THE GREAT CONSERVATIVE CRACKUP?….In the current issue of the Monthly Jacob Heilbrunn reviews The Making of the American Conservative Mind, a chronicle of the impact of National Review on the evolution of conservative thought over the past 50 years. The author is Jeffrey Hart, a longtime contributor to NR, and like many other conservatives these days, he’s not a happy camper:

Hart is clearly uneasy about the rise of the younger generation, which, under the editorship of Richard Lowry, has been generally enthusiastic about the Bush administration. “Perhaps surprisingly, none of these now prominent figures at the magazine had been known for books or even important articles on politics or political thought,” he sniffs. “Where they stood on the spectrum of conservative thought ? traditionalist, individualist, libertarian, skeptical, Straussian, Burkean, Voegelinian ? was completely unknown.”

More generally, Hart is unhappy about the modern conservative movement’s embrace of ? and reliance on ? both the Christian Right and the culture war vulgarians represented by right-wing talk radio. But I think Heilbrunn is right when he says:

In reality, though, conservatism hasn’t really changed all that much. The Christian right has certainly infused it with moralism and anti-Darwin mumbo-jumbo, but what’s more striking about the GOP over the past 100 years or so is its continuity. The party’s main, almost sole, purpose has been to ensure that as much money as possible goes to those who need it least and that as little as possible goes to those who need it most. In a party of moneybags, Theodore Roosevelt was the exception, not the rule. Whether Bush manages to extricate the United States from Iraq or not, his avalanche of tax cuts has already justified the main reason that Republican pooh-bahs selected him to become their candidate for president.

Still, Hart and his compatriots are right to be worried about their creation. For now, the millionaires are still in charge, cynically using the evangelicals as shock troops while giving them little in the way of concrete rewards. But how long will it be before the monkey on their back becomes an 800-pount gorilla?

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