Eurocommunism is gone and party conservatives now openly question the utility of even limited government rhetoric in 21st-century America. The Bush presidency has made a mockery of the idea of a “conservative” movement. Do I belong to the same “movement” as those calling for a big-government conservatism? Should Pat Buchanan, who opposes the democratizing project, fall under the same label as David Frum, who names numerous countries besides Iraq that he thinks the U.S. should invade? What values do televangelist Pat Robertson and radio lesbian Tammy Bruce share? Yet, this same word, “conservative,” is applied to all of the above.
Conservatism the label became more popular than conservatism the outlook. Thus, people who mistake Russell Kirk for the captain of the Starship Enterprise jumped on the bandwagon, hijacked the driver’s seat, and sent it off course. The more that people called themselves “conservative,” the less “conservative” resembled conservatism. Fairly recently–perhaps when conservatives mistook Clinton bashing for a positive articulation of their ideas, perhaps when movement leaders conflated the Republican Party with the conservative movement during George W. Bush’s presidency–the conservative movement ceased being a vehicle advancing conservatism and started being an impediment to it.
But that is not to say that conservativism is dead:
The new challenge of conservatism is to conserve itself. A prejudice for tradition, the protection of private property, skepticism of schemes and ideologies, respect for the rule of law and contempt for the rule of caprice, deference to the authority of God–these are timeless principles. The conservative movement is dead. But conservatism lives. It is the former’s passing that gives hope for the latter’s future.
Fred Thompson agrees with this latter point, as he writes in the Wall Street Journal:
It’s not that conservatives today no longer believe in the validity of these principles. They just find it difficult to stand strong when the political winds are blowing so hard against them. To be sure, standing by conservative principles does not always guarantee success at the ballot box – it did for Ronald Reagan, but not for Barry Goldwater. But abandoning these principles doesn’t ensure victory either.