In a broader context, an easy way to remember the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives is found in the words themselves. Historically, liberals have been for the advancement of liberty and the empowerment it brings. From Jesus to Muhammad and on through Wollstonecroft, Byron, Shelly, and into the twentieth century with Goldman, the idea has had to do with liberty and liberation.
Conservatives, on the other hand, wish to conserve. Specifically, they wish to conserve that precious resource known as authority. The rhetoric of conservatism is the same for toppled kings and queens as it is for senators in a decaying republic. I mean, think about it for a moment: when the Democrats were the conservatives, they were for slavery. Party names, affiliations, and outlooks change, but the fundamental principles against which they are measured remain more firmly fixed in the foundations of history.
For a couple of years, it was the love that dared not speak his name. In 2008, Republican candidates hardly ever mentioned the president still sitting in the White House. After the election, the G.O.P. did its best to shout down all talk about how we got into the mess we’re in, insisting that we needed to look forward, not back. And many in the news media played along, acting as if it was somehow uncouth for Democrats even to mention the Bush era and its legacy.
The truth, however, is that the only problem Republicans ever had with George W. Bush was his low approval rating. They always loved his policies and his governing style — and they want them back. In recent weeks, G.O.P. leaders have come out for a complete return to the Bush agenda, including tax breaks for the rich and financial deregulation. They’ve even resurrected the plan to cut future Social Security benefits.
The idea that the Republicans are looking back to Bush is an interesting suggestion. If nothing else, it would remind that the cycles of history are accelerating. Why bother with Reagan anymore? That system went bust; leave it to the Tea Party.