What “conservativism” means today is a knee-jerk, partisan, anti-intellectual, faux-populist blend of Armageddon Christianity, anti-government rhetoric, homophobia, and chauvinist militarism (with a concealed neo-Confederate element).
If you read James Fallows at the Atlantic, or Lewis Lapham and John MacArthur at Harper’s, you’ll find that they are strongly anti-populist and don’t really repeat the liberal pieties. Their fundamental ideas and their tone are conservative, but they all count as liberals, because of what American conservativism has become.
There’s really no contradiction here. “Liberal” and “conservative” are nominal opposites in American politics, but the opposite of “liberal” is “repressive”, and the opposite of “conservative” is “rash, radical, and adventurist”. The Republicans today are neither liberal nor conservative.
In the arguments over the long-term consequences of Bush’s ten-year tax plan, I’ve repeatedly heard conservatives argue that since economists cannot predict in any detail farther than a rather short time into the future (true), we should give no thought whatever to the long-term consequences of Bush’s long-term plan. Elsewhere the notorious “Al” has argued that one single little order of magnitude isn’t really very much. Complete idiocy.
I often wonder whether the idiot trolls who inhabit liberal blog comments are characteristic of the conservative movement. My belief is that they are. For them,arguing about politics is like arguing about football teams — fling all the shit you can come up with and hope that some sticks. It isn’t in their nature to listen or think.
Until I have reason to believe otherwise, I will remain convinced that the rational conservative Republican is an extinct or mythical beast. I expect the Tacituses and the Brookses and the Drezners ultimately to fall obediently in line behind Karl Rove, Tom Delay, Pat Robertson, and Grover Norquist.
(This post is adapted from a comment I made on Kevin Drum’s site. One reader there cited two excellent articles by Fallows in the Atlantic, one from the summer of last year and one in the forthcoming issue.)