What a delightful piece of reporting from Pew Research:
Of those offering a word [to describe tonight's ascendant demigod], 37% describe Ryan in clearly positive terms, using such words as intelligent, good, energetic , honest and smart. Another 35% of the words used are clearly negative in tone, such as idiot, extreme, phony and scary. The remaining 28% of the descriptions were not clearly positive or negative, such as conservative, unknown and young.
I particularly enjoyed what most of us would probably regard as unnecessary clarification, that for example "idiot" is "clearly negative in tone." Thank you anyway, Pew.
What is clearly intriguing, though, is Pew's classification of "conservative" as "not clearly positive or negative." This presents an interpretive puzzle. Pseudoconservative Republicans who think they're "conservative" are actually extreme scary types who wouldn't know a real conservative from a Mugwump. And many liberals who despise what they call "conservatives" are in reality the apotheosis of real conservatism (liberals, as opposed to pushy progressives, tend to advocate gradual change). And the "real" conservatives who still call themselves conservative? There are, maybe, give or take one or two, about three of them left.
Hence "conservative" has evolved into a thoroughly confusing epithet which, though perhaps "not clearly positive or negative," is at least utterly meaningless. Ergo the word is perfect, I suppose, for the Romney campaign, which stands for whatever the hell you want it to.