I was going to write a lengthy comment about Mark Lilla's lamentation over the demise of an intellectually vibrant conservative tradition in America, but Ivan "the K" Keneally has done so at "Culture 11" with insight, verve and wit, leaving me with little more that needs to be said. I commend his critique to your attention.
However, I do think there is one aspect of Lilla's argument that deserves further consideration and emphasis, namely his knee-jerk condemnation - even incomprehension - of conservatives who "mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders." The rejection of the wisdom of such highly credentialed experts - and the apparent respect accorded to views of "ordinary Joes" - is unfathomable to Lilla. The self-evident absurdity of such views does not deserve further explanation or commentary on his part.
Surrounded as he is by the denizens of Columbia U., NY, NY, the possibility that the views of Nobel Prize winning economists may be subject to debate and even be specious, while the economic concerns of ordinary folk who produce his food, who build and repair the buildings and bridges and streets that he takes for granted, who patrol the streets and stand ready to put out fires - indeed who repair his toilet - might be relevant, is out of the realm of consideration. Yet it is precisely this massive blind spot that portends the rapid demise of this moment of an apparent liberal triumph. Should we witness the ascent of such elite liberals during the coming years of an Obama presidency, we will quickly see a most stunning comeback of a vibrant and powerful conservative intellectual counterthrust. If Obama is smart, he will stay away, far away, from people like Lilla - although it seems that he has a propensity to surround himself with just these sorts of cocooned intellectuals who drip condescension toward the views of the uncredentialed.
It was our Nobel prize winning economists who argued aggressively on behalf of NAFTA, and were unwilling to seriously consider that one of its effects - intended as it turned out - was to displace thousands upon thousands of small Mexican farmers who had little choice but to seek illegal employment in the United States. Since they would be producing more and better products, the problem of inciting illegal immigration was irrelevant. It was our Nobel prize winning economists who extolled the virtues of outsourcing and globalization, wholly uncognizant of the impact and effect on the "ordinary Joes" and its effects of family, community, and civil society. It is our Nobel prize winning economists who actually argue that global warming - if it does indeed come to pass - will not adversely impact the worldwide GDP other than having an adverse effect on agricultural production. Such declines in agricultural output, they argue, will be nugatory since other industries and economic activities will be needed and will compensate any overall GDP loss in the agricultural realm. The fact that this decline will manifest itself as hunger and starvation doesn't really show up in the models, it seems (though, I'm willing to bet that a plumber or a builder would understand the implications pretty quickly). Don't believe me? Read this lecture by Herman Daly (particularly pp. 13-14), a bonafide economist, who names names, including a Nobel prize winning economist.
The utter presumptuousness and blindness of a view that the expertise of Nobel prize winning economists is unassailable, and the concerns and priorities of everyday ordinary citizens is irrelevant, remains one of the major obstacles to the actual revival of liberalism in this country. An intellectually vibrant conservatism - rightly understood - is actually on the rise, in fact energized by the demise of a long-compromised shotgun wedding with a liberal Republican party. Liberalism - wrongly conceived - remains mired in a self-imposed rut of self-satisfaction and ignorance. If Lilla got out of New York on occasion - say, perhaps, a visit to a certain farm in Kentucky - he might get an education.