Sullivan not surprisingly rejects Frum's endorsement of Romney's cynicism, only to endorse, in turn, a kind of meaninglessness:
I too want a more vibrant and sane conservatism that can indeed reform Obamacare, scour government for waste, tackle Medicare's costs, radically reform taxes, and focus on inequality as a scourge of democracy. But that conservatism no longer exists in the GOP. And, in my view, only a thorough thumping of the extremists at the polls can bring it back.
The passage exposes a central difficulty in contemporary philosophical conservatism. Of course ObamaCare will require reform; even its "liberal" friends concede that--in fact, they encourage it. And who, left or right, wishes not to scour government for waste? Tackling Medicare's costs? Count me in--count us all in. Finally, the tax code is universally regarded as a wretched joke; and as for democratic scourges--with wealth inequality leading the pack--defenders are really, really hard to find.
Yet Sullivan plucks these desiderata as a kind of Great Targets of Conservative Values. Why conservative? Why call them conservative when liberals and progressives and centrists are all on board? Why not call them liberal? Or progressive? Or centrist?
My point being, just what does authentic "conservatism" mean these days? Before old-school liberals (and now, even many progressives) chose out of bombarded necessity the defense of the Established Faith--i.e., New Dealism--as their principal political occupation, one could reasonably define conservatism for what it was philosophically meant to be: an advocate of traditionalism and slow, incremental change. Now, though, that's the job of liberals--liberals have supplanted conservatives in philosophical conservatism's function; or, if you prefer, liberals are today's authentic conservatives--but they're called liberals.
So where does that leave those who still call themselves conservatives, such as Sullivan? Utterly adrift. For real conservatism has been utterly subsumed by contemporary liberalism.