Tea Party and the Right  
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American Right-Wingers Are No Longer Conservative — They're Extremists

Their reactionary bent is manifesting itself in legislatures across the country.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker


College students taking Poli-Sci 101 learn that conservatism is an ideology that reveres established tradition, emphasizes a deep respect for the rule of law and comes with a deep distrust of rapid social change – especially change driven by public policy. William F. Buckley Jr., famously described a conservative as, “someone who stands athwart history, yelling stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so.”

Traditional conservatism might provide a valuable check on overly ambitious policy-making. Traditional conservatism doesn't deny that government plays a role in our society, it isn't driven by animus towards “unworthy” citizens, and it isn't based on a fanciful alternative reality.

As American “movement conservatism” has shifted ever further to the right, it has become hard to discern this strain of ideology in our public discourse. The Tea Party right fancy themselves right-wing revolutionaries. They reject long-standing jurisprudence and venerable traditions. And they don't fear rapid social change, as long as it comports with their worldview – they embrace it. Many of those whom we call conservatives today are, ultimately, reactionaries.

I recently caught up with Ian Millhiser, a senior constitutional policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the editor of ThinkProgress Justice, to discuss how this reactionary bent is manifesting itself in legislatures across the country. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Joshua Holland: Ian, I know this first question is subjective, but I’m going to ask you to speculate. Which do you think is more likely, that Sharia law will become the law of the land or that I will get a date with Scarlett Johansson?

Ian Millhiser: You’re much more likely to get a date with Scarlett Johansson.

JH: That is great news. This is what I wanted to hear.

IM: This is a conspiracy theory that’s been around for a while that somehow there are these courts out there that are threatening to replace American law, stop following American law, and instead follow Islamic law. So you’ve seen these bills pop up to forbid courts from doing that, like it’s ever going to happen.

JH: This has been done in a handful of states, like Kansas passed one of these anti-Sharia laws. I would also point out that there is no coherent body of law called “Sharia.” There are different strains of Sharia, and it is not really …

IM: Right.

JH: ...It’s best not translated as “law” at all. It’s kind of a way of life. A code by which to live.

IM: Yeah, and I should point out that this doesn’t come from nowhere. Where this comes from is in this country we’ve got contracts. We’ve got wills, and we’ve got all sorts of documents where basically people get to set their own rules. You know, I can write a contract, and we can both sign it, and we set the rules for how we work, how we interact with each other. So what’s happened is sometimes two people want to be governed by Islamic law. So they write a contract, and they agree between themselves to be governed by Islamic law. And sometimes a father wants to distribute his estate in a way that’s compliant with Islamic law, so he writes a will.

And then that will shows up in court, or that contract shows up in court. And so what you have is you have conservatives who are seeing private cases -- where contracts, wills, what have you – where people have chosen to be bound by this Islamic law, and the courts are just saying, “Okay, well, yeah, we’ll enforce that contract for you because that’s what we do.” And they’re saying that, that there’s a threat that this will lead to the court applying Islamic law to people who don’t want to be bound to it. And that’s not how the law works. That’s not how contracts work. That’s not how wills work. You know, I am not bound by a contract unless I sign it. I’m not bound by a will unless someone wants to give me money for free.

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