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The extremists' agenda 

A reporter for Stephens Media took note the other day of the failure of several pieces of legislation sponsored by "social conservatives."

The reporter unwittingly fell victim to propaganda that the Republican Party base has worked hard to sell. The theme: Conservatives have a rigid set of identical beliefs — embodied in the Republican platform. Deviance from the entirety of that agenda spells political doom for any who fail to obey a single commandment.

The result: Stepford GOP candidates. The exceptions — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — aren't long for the Republican political world, not when the Tea Party in Utah is harrumphing about Orrin Hatch's liberal tendencies.

Real-world conservatives are far more diverse than this orthodoxy suggests. Happily, Arkansas Democrats haven't been wholly spooked, even with the November election massacre. They participated in defeat of several elements of what the reporter described as the "social conservatives' " agenda. It is not because they are liberal, or that the state of Arkansas is Taxachusetts. It is because there are degrees of conservatism and what the reporter described as social conservatism actually is extremist conservatism that hasn't yet wholly taken over all Arkansas and U.S. voters.

Solidly centrist and popular Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe was a key player in defeat of some of the extremist proposals. For example:

• The Family Council's anti-lottery push is going nowhere. Many self-described conservatives voted for the lottery, unless you believe 60 percent-plus of the electorate is liberal.

• Republican extremists tried to nullify federal health care reform legislation. Many conservatives understand federal supremacy. Some conservatives — and the best sorts of Christians — support using the power of the federal government to insure health coverage for poor people. The legislature, led by Gov. Beebe, wouldn't back an extremist's bill to cripple the required insurance coverage in federal health legislation.

• Republican extremists want to prevent women who've been raped or impregnated by a relative from using private insurance to pay for abortions — even for a 24-hour pill to expel a microscopic fertilized egg hours after sex. Polling has consistently shown that a majority favor retention of a legal right to abortion, particularly in cases of rape and incest. It's only extremists, not mainstream conservatives, who want to punish rape victims. Gov. Beebe favored such protection, and it was provided by a legislative amendment that outraged the extremists last week.

• Legislation to facilitate open carry of firearms seems headed for trouble. Gun instructors, police, Gov. Beebe again and many other conservatives think Arkansas is sufficiently friendly to guns without encouraging Gunsmoke-style pistol packing.

I wish I could claim liberal dominance for these outcomes, but it wouldn't be true. The defeat of this extremist (not simply conservative) agenda can be credited to a blend of liberals, middle-of-the-roaders and conservatives.

I look forward to the debate on the Family Council's silliest proposal, a bill to "reaffirm" First Amendment religion protections. As the Family Council well knows, the Arkansas legislature has historically been an enemy of religious freedom, with support for everything from creation science to mandated prayer exercises.

What the Family Council wants is the assurance that they can impose their religion and bigotry on the rest of us.

To call this an affirmation of the First Amendment is an insult to real conservatives.

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