The Good Kid vs. The Cool Kid
Fox News Anchor last week, discussing the students who are protesting Colorado’s new Advanced Placement American History curriculum, which demands that schools should teach Patriotism = Good / Civil Disobedience = Bad:
What’s up with these punks? … I’m all for freedom of speech and the ability to gather and state your claim. But, quite frankly, if you don’t like it here, and you have a problem with promoting the basic freedoms that men and women have died for — protesting for the rest of us and protecting us — then get out!
You got to figure if you’re [US Generals] and you’re sitting in the meeting and you make the case why you should do certain things a certain way and then [Obama] says ‘No, we’re not going to do it that way, you just got to figure they’re sitting around the table going, ‘Not again!’
Why do they sit around the table? They should put their stars down and walk out!
As with all Fox News talking points on any particular day, each of these sentiments mirror what I read online and hear on talk radio — often on the same day, and even (on the radio) in the same segments between commercial breaks.
All of which is to say that it’s a really weird time to be an American conservative.
The Colorado curriculum controversy underscores a kind of cultural-identity schizophrenia that today’s Right is currently experiencing. On the one hand, conservatives values truly are anchored in the kind of unquestioning commitment to patriotism that, if I’m being honest, I always kind of admired about my parent’s generation, as well as the instinct to defer to authority that, if I’m still being honest, I always thought was that generation’s biggest character flaw. On the other hand, there is this new and rapidly growing instinct — born of the need of it’s Media Machine for ratings and page hits –that demands that conservatives see themselves as the iconic Rebel Outlaw. Conservatives today want to be the ones who argue that criticizing America is in and of itself sinful and the ones that throws the tea in the harbor. The ones that rail against the burning of the flag and the ones who cheer hints of open, armed revolution.
When you dig past the individual (and often seemingly arbitrary) policy positions, you realize that the battle for the soul of conservatism today is not of the ballot box so much as of the playground. I think conservatives today are struggling with themselves and one another in an existential battle over whether they want to be the Good Kid or the Cool Kid. And make no mistake, that’s a battle that at this point has to be fought.
In America, anyone can be Johnny Strabler.
In America, anyone can be Ward Cleaver.
But even in America, you can’t be both. You just can’t. The playground just doesn’t work that way, even here. And the Good Kid vs. Cool Kid dynamic is primal, lizard-brain, subconscious-driven stuff — so much so that whichever side wins will easily warp whatever conservative policy positions it needs in order to better feed that dominant self-identity.
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