Albert Camus, who was an atheist, asked many years ago "what the world requires of Christians." Noting that, among other things, the Catholic Church turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the Holocaust despite Christ's command that his followers should help those in need, Camus answered simply that "what the world requires of Christians is that they should continue to be Christians."
And so it goes with our current troubles. As a liberal, all I expect of conservatives in America is the same: that they be conservative. I expect that they be fiscally responsible; I expect that they demand a society where hard work finds reward; I expect that they mistrust federal intrusion into private life; I expect that they defend traditional cultural values; I expect that they defend the right of the smallest possible community to make the decisions that impact that community; I expect that they denounce hifalutin social-engineering solutions that make social problems worse; and I expect that they apply consistent and rigorous standards in ethics, commerce, and education.
I expect nothing of conservatives that they don't supposedly already expect of themselves. But how do today's "conservatives" measure up?
They are not fiscally responsible, for when they're not mystifying the growing budget deficit and the national debt, they're making excuses for it. And now they seek "fiscal responsibility" only by cutting the mostly small programs that actually help Americans, not by cutting the real fat in the budget or by demanding that the rich and powerful pay taxes according to their need and ability.
They do not care about "hard work," or they would not worship the casino the American economy has become, an economy whose manufacturing base has been destroyed over the last 25 years, an economy which only rewards CEOs who slash their payrolls, an economy with a stock market that operates almost entirely on hearsay, an economy which does not create skilled jobs for its educated college graduates but rather outsources those jobs to foreign workers whom American corporations are free to treat worse.
They do not hold that privacy must be protected, for they either tolerate or openly cheerlead for expanded federal surveillance of the citizenry, and many of them deny that a right to privacy even exists in the Constitution.
They do not stand for traditional values like "tell the truth" and "do unto others"; they stand for reactionary values like "hate all gays" and "let no woman have access to birth control." And do they refuse to support the megacorporations that actually make our culture more coarse and decadent? No, they blame people who drink lattes and wear Birkenstocks, because the blame game is easier than controlling your own urge to consume.
Today's conservatives care little for the right of small communities to make decisions -- indeed, historically the conservative "commitment" to states' rights mostly begins and ends with oppressing black folk. Today's conservatives are happy to let large corporations become even larger, so they can wipe out the small businesses that are actually responsive to a community's needs.
Today's conservatives don't warn us that some solutions are worse than the problem; they are themselves the progenitors of hifalutin social engineering solutions like "opportunity zones," whereby large corporations get tax breaks so they can help "rebuild" communities by hiring more janitors and waiters and keeping most of the profits for themselves.
And how do today's conservatives apply "consistent and rigorous standards"? By howling about the corruption of Bill Clinton and Jim Wright while excusing that of Lewis Libby and Tom DeLay; by cheerleading for Chris Cox as new SEC Chair because he'll let corrupt CEOs police themselves; by calling me a bigot for opposing the teaching of intelligent design in science classes and by supporting the huge unfunded mandates in No Child Left Behind.
I don't need to add, of course, that today's "conservatives" do all of the above not by reasonably advancing well-constructed arguments, but by yelling and screaming and questioning my patriotism and suggesting that my "weakness" will probably be the direct cause of more Arabs causing more planes to hit more American buildings.
Real conservatives would make societies stronger -- if they'd actually be conservative, not just corrupt and opportunistic bigots.
UPDATE. Thanks to stc, three corrections have been made to the above: "intrusion" is now correctly-spelled in paragraph two; "whom" has replaced "what" near the end of paragraph five; and "commitment" is shorn one "t" in paragraph eight. I'm not nearly as sharp an editor as I used to be, so feel free to pass along any corrections that need to be made.