Modern American Conservatism IS a political philosophy. This cannot be mistaken.
In my heart, I want desperately to concur with LisaDe's interpretation of what Conservatism is at its most basic, first-principles, bedrock core: That we conservatives stand for the individual, and that oftentimes we become a tad frightened of the unknown (and unknowable) components of what resides in the hearts of these same individuals. And that this fear may hinder our broader electoral success.
I really am desirous of taking the full measure of what this embraces. Really, I am. But, I am a bit skeptical that this may (-may) flow a bit farther down the river of political expedience for my tastes. Yes, there are many flavors of modern Conservatives, as we've all taken note: Fiscal Conservatives, Social Conservatives, Paleo-Conservatives, Neo-Conservatives, and so on. There are also Transgendered Conservatives, Designated Hitter Conservatives, Long Bow (versus Compound) Conservatives, Scratch Golfer (versus 21-Handicap) conservatives...
And so the tribalism goes. I think it is wholly appropriate to point out, as LisaDe does rather dramatically, that this picayune sectionalism can only be a dead-end political strategy.
As many responses to LisaDe's post point out, there is a very important divide and distinction at play here, however: Conservative voters, and Conservative candidates. And, here I will add a third distinction, which to me is the absolute crux of the matter.
Conservative Office Holders.
These are the individuals, in the final tally, that matter most, and the ones that face the brunt of a culture that gets a kick out of testing established norms of behavior; never-ending, constant demands upon the public purse, and public scorn and derision for adherence to founding, traditional principles.
They are also the true heroes of our current-day political sinew and muscle.
As I say, once you enter office, Conservatism, at its root is a political philosophy, not an hysterical confetti of competing or overlapping lifestyle interests. Conservatism conserves. Which is why a certain amount of political distillation is crucial to us in those that hold public office. Conservatism not only conserves the fruits of individual labor (perhaps the most important role of a governing conservative), it also conserves the institutions and traditions that built the most profoundly radical and profoundly successful nation and culture that man has ever known. Hackles tend to raise when assaults (perceived or real) are suspected on the part of those seeking office under the banner of "conservative".
This matters most, in sum and in fine, when these candidates arrive at the chair of power. And I am not talking merely about the vaunted Congressional Representatives and Senators. I am talking mostly about the Board of Supervisors members, the City Councilmen, the School Board Members, the Road Commissioners, the Mayors, the Aldermen, the Legislators, the Sheriffs, the Probate Judges and so forth.
These are the Governing Conservatives that slog in the trenches, that tear into un-codified municipal codes page by page to eliminate ghastly, uneeded local ordinances--, most often alone, late at night, away from their families.
These are the school board members that go line-by-line in the latest teacher contract offer to find savings in the collective bargaining insurance agreements. They read the seventh-grade texts to find out if they comport with actual facts they want imparted to children. They sit in classrooms to evaluate a teacher who is under assault for having a "Merry Christmas" poster on the wall. And they do this, oftentimes, utterly alone, in the teeth of the scorn of well-funded micro-interest groups.
These are the county commissioners that verily dive into tax law to determine whether or not an Increment Financing Authority is actually making money for the citizens, or merely putting up nice street lights and billboards. These are city councilmen that ride the public transportation for days and weeks to find out if the subsidies they are granting to the bus lines are worth it.
These true un-sung, American conservative patriots do this -- even when their voices are drowned out by a tsunami-chorus of mini-statist that inhabit the same boards, vote on the same issues, and who don't do the homework, and, in the end, merely vote what feels and sounds good. And what gets them re-elected
But, governing Conservatives do the precisely because of the "conserving" philosophy underpinning modern American conservatism: A conservatism that, if it could, would climb in a time-machine, zoom forward in the American drama, and still recognize the greatness, the exceptional quality to this nation, and take a small measure of pride that they helped and nurtured it along.
I am not persuaded that these people would do this if they knew the final outcome was terribly in doubt. Among other things, Conservatism is an optimistic framework. It seeks the best in our civil institutions and our citizens, be they the most powerful or most humble. Sadly, "best" has a definition, too, and while this is an anathema to our anything-goes hyper-hedonist culture, it means that there is a level of personal attainment implicit in the responsibilities of self-government.
Of course, the libertarian end of Conservatism rightly points out that this cannot be forced. However, it simply cannot be denied that the broader culture plays a role and can certainly assist and provide succor for the ability of individuals to attain their best, (at least the most numerous times possible), and this is why the agenda of those that focus on the cultural aspects is so vital. And this can be evidenced in places like your own library board, where the conservative members are fighting the American Library Association for decent, family-friendly computer filters, or school board members that are fighting a presentation of "The Vagina Monologues" in the sixth-grade drama class.
Make no mistake: An open mind is critical to personal development, at least insofar as judgment and discernment are part of the recipe. I am not as sanguine that this applies to the development of a governing political philosophy.
Always remember: an open mind can let in the sunshine, but it can also lead to brain-leakage.