Contemporary conservatism has too often lost touch with the concrete concerns of middle-class America. For a long time, conservatism thrived politically on the domestic troika of welfare, crime, and income-tax rates. The Left yowled when conservative Republicans ran on these issues, arguing they were distractions from the voting public’s true interests, or a cover for sinister sentiments, or both. But people genuinely hated the perversity of the old welfare system; they truly feared crime; and high income-tax rates — and inflation-driven bracket creep — really did take a big bite out of family budgets.
Conservative success over the years — through welfare reform, tough anti-crime policies, and the income-tax cuts of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — has reduced the salience of the old triad. Conservatives have yet to fill the gap. In fact, the situation throughout the 1980s, when the Left mired itself in old orthodoxies while the Right addressed the country’s problems, has been almost exactly reversed. Now it’s conservatism that often feels trapped in amber, wishing it were still 1983.