The conservative movement was a response to generations of growing statism at home and abroad. From the Progressive era to the Great Society, government seemed to be expanding in tandem with the threat of communism. The conservative project was first and foremost an intellectual one because, as Hoover Institution fellow Thomas Sowell has written, it takes an ideology to beat an ideology.
The conservative infrastructure that arouses so much envy among liberals today was an afterthought. It was created because the far more valuable real estate - universities, foundations, newspapers and TV networks - were held by liberals. Conservatives used their institutions to have serious arguments about what conservatives should believe.
The netroots crowd seems determined to skip the serious argument part and settle on the idea that liberals should simply all believe the same thing, first and foremost on the Iraq war. As important as Iraq is, it's hardly a serious substitute for the intellectual catalyst of World War II and the Cold War. Netrooters may have a terrible shock in store for them when the war is over and their reason for existence is too.
If conservatism were nothing more than a noise machine, that would be a shame. (I don't buy it.) But even if the netrooters are right, what exactly has that noise machine bought? Not that much. Ronald Reagan won the presidency without benefit of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, and Newt Gingrich took back Congress two years before Fox News was launched. Folks like Limbaugh helped. But surely that had something to do with the substance of what Limbaugh had to say and not just his ability to say it. If having a radio show is all it takes, Al Franken would be a hugely successful radio host today. He isn't.
Meanwhile, the supposedly all-powerful Republican noise machine's greatest victory is allegedly the George W. Bush presidency - which he barely won the first time. And, recall, Bush had to campaign as a "compassionate" conservative to get as far as he did. If we're so good at PR, why did conservatism need the adjective?
Netrooters want it both ways. The GOP is evil and intellectually bankrupt because it doesn't care about anything but winning. But it would be the greatest thing in the world if Democrats could be just like Republicans!
That doesn't sound like a winning strategy to me.