Now, 15 years later, what does it mean to be a conservative?
There is no pope who speaks ex cathedra. There is no bible to consult, like Goldwater's "The Conscience of a Conservative" or Reagan's "no-pale-pastels" platform of 1980. At San Diego in 1996, Bob Dole told his convention he had not bothered to read the platform. Many who heard him did not bother to vote for Bob Dole.
And so, today, the once-great house of conservatism is a Tower of Babel. We are big government and small government, traditionalist and libertarian, tax-cutter and budget hawk, free trader and economic nationalist.
Though Buchanan has a flair for pessimism, is such a conflict of ideas necessarily bad for conservatism (or any other political philosophy)? Political coalitions and political schools of thought seem to me usually to be having some internal debates, and, sometimes, at moments of heightened electoral change, these debates can widen into more heated divisions. (I also wonder if political "conservatism" was as unified or as certain in the past as Buchanan makes it out to be.)
Conflict between groups in a party can (though, perhaps, not necessarily) ultimately lead to a stronger party as a whole. It seems as though some significant choices are facing conservatism and the Republican party; because these choices are significant, it's likely that there will be some debate over them. But it also seems as though there are some significant choices for the Democratic party as well: Obama, Edwards, and Clinton all seem to have different approaches to executive power and the role of federal government intervention. This time of conflict can offer political opportunities to both parties--depending on what choices they make (to be totally bland).
UPDATE: And, of course, Buchanan has certain choices he would like the Republicans to make.