In his response to Freddie, Conor writes:
This is sloppy reasoning. It treats conservatism as though it is indistinguishable from the Republican Party and the Bush Administration — as though a political philosophy and an American political coalition are the same things — and it proceeds to make a rather stunning implicit assertion: that if one objects that conservatism isn’t responsible for some ill, one must necessarily believe that no one is responsible for it.
I am broadly sympathetic to this type of argument, but I’ve come to realize that it largely misses Freddie’s point, which I take to be a criticism not of any specific strain of conservatism but rather of the notion that modern movement conservatism is a salvageable governing philosophy. In other words, as I wrote this morning:
Individually, each of the various forms of conservatism can present a viable philosophy of governance such that no individual strain of conservatism can bear the brunt of the blame for conservatism’s failings. Collectively, however, the need to keep each strain within the tent leaves conservatism as a movement incapable of governing well on the national level based on the issues this country faces at this moment.
Regardless, Conor’s point above fails for a more basic reason insofar as it is specifically an attempt to defend Douthat against Freddie’s criticism: Douthat himself does not distinguish between the conservative movement and the GOP. Indeed, in his remarks at Princeton University yesterday, he spent several minutes explaining why he views the conservative movement and the GOP as “interchangeable” terms.
Again, it may be that no individual strain of conservatism can be viewed as consistent with the activities of the Bush Administration. But collectively, the amalgamation of all those strains of conservatism into one master ideology is what not only enabled those activities, it perhaps made them inevitable. For that, those interested in the notion of a conservative “movement” need to be prepared to accept responsibility if conservatism is to emerge from the wilderness as not merely an electable movement, but also a competent and coherent one capable of governing.