The title of this essay could be interpreted as claiming that Boebert and Greene’s culture war against “the progressives” and “the woke” is what got them into congress. While this is likely, what I mean is that progressives fought for the rights of women to vote and hold office and without them, Boerbert and Greene would be unable to do either.
The right tends to be ahistorical or mythological in their approach to the past, so it is not surprising that they rarely talk about how conservatives now accept progressive and even radical views that past conservatives fought. An excellent illustration is women’s rights. Women were granted the right to vote by the 19th Amendment which was ratified on August 18, 1920. While this might seem like a long time ago, there are people still alive that were born before then. Interestingly, the first woman served in congress in 1917.
As would be expected, the battle over women’s right to vote and hold office mostly followed the usual template of conservative arguments for exclusion. One anti-suffrage argument was that women did not want the vote because they took care of the home and children and hence did not have the time to vote or stay informed about politics. Interestingly, this argument was advanced by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage which was founded in 1911 by Josephine Dodge. Dodge had also led a movement to establish daycare centers for working mothers and was apparently not deterred from political involvement by her own reasoning.
The other argument, which is a stock argument for exclusion, is that women are defective in some manner relative to men: they lack the mental capacity to engage in politics or are too emotional. A “nicer” version of the argument is based on the belief that men and women are fundamentally different and that women would be sullied by getting involved in politics. There were also racist and class arguments against extending the vote: allowing all women the right to vote would allow, well, all women the right to vote even minorities and those in the lower classes.
There was also the “practical” argument that allowing women to vote would increase the cost of elections by doubling the number of voters. Some often unspoken “practical” arguments were concerns that women would act from maternal concern and vote for prohibiting alcohol consumption (which did happen with Prohibition) and vote for safer working conditions and limits on working hours.
While progressives and radicals (including some anarchists) were the people backing women’s suffrage, one argument in favor of it rests on the stereotype of women as maternal and purer than men: the argument was that women voters would clean up politics and government (which was, as noted above, some people worried about). There were also more liberal arguments based on natural rights (citizens have a moral right to have a say in the government) and, of course, the classic “no taxation without representation” argument. Despite the stereotype argument, the movement for women’s suffrage would best be cast as a leftist, progressive, and even radical movement opposed to traditional family values. It is true that the Republican party at the time did support women’s suffrage, but the Republican party of the past is fundamentally different from the Republican party of today (and likewise for the Democrats). So, what does this mean for today?
Given that women’s right to vote and right to hold office are progressive and even radical views, the fact that the American right (mostly) accepts women like Boebert, Greene, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Nikki Haley in positions of power suggests three possibilities.
The first is that the right is more progressive than it believes and is willing to quietly embrace some progressive values, such as allowing women to vote and hold office. This seems unlikely.
The second is the “Queen Victoria” approach: while these women think they should be in office, this is not a commitment to the general principle that women should have the right to hold office. While possible, there is not much evidence either way—although Boebert recently claimed that women are weaker vessels and because of their frailty need men.
The third is that while these were once progressive and radical ideas, they are now old enough and established enough to no longer be considered progressive or radical. If so, this indicates that traditional and conservative values can shift over time, albeit at a slower progression than the progressives. On this view, the distinction between progressives and conservatives would also include the factor of time: conservatives eventually embrace some progressive views but it just takes them longer. This seems plausible and if anyone were to suggest to Boebert and her fellows that they are embracing progressive views by holding office, they would presumably deny it and then probably tear into the “woke” and “progressives for wanting to do for others what the progressives once did for women. This gradual increase in inclusion relative to who gets excluded by the right suggests that in 100 years there might be a trans conservative in office raging (and voting) against rights for synthetic people. This is not intended to be against trans people; the point is that members of any excluded group are people and a person can be an exclusionary bigot even if they are a member of a group that is or was excluded and subject to bigotry. The American right demonstrates this every day. For example, not long ago Italian Americans were not considered white and were subject to discrimination and racism. But now Ron DeSantis, whose family immigrated fairly recently, is infamous for his anti-migrant policies and even his cruelty to migrants.
While I do not expect such people to experience a revelation about the inconsistency of their views and their fundamental immortality, this does nicely undercut the right’s professed world view. Far from holding fast to traditional values, the American right (slowly) shifts and progresses in terms of who is excluded and who is the target of bigotry. True, they do hold to the traditional values of exclusion and prejudice, but the tent really does get bigger. The right has already accepted, with some limitations, women, minorities, and homosexuals—groups they once violently excluded.
This does lead to an interesting question about what will happen if the tent keeps getting bigger. Will the right need to stop expanding the tent or will they eventually need to kick some people back out into the rain? Or could progress eventually put an end to exclusion when there is no one left to exclude? As I suggested above, this might be where technology can save the right for a while: once all humans are included, they can briefly exclude synthetic people. But eventually, there might be a right-wing AI member of congress raging against the people of Alpha Centauri and so on as long as they can find some outsider to exclude. So, the right had better get busy on backing AI and warp drive research.