[A]s I studied political philosophy more deeply, the core argument for conservatism was indeed that it was truer to humankind's crooked timber; that it was more closely tethered to earth rather than heaven; that it accepted the nature of fallen man and did not try to correct it, but to mitigate our worst instincts and encourage the best, with as light a touch as possible. Religion was for bishops, not presidents. Utopias were for liberals; progress was not inevitable; history did not lead in one obvious direction; we are all limited by epistemological failure and cultural bias.Howver, on taxes and healthcare, he writes, "What have we learned" about what we have done in the past or are doing now? "A conservative would look at home and abroad for empirical answers, acknowledging no ultimate solution but the need for constant reform because society is always changing."
My emphasis. The need for constant reform sounds an awful lot like making progress. As in, let's keep tweaking the system until it conforms to the way we are today, while acknowledging that there will need to be further reforms later. This sounds like classic liberalism to me. Liberals are the ones who try to make the system better and more reflective of the way society currently works. On the other hand, liberals can also be the ones who shun change because of what was put into place long ago (e.g., welfare, which a liberal reformed more than 15 years ago; or Social Security, which is in desperate need of reform). Today's modern-day conservatives could conceivably depict themselves as reformers, as they are trying mightily to repeal ACA, privatize Social Security, destroy Medicare, based on what they perceive as the way society now works. But make no mistake: today's conservatives are not social reformers, they are right-wing ideologues who have inexplicably conflated visions of theocracy with elements of Randian objectivism that would leave each person to his or her own devices to survive in this country. They are cynics, nihilists, corporatists, Christianists, and the ultimate snake-oil salesmen.
As this country has drifted to the right since the Great Society days of the mid-1960s, what was originally conservative is now considered liberal, what was liberal is now considered Marxist, and what was fascism is now considered acceptably conservative.
Sullivan lists those conservative thinkers who have been branded with the Scarlet L:
Well, I guess that makes me a conservative.
[Ross] Douthat, [David] Brooks, [Fareed] Zakaria, [Andrew] Bacevich, [Bruce] Bartlett, [David] Frum, [Jim] Manzi, [Reihan] Salam ... are still thinking. It's just that many of them are now deemed - absurdly - to be liberals. And none will have or does have any real impact on the base of the party.
Why? Because these thinkers are prepared to believe that the conservatism of the 1980s might have run its course, that new times might require new ideas, that we have been wrong in some areas, while right in others, that it is not a crime to reverse course when events encourage it, that we have to live in the world as it is, rather than as we would like it to be, that we can learn from mistakes and base policy on shifting reality.