Did Anything Really "Happen" To Conservatism?

David Klinghoffer wants to know what happened to conservatism:

Buckley's National Review, where I was the literary editor through the 1990s, remains as vital and interesting as ever. But more characteristic of conservative leadership are figures on TV, radio and the Internet who make their money by stirring fears and resentments. With its descent to baiting blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, its accommodation of conspiracy theories and an increasing nastiness and vulgarity, the conservative movement has undergone a shift toward demagoguery and hucksterism. Once the talk was of "neocons" versus "paleocons." Now we observe the rule of the crazy-cons.

So I'm with Oliver Willis in thinking that the journey from William F. Buckley's declaration that "The South Must Prevail" to "baiting blacks, Mexicans and Muslims" -- not to mention the one between Ronald Reagan warning Medicare would lead to the end of freedom and Sarah Palin decrying "death panels" -- looks more like a straight line than a "descent." The most dramatic change in conservatism, in my view, has been in the realm of foreign policy, where the entire realist wing of the GOP has been either purged or marginalized, making the kind of nuclear nonproliferation treaties once signed by Republican presidents the stuff of flower-tossing hippies.

There are certainly still interesting writers at National Review, but it's hard to see a bright line between NR and "the crazy-cons" when Andy McCarthy is flirting with birtherism and the idea that the president is doing the bidding of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mark Krikorian is busy crusading against the menace of Latino-owned pizzerias, and Hans von Spakovsky is falsely accusing the Justice Department of being racist against whites. There isn't really any bright line between NR and the "crazy-cons," and I'm not sure "crazy-cons" represent an unprecedented departure from the past in substance as much as in form.

Klinghoffer writes that "conservatism wasn't just a policy agenda, a set of partisan gripes or a football team seeking victory on the electoral field," but his hero Irving Kristol would disagree with him -- he saw his job as trying to "create a new majority, which evidently would mean a conservative majority, which came to mean, in turn, a Republican majority." All political movements have their demagogues and their intellectuals, I suppose, but the current state of conservatism as Klinghoffer sees it seems like the direct result of how the "urbane visionaries and builders of institutions" went about the task of assembling a winning political coalition.

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