Over the past eighteen months, I and others (e.g., Sam Tanenhaus) have written that conservatism is dead. I’ve been asked a few times whether I still believe it. Intellectually, absolutely: the August tea parties, the extremist language on the Capitol steps, the Palin self-promotional orgy, even the lockstep voting habits of congressional Republicans, are all symptoms of a debased movement composed of celebrity and bile. But in the past ten months I’ve remembered how powerful a thing it is for conservatives to have a target. Post-Reagan conservatism, with its overwhelming negativity, is back to doing what it does best—without even pretending to have a viable governing agenda. I imagined that in the aftermath of their historic defeat, Republicans would spend months, if not years, engaged in a serious internal debate between reformists and purists. Instead, the party has become more monolithic and shrill than ever. And in our constitutional system, a brain-dead minority party that spouts simple-minded slogans on TV and votes in rigid unison can be a serious obstacle to achieving anything.
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