Editorial: What’s in a word?

“For somebody who calls himself a conservative, he’s awfully eager to impose himself in people’s private lives.” That’s a quote about gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli from Russ Potts, recently retired, longtime Republican state senator from Winchester.

Rappahannock’s delegate in Richmond, Michael Webert, is also a supposed conservative, yet he, too, has a voting record that attempts to abrogate personal responsibility and impose the public will on private bodies (e.g. the trans-vaginal ultrasound).

“Conservative?” Really? Try “radical!”

And Rappahannock’s congressman, Robert Hurt, another so-called conservative, is unrepentant about his vote against both opening the government and allowing the country to pay its bills — reminding me of that infamous quote from the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the place in order to save it.”

Whatever happened to established institutions and customs, not to mention stability, predictability and certainty? Aren’t those the kind of guiding principles traditionally associated with conservatism?

“Traditional” itself — as a qualifying adjective of values and views — also used to be shorthand for “conservative,” not only in substance but also in style. Conservative people were understated, didn’t yell as if on talk radio and were never strident or in-your-face in seeking to communicate the wisdom of their opinions.

Traditionalists were, in short, once synonymous with — in what now seems a faraway land — Virginia gentlemen. Think Republican Sen. John Warner. He never sought to enforce his views, no matter how right or righteous, on others.

When words lose their meaning, and extremism becomes the new normal, as William Butler Yeats wrote during the First World War,

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . .
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Walter Nicklin

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