Conservatism and the GOP

A reader writes:

Only one thing puzzles me about your blogging, which is why you continue to say that Bush, Cheney, Robertson, and vitually the rest of the Republican party are not the real conservatives. I mean, Edmund Burke's been out of the picture for quite some time, now. Your position is a bit like saying that the jihadists and their supporters in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the West Bank and so on aren't the real Moslems, despite their own statements of religious conviction. There's some disagreement over the core teachings of Islam, sure, but it's a bit polyannish and even disrespectful to say of tens of millions of people that they don't know what their own beliefs are.

In terms of American conservatism, I'm 40 years old and throughout my entire conscious life, self-labeled conservatives in the United States have been for regulation of the individual (anti-sodomy laws, anti-abortion laws, flag-burning legislation) and deregulation or (more accurately) empowerment of corporations. They've been for greater secrecy in government, too - more classified documents, notably. The liberals (or progressives or, simply, Democrats) have been for deregulation of individual behavior, coupled with greater controls on corporations and more transparency in government (e.g., declassification of documents under both Carter and, especially, Clinton).

It may be that the liberals are acting like conservatives, while the conservatives are acting like liberals, but accepting that takes a sort of through-the-looking-glass intellectual contortionism. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that, in the era in which you live, you are actually a moderate lefty?

Well, we can argue about these labels indefinitely. I don't think a moderate lefty favors a flat tax, means-testing Medicare and social security, or abolishing agricultural subsidies, for example. But it's a fair point that my own position is obviously no longer the mainstream Republican one. My book is an attempt to say: forget the labels. Here's an actual argument. I think it's conservative and has a proud conservative lineage. But maybe I'm wrong. The real point is whether you agree or disagree, not what label you put on it. Maybe my position is now more appropriately held these days within the Democrats, or, more plausibly, among Independents. Fine. I endorsed Kerry last time, as the lesser of two evils. But I don't want to lose a genuinely conservative tradition - or rather cede the term "conservative" to the religious right without a little struggle. That's the book, in a nutshell. Some of you moderate liberals and liberal conservatives may be surprised by how much you agree with it. And some evangelicals may be surprised by their own overlaps as well.