by local leaders and the Scouts themselves. It takes about three minutes of rooting around on the GSUSA’s National Program Portfolio page to give up on your ability to track how many different ways a Girl Scout could be spending her time (and to be mildly creeped out by the silent animated elf-girls in the “Girl Scouts GPS,” an interactive feature designed to help kids choose their activities). An example of just how rigid the Girl Scouts’ agenda is? How about the badge category “Make Your Own,” described as “Whatever a girl is interested in!”   

The GSUSA also has something neat called a Statement of Trust.  It states directly that local communities should decide how to run their organizations.  Here is a portion of it:

“At Girl Scouts of the USA, we know that not every example or suggestion we provide will work for every girl, family, volunteer, or community.

In partnership with those who assist you with your Girl Scout group, including parents, faith groups, schools, and community organizations, we trust you to choose ‘real life topic experts’ from your community, as well as movies, books, music, websites and other opportunities that are most appropriate for the girls in your area and that will enrich their Girl Scout activities.”

Since Rep. Morris’ little spell of hysterics, GSUSA has made it as clear as possible to all those that can read that their organization does not impose beliefs, but in fact does the opposite: It allows room for them.

In attacking values they perceive to be held by the Girl Scouts, conservatives actually attack the autonomous decisions and values of local communities. These are, by definition, the American values Republicans love singing about. If the “True America” and the “Real America” don’t live in towns and cities in the United States, I am shit out of ideas for where to look. And as in the fight over contraception, a unified push against the effectively libertarian but open-minded GSUSA would show the right battling against local and individual choice, while screaming at the top of their lungs for greater personal liberty. As in so many cases, conservatism becomes the intrusion.

While Rep. Morris has had to apologize for the vehemence of his remarks against the Girl Scouts, other right-wing politicians will certainly ride the coattails of this hot topic. But the “free America” Republicans champion would in theory be one that allows communities to choose how to raise their daughters. While Rick Santorum babbles on in confused religious imagery about how he’s going to create jobs so that “people can remake their children into their [own] image, not his,” (i.e., Obama’s image), the right could at least pretend to allow the rest of us the same liberty: the liberty to raise our own kids, with the help of our own community organizations.

Katie Ryder is an editorial fellow at Salon.