I am currently reading John W. Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience. Let me reveal some of my own mistaken biases: since I'm old enough to have been aware and politically active in the Watergate era I thought, "Oh John Dean, that Blind Ambition guy who was in Nixon's White House; he's just an ex-politico, what can he know?" Well, I was wrong. John W. Dean is an excellent researcher and thinker and Conservatives Without Conscience covered a lot of the ground I've been writing about myself. This guy Dean is a very serious thinker. (Why he's just got to be smart if he's writing about what I'm writing about!) I highly recommend his books.
But let me here develop an idea that he only hints at in his book. He writes at length about how so-called conservatives themselves so very frequently argue that there is no way to define 'conservatism'; they go so far as to revel in this supposed fact and celebrate their right to contradict themselves. Of course it IS difficult to give a definition of a belief system like conservatism or liberalism, there is no question about that; but when you get so MANY so-called conservatives opining that they cannot define their own belief system (see Dean, 2006, pp. 2-10) you should really begin to think about this.
It is hugely convenient for so-called conservatives to take this position. If you trumpet the fact that you cannot define what you stand for and you make an asset out of being able to take contradictory positions--what are the consequences of this stance? It allows you to be unprincipled and opportunistic in your pursuit of a coalition of followers as well as in your pursuit of political power. And it is precisely this that has occurred since Buckley and his colleagues created modern American 'conservatism' in the post World War II era. I have commented upon this earlier calling it the "witch's brew" of pseudo-conservatives (if you wish to see these search in my blog under "witch's"). So-called conservatives have been given a huge pass here by allowing them to mix the most contradictory elements and yet get away with giving the whole mess a single label.
They are for "limited government" but they support the Reagan-Bush-Cheney theory of the unitary executive! (On this see Charlie Savage's Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy; Savage won a Pulitzer for his articles about signing statements and is a very thoughtful, careful fellow.) They revere the great American Constitution but support the dismantling of its checks and balances. They are defenders of "individual freedom" but will rush back to Washington to pass special legislation telling Terry Schiavo's relatives how to manage her feeding tube. They support a "culture of life" but, unlike the Catholic Church which also opposes abortion, they are big supporters of the death penalty. They are the champions of small government but never met a defense department or national security budget increase they didn't like. They support bringing "freedom and democracy" to the rest of the world, just not where it is inconvenient as in the case of the democratically elected Hamas government. They are most emphatically Christians but seem to have 'forgotten' Christ's teachings about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and sheltering those without shelter. They revere the Ten Commandments including the sixth, "Thou Shalt not Kill", except when it comes to Pat Robertson calling for "taking out" Hugo Chavez. They are absolutely against government interference in the economy except when it comes to passing legislation which weakens labor unions.
They are indeed a mass of blatant contradictions which truly reduces itself to an unprincipled, opportunistic grasping for popular and political power. And their strategy has been remarkably successful in America, especially since Reagan.