I've been meaning to type up a few thoughts about Monday's Robert Taft Club event (Don Devine and Bruce Bartlett on the topic, "Is Conservatism Dead?"). In the meantime, I'll direct readers to Dan Flynn's timely remarks about the panel. Be sure to read the comments section, too, for some well-informed thoughts on just when the right-wing brain stem stopped functioning.
A quick addition of my own: I asked the panel whether the right had not been mistaken to be more anti-left than anti-state, and whether the culture war had duped conservatives into supporting ever larger government so long as it affirmed the right nebulous values. Devine's answer was that early in his 1988 presidential bid, Pat Robertson campaigned as a straight-across-the-board conservative, not just on social issues but on questions of federalism, too. Indeed, at the time — with the exception of abortion — Robertson was willing to delegate all the social issues to the states.
Since then, he's become much more amenable to federal meddling. But in that, Devine suggested, he has followed the movement — when everyone agreed, at least theoretically, that small government and decentralization were essential to conservatism, even Pat Robertson held the line.
Now, is that actually true? Leaving Robertson aside, the conservative movement's commitment to reining in government has always been pretty feeble — great hay was made during the panel about Reagan's cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, rather as an alcoholic might boast about paying down his bar tab, not counting the booze — but even a feeble commitment was better than nothing. One needn't romanticize the conservatism (such as it was) of the '80s and earlier to see that what prevails now is worse. Much worse.