My daughter learned a neat rhetorical trick to avoid eating things she doesn't like. "Daddy, I actually really like spinach, it's just that this spinach tastes different."
Democrats and the journalists who love them play a similar game with Republicans and conservatives. "Oh, I have lots of respect for conservatives," goes the typical line, "but the conservatives we're being served today are just so different. Why can't we have Republicans and conservatives like we used to?"
Q: What kind of Republicans are extremists, racists, ideologues, pyschopaths, radicals, weirdos, hicks, idiots, elitists, prudes, potato chip double-dippers and meanies?
A: Today's Republicans.
"The Republican Party got into its time machine and took a giant leap back into the '50s. The party left moderation and tolerance of dissent behind." So reported the Washington Post's Judy Mann -- in July of 1980.
Today, of course, the 1950s is the belle epoch of reasonable conservatism. Just ask New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, or for that matter, President Barack Obama, who insists that the GOP is in the throes of a "fever" and is displaying signs of "madness." It's his humble wish that the GOP regains its senses and returns to being the party of Eisenhower again.
Today's intellectual conservatives, likewise, are held against the standard of yesterday's and found wanting. New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus wrote a book on "The Death of Conservatism" a few years ago (inconveniently, right before conservatism was dramatically revivified by the Tea Party, which helped the GOP win historic victories in the 2010 elections) in which he pined for the conservative intellectuals of the 1950s and 1960s.
Of course, the Tanenhauses of their day were horrified by the very same conservative intellectuals. Within a year of William F. Buckley's founding of National Review in 1955, liberal intellectuals insisted that the magazine's biggest failure was its inability to be authentically conservative. The editor of Harper's proclaimed the founding editors of NR to be "the very opposite of conservatives." Liberal titan Dwight Macdonald lamented that the "pseudo-conservative" National Review was nowhere near as wonderful the old Freeman magazine.
Again and again, the line is the same: I like conservatives, just not these conservatives.