This discussion re-surfaces like a dead carp every so often in the blogosphere.
Glenn got the ball rolling by denying he was a conservative:
Not being a conservative myself, I don’t have a dog in this hunt, exactly. But remind me again, who was the conservative who had a decent shot at the Republican nomination in 2000? John McCain?
And if the Republicans had nominated a true-blue conservative, rather than a “compassionate conservative,” in 2000 would he have won?
As a libertarian myself, I’d love to see the nation run under small-government principles (which is part of what people are talking about here), but I also recognize that there’s no very substantial base of electoral support for that. (And the Libertarian Party hasn’t done anything to improve things; quite the contrary, it’s probably a net negative.)
Then Dan Morgan of NoSpeedBumps.com got things percolating along nicely with a post in which he concluded decisively that Glenn was, indeed, a conservative. James Joyner correctly noted that Dan’s definition of conservative was counter-intuitive: it includes lots of people whom few would consider conservative and excludes some whom most consider conservative. Joyner also correctly notes that very few are ideologically pure enough (or care enough) to fall into handy classifications but that a two-axis system e.g. Left-Right/Authoritarian-Libertarian as is used by the Political Compass does a better job.
Steve Green, the VodkaPundit, then weighed in with thoughts of his own and classified political thought in the United States into some 20 categories.
It is actually much, much simpler than that. There are really only three categories of political thought in the United States: status quo-ists, revolutionaries, and pragmatists.
Most Americans are status quo-ists. Ever wondered why voter turnout is so small in the United States? Because an enormous number of people like things pretty much they way they are (and why not?) and don’t believe that they’ll change much regardless of the outcome of the election. In all probability you and everybody you know is a status quo-ist. You really like things just as they are. Or as you imagine them to be.
The differences among status quo-ists are mostly in what they imagine the status quo to be. Status quo-ists who believe that the United States has unparalleled personal freedoms and a free market generally refer to themselves as libertarians or maybe even anarcho-capitalists. They’ll vigorously defend the abridgements of freedom and government interference with the market as necessary for one reason or another but the reality is they like the parts of our system that favor them (or that they believe may favor them someday) and don’t much care if those things actually support personal liberties or free markets.
Another group of status quo-ists looks at the vast arrangement of regulations, subsidies, institutions, and wise technocrats overseeing the whole shebang and sees that it is good. They’ll fight tooth-and-nail to keep from seeing a smidgeon of it change. It doesn’t matter a bit whether it’s necessary or effective. It’s the status quo.
Remember the argument last year over Social Security reform? That battle wasn’t between left and right or libertarians and socialists or any such. It was between different groups of status quo-ists. One group wants to preserve the current system of subsidies to the elderly. The other wants to preserve the current system of taxation. Neither is arguing for revolutionary change (or, in fact, change at all). They merely differ in what part of the status quo they’re looking at.
There’s also a small group of genuine revolutionaries in the country. They really hate something (or maybe everything) about the United States and are willing to do something about it. The number of these is quite small—probably less than 2%—and they belong to both parties and have ideas all over the map. But whether right or left revolutionaries, libertarian or authoritarian revolutionaries, they have more in common with each other than they do with the majority status quo-ists. The revolutionaries live in shacks in the woods or communes and organize militias and pound nails into trees.
Finally, there are the pragmatists. Pragmatists care more about governance than about ideology. They’re more concerned about what can actually be achieved than about whether it’s a perfect solution. Pragmatists tend to call themselves centrists or moderates (because pragmatism has been given a bad name). And they haven’t had a great deal of influence in either political party lately.