While the title of this essay could mean that Boebert and Greene’s culture war against “the progressives” and “the woke” got them into congress, it is not what I mean. What I mean is that progressive feminists fought for the rights of women to vote and hold office and without them, Boebert and Greene would be unable to do either.

The right in the United States tends to be ahistorical or mythological in their approach to the past and hence rarely talk about how many conservatives of today accept progressive views that their predecessors savagely opposed. An excellent illustration of this is women’s rights. Women were granted the right to vote in 1920 by the ratification of the 19th Amendment. 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, even before women had the Constitutional right to vote.

As would be expected, the battle over women’s right to vote and hold office  followed the 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 day care centers for working mothers and was apparently did not find her own arguments against political involvement by women to be convincing.

The other argument, a stock argument for exclusion in general, is that women are defective  relative to men. It was (and sometimes still is) claimed that 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  women would be sullied by 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 and this would ibnclude minorities and those in the lower economic classes. 

There was also a “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) backed 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. As noted above, these alleged qualities of women were also used to argue against allowin women to vote.  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  is best categorized as a leftist, progressive, and even radical movement opposed to some traditional family values. It is true that the Republican party of 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). But, the Republicans  of today can claim that a party with the same name did fight for women’s rights.  But 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, but the idea of closet progressives ruling the party does make a narrative that would appeal to conspiracy theorists.

The second is the “Queen Victoria” approach: while these women think they should be in office (and have equal rights), this is not a commitment to the general principle that women should have the right to hold office (and have equal rights). 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. I am inclined to think that these conservative women who hold positions of power think that the same right should extend to other women, but I could be wrong about this.

 The third is that while these were once progressive and radical ideas, they are now old enough and established enough that most do not see them as progressive or radical. If so, this indicates that traditional and conservative values can shift over time, albeit at a slower progression than for the progressives. On this view, the distinction between progressives and conservatives must include the factor of time: conservatives eventually embrace some progressive views but it takes them longer. This seems plausible, since if anyone were to suggest to Boebert and her fellows that they are embracing progressive views by holding office, they would probably deny it and then 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 transgender conservative in office raging (and voting) against rights for (to use a sci-fi example) synthetic people. This is not intended to be against transgender 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 because of 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 relatively recently, is infamous for his anti-migrant policies and cruelty to migrants.

While I do not expect such people to experience a revelation about the inconsistency of their views this  undercuts 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. As noted above, the scope of “whiteness” has expanded, allowing for a much more inclusive form of white supremacy than in the past.

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 backing AI and warp drive research if they can’t keep enough people out of their tent.