Conservative, by definition, is oppositional to change, moderate, cautious. A person can be conservative. The current political incarnation that we now call conservative is something other than a collection of people who exhibit the characteristics of a conservative person. In politics, conservatism as defined by Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism, is a living contradiction.
Burke's conservatism equated property to liberty, a radical idea in his time. On the other hand, Burke asserts that people want to be led and that authority is to be respected, a conservative thought. Whatever authority there is has been created by those interested in what that authority does for them. They don't want that authority changed. That is antithetical to democracy and personal liberty. Property is irrelevant to personal liberty unless your idea of liberty is the liberty to accumulate property.
So the political conservative wants liberty but also wants authority or the existence of authority to control something. That something they want controlled is, as it turns out, the liberty of other people. That is the political conservative's mind and political instinct. Liberty is my birth right and denying you your liberty is as well.
This is all rooted in the false narrative of something called the tyranny of the masses. To my knowledge there never has been a protracted tyranny of any sort other than the tyranny of monarchs, autocrats, dictatorial political figures and robber barons. Stalin's communist state was authoritarian, not democratic.
The tyranny of the masses is a night terror fashioned by political conservatives out of the true terror autocrats and would be autocrats have that they will be held to account for their own tyrannies. All that the masses want is a better life for themselves and everyone else. If accomplishing that requires exacting a certain amount of temporary tyranny on their former masters then history illustrates the forms and extent to which that tyranny of the masses has been executed. Burke considered, indeed most Americans consider, the tyranny of the masses in taking and keeping the tributes paid by the former English American colonies to the Crown of England a modest tyranny of the masses. It is from this American, and the later French, revolutions that Edmund Burke fashioned his theory of tyranny of the masses. Flatly, if you have to rise up against a tyranny in order to feed yourself, it's tyranny of the masses, and the theory is bald faced mendacity.
Political conservatism is a philosophical dichotomy, at once extoling the virtues and rights of man to enjoy liberty and at the same time defending the authority that would define what liberties man might have in order that he not harm both himself and others in the prosecution of his life. If one were to say that political liberals extoled the virtues of personal liberty tempered by enough government authority to keep people from harming themselves or others you might not find much dissent. Both political philosophies are, in theory, capable of tyranny. Which of the two, when in charge, is to be considered a mob instead of lawful government is politically debatable but not an iron assumption.
The difference between conservatives and liberals is where they stand on issues. In terms of the the philosophy of governing, that the government exists to protect freedoms and to promote the wellbeing of the people, they are the same. Both believe government exists for a reason, even if that reason is a logical dichotomy and their social goal leanings work to different ends. The political conservative works to protect the personal property of the better off from being appropriated by the poorer majority. The political liberal works to assure the the poorer majority has the means to live in some comfort, if not now at least in some future. Somehow the conservatives do not see the logic in having the poor satisfied with their prospects, conservatives projecting their own greed onto the poor who just want enough to live with some hope of betterment. In that disparity of goals we have an eons long political diversion of political objectives in that the rich accumulate wealth at the expense of the poor and the poor must barter for wealth from the rich in order to live. It's a simple enough concept, even rational and workable if you understand the fundamental tensions. At least it used to be that way, was understood and solved by FDR, but things have changed.
There have always been fringe elements in both conservative and liberal political cohorts. William F. Buckley famously drove the John Birchers out of a position of influence in the GOP. Bill Clinton had his "Sister Souljah" moment. Both parties have tended to tamp down the extremes if only so that they can get elected by an electorate that views itself, in numbers greater than are countable on either extreme, in the more political center.
But as of the 2010 elections the Birchers are back. They attended the CPAC convention for the first time in decades. Add the Bircher style communists under your bed craziness to the social conservatives brought on board by Reagan and the ongoing southern strategy of Nixon exploiting race animus and you get the Tea Party. So now the Tea Party is nothing but a torch bearing mob of white supremacist, self-righteous religious commie haters that took the campaign line of Reagan, that government is the problem, seriously. Government is the problem, but only if it is not promoting white supremacy, religious intolerance and laissez faire capitalism, all of which the world has had extensive experience with and has already rejected en masse a century ago. The Tea Party is not conservative, it is radical and recidivist, wanting to reconstitute as law the crimes against other people's liberties they had the liberty and authority to commit in the distant past.
In it's current form, led by the Tea Party donors such as the Koch brothers, the Tea Party controlled GOP is the most grave threat to global economic prosperity, and therefore global peace, that we have seen since full on authoritarian communism was launched in 1917 and fascism followed in 1933. The Pentagon is actually planning for the global recession and wars that will follow realization of the radical policies of the current instantiation of the GOP. The Pentagon may not assign political cause to the coming conflagration they expect, but they envision a world on the path to shortage and poverty and blight, all of which could be corrected by governments. But then government is the enemy of a GOP now bent on being in charge of government at any price, that price including ruining economies, environments and societies to cast doubt on liberal governments.
The irony of all this is that the political philosophy that most abhors the rule of the mob is the party that has put the mob in charge. The Tea Party, and thus now the GOP, is a mob that despises education, intellect, tolerance and sympathy. They are hell bent to destroy the socioeconomic success that was FDR's democratic adaptation to socialism and replace it with some anarchy of religious straggle-hold on society, white male only franchise and war lord like monopolies in commerce.
In 2010 all this might have seemed alarmist. The track record of GOP governance in states and in federal government since then illustrates that it is not. GOP controlled States have passed voting restrictions obviously intended to disenfranchise minorities and the un-propertied. Those same states and the GOP controlled U.S. House of Representatives have passed rabidly restrictive laws curtailing reproductive rights. A phalanx of the GOP in government at all levels still resists federal regulation of the very banking excesses that caused you to lose your job in the Great Recession, all the while still rolling back regulation in the States. Unions, the "free market" solution for recognizing and rewarding the increasing productivity of employees in the work force, have been attacked wholesale. Tax loopholes enabling huge profits for the rich contrast with skyrocketing cost of education, healthcare and transportation. The poor and middle class continue to bleed out their life savings while the GOP fiddles watching America burn and the rich sup the life blood of middle class Americans.
Attributed to Thomas Jefferson are two instructive quotes, "Democracy is nothing more than mob rule." and "I know of no safe depository for the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion." Jefferson's democracy is the one I think we all want to live in. We may not know what we are doing today, but we should have learned from whence we acted yesterday. The only question is how to make the GOP realize it is now the mob it has always feared.
I suggest we start this way. The press and people with currency in the public dialogue should bear this in mind when speaking to or of the current denizens of the GOP - You are entitled to your opinion but you're not entitled to have your opinion respected. The indolence of the press in not taking a stand on issues is not doing the country or the world any good. The press is the only feasible opposition to the rule of vested interest money and lobbies in politics. As far as the current GOP is concerned, if you are not in active opposition to them you are tacitly for them and the consequences are altogether too dire to let the public suppose the GOP may be right.