Rod Dreher poses the question, by way of commenting on a NYT article on conservative reconsiderations and Andrew Stuttaford's dismissal of the hypothetical benefits of a stint in the political wilderness:
Do you find it more depressing to think that we might be in the political wilderness post-November, or that we might not be? Explain your reasoning.
I must offer my apologies in advance of my response, inasmuch as I am unwell, and exceptionally enervated, and thus exceedingly irascible, but what I find most depressing, above all else politically, is that only the prospect of the Republican party being thrown out of power is sufficient to prompt some conservatives to contemplate the political state of being-in-the-world that is exile. I don't intend this as criticism of Dreher; far from it - I've defended Dreher's approach to conservatism since the publication of his book. No, my complaint is that mainstream conservatives have so closely identified conservatism with the electoral fortunes of the GOP, that only the possibility of an electoral apocalypse can stimulate the thought that conservatism might not be represented in the corridors of power. The Republican party has strangled the small-government policy program in its crib, replacing it with a tawdry emphasis upon a select blend of upper-bracket tax reductions, coupling this program with a world-historical deficit-spending bender; identified economic conservatism with a regressive and debilitating package of corporatist and neoliberal economic policies that threaten to render trade imbalances and deficits permanent and structural; papered over the instabilities with a profligate monetary policy, which itself reinforced the other insalubrious trends; established as a principle of American governance that any profits accruing to financiers in consequence of these policies would be valorized as the triumph of the American way, while any losses would be socialized, so that avarice need never receive its recompense; embarked upon a foreign policy that even Woodrow Wilson might find audacious and hubristic, in the process ordaining unjust war and torture as central precepts in the right-wing catechism; sought to legitimize an unprecedented demographic and economic experiment upon the American body politic, all at the behest of the narrow coterie of corporate interests who cut the campaign finance checks; cynically deployed "social issues" as instruments of voter mobilization, then snickered behind the backs of the salt-of-the-earth folks who voted for them on the basis of those issues (revealing that they really do think as they were portrayed by Thomas Frank), dropping those initiatives in favour of grand schemes of policy reform that hadn't a snowball's chance of seeing enactment; formed ranks behind a President poised to violate campaign pledges regarding judicial nominations, when he wished to nominate his incompetent cronies and lickspittles to the Supreme Court - need I continue? Has the culture become one infinitesimal measure less mephitic, to lay aside nakedly political considerations?
In truth, conservatism has been in exile throughout the Bush administration, and, I would argue, for many years preceding the inauguration of this unfortunate presidency. Conservatism will be in a barren and waste place in the event of a McCain triumph, because it is already in that place. More's the pity that so few comprehend this, imagining that either a McCain victory, or a bit of tinkering at the margins of policy, might deliver conservatives, and conservatism, from its season in the abyss.