It has become a trope, or "meme," that the dismal ending of the failed Bush presidency marks the demise of modern conservatism overall. Liberalism is revived and regnant, ready to lead where conservatism failed.
This "meme" should be nipped in the bud: conservatism was never tried. A version of liberalism was implemented, particularly a toxic combination of Wilsonian visions of remaking the world combined with a particular brand of laissez-faire economics that gave particular favor to Bigness. BOTH of these pursuits, perfectly combined during the Presidency of George W. Bush, but present in various iterations throughout the years of Republican rule, are purely distilled varieties of liberalism.
We called it "conservative" because it wasn't the more potent version of Statism. However, all the same, it relied upon basic liberal assumptions of self-interest, privatism, large and centralized government and growth economics that place a stress upon large scale, mobility, debt, and consumption.
Conservatism's name is now tarnished, perhaps as completely as liberalism's was in the years following Carter. Ironically, liberalism eventually adopted a more accurate name - "progressivism" - as a strategic response to the negative connotations of the word "liberal" (almost impossible, for a time, to say without a sneer).
So, I ask - is it time to retire for a time the label "conservative," good and true as it is? What could take its place - indeed, what might be just as accurate as its counterpart, "progressivism"? Are there any native labels that might be revived, or new ones that could have resonance? While Shakespeare could ask, "what's in a name," we know that in politics much lies in successful naming. Just ask the "Anti-federalists."
Christian Democrats? Conservative Christian Anarchists (Henry Adams's choice)? Communitarians? Populists? Democratic-Republicans (Jefferson's party)? Suggestions?
Or, should those who rightly consider themselves conservators of traditions that eschew many of the deepest presuppositions of liberalism - particularly various religious adherents - attempt to reclaim the label? In which case, what, exactly, are they conserving, if all the dominant varieties of American political expression are essentially versions of liberalism? It's a puzzler, that's for certain.