If we can have ping pong and beach volleyball and horse ballet in this Olympics, why can't we have "intellectual conservatism" in the next? The category is no less oxymoronic than "horse ballet" (my favorite oxymoron remains that which I once saw on an Arkansas billboard, for "custom bulldozing"), its competitors are at least somewhat smarter, and their balletic gymnastics are infinitely more entertaining.
Naturally there'd be a slew of eager contestants: all the House Republicans, for sure, and a few GOP senators who could afford the two-week hiatus from fundraising; all the firebreathing bloggers, no doubt; and every right-winging or right-leaning newspaper columnist, except David Brooks, who, from a sociopsychological viewpoint, would declare the whole thing inhumanly absurd.
The most fascinating part of the competition, though, would come in the tryouts, which, unfortunately, would then preclude the rollout of any Olympic competition itself. Why? Because the qualifying judges would soon conclude that there are no "intellectual conservatives" left. Which is to say, those politicos who fancy themselves conservatives are in reality just reactionary extremists who wouldn't know authentic conservatism if it were Burking up the right tree in their front lawn; and authentic intellectuals who still fancy themselves conservatives are in reality just old-school liberals.
What prompted this (by now) tedious observation of mine was a Slate piece by William Saletan, who, as well as anyone, fits the label of "intellectual conservative." Although Saletan absolutely adores Paul Ryan (he seems to be under the impression that Ryan's "a real fiscal conservative"), he's "voting for Obama," since "The party of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the party of spite and bloviating and recklessness and extremism, isn’t for me." Fair enough. Then, however, came this:
But Ryan’s ideas are important for the future. As the recovery proceeds, we’ll move out of a context in which stimulus made sense, and toward a context in which reining in deficits and debt becomes more essential. We’ll need more attention to those traditional Republican principles.
That's Obama's position. That was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's position. For heaven's sake that's Paul Krugman's position. I know of not one liberal who's hellbent on big government and even bigger spending just for government and spending's sake--that's a pseudoconservative straw man--just as I know of not one liberal who believes these grim deficits are forever sustainable or that fiscal restraint is both proper and inevitable once a recovery is firmly in place.
Burkean conservatism hasn't philosophically transmuted. It did, and does, allow for incremental, progressive change through government action--which FDR pursued at the outermost conservative boundaries in the New Deal, as did Lyndon Johnson in the Great Society, while Barack Obama is charged with both pursuing and protecting progress.
So here we are. The only real conservatives still around are in fact old-school liberals, which would get them kicked out of the Olympic competition toot sweet, leaving only the bumbling nutjobs, whom respectable judges would tolerate about as long as Chinese badminton players.