Conservative columnists, in acrobatic service to The Cause, until recently extolled the budget-centric virtues of the Tea Party. Ah, now we're getting back to the real, old-time religion of conservatism, the right's intelligentsia insisted: smaller government, less taxes, the quasi-doctrine that's once again fit to print by unflinching Burkeans. No more of that far-right, Word-thumping, Christian-evangelicalism crap, which was a distracting, 30-year embarrassment. Sure, Tea Partiers are an embarrassment in their own freakish ways, but at least they intensely care only about government debits and credits.
So goodbye metaphysics, hello facts, figures, reason and empiricism. Conservatism could once again engage the left on rational ground.
Yet suddenly there cascaded some distressing sociopolitical research, crowned by Notre Dame's David Campbell and Harvard's Robert Putnam. Those far-right, budget-centric Tea Partiers, so many of whom claimed to be new to politics only because of excessively wet, excessively red ink? Well, not really. In fact, most were -- are -- just far-right Republican partisans, still thumping the bejesus out of the evangelicalism crap.
Conservative columnists were, in an instant, deprived of their new and gloriously secular allies -- and retethered to the old embarrassments.
What to do? Whistle a bit and act as though nothing has changed. Those conservative columnists, you see, always understood who the Tea Partiers were, hence there's no need to vigorously, publicly sweep their crazy uncles under the carpet. Instead -- go superior: instruct in the most patronizing way those godless, excitable secularists of the left who just don't "get it"; in effect, reframe the debate by condescending to the genuine constitutionalists who merely insist on manning the creaking barricades of church-state separation.
In short, conservative columnists -- those, anyway, who know better -- are recommitting the same, expedient intellectual sins for which they kicked themselves for decades. Circa the dawn of the Reagan era, traditional conservative thinkers of the decidedly temporal bent nervously embraced the rise of the New Right's religionists. In conservatism's electoral reemergence, any allies were welcome. They soon regretted it; for soon they were debating not the virtues of smaller government, but what God thinks about abortion, gays, and some witless 10-year-old's deprivation of solemn prayer before long division.
Some conservatives remain resistant to the bewitching siren of Tea Partyism -- a nasty, far-right strain of ignorant quackery and profound religious bigotry -- most notably, I suppose, Brooks and Sullivan. Most others are again selling out, though, to what they once privately mourned.