Free speech and the right to assembly are rights supported by even those Americans who are disgusted by the rubbish, indeed hateful rubbish, which makes its way onto the airwaves and was articulated at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference).

It isn’t the beliefs that attendees hold so much as it is the arrogance with which those beliefs are articulated and the seeming assumption that an audience so close-minded and vacuous will forever be entranced by the illogic and vitriol expressed by conference standard bearers. Those outside the charmed circle, however, see today’s adherence to a conservatism so intellectually bereft it would be unrecognizable to history’s great conservative thinkers.

How did a long-established and respected philosophy come to be transformed into the twisted mantra of current political ideologues who disrespect the sensibilities and opinions of anyone who dares to consider issues and policies outside the narrow framework of their newly-minted brand of conservatism? It is one thing to support traditional structures and resist radical change and quite another to scorn the views of those who would take a different path. And what does smaller government mean to ‘conservatives’? Why is an increasingly costly military investment acceptable and only those “entitlements” that form the basis for health-care safety nets and old age benefits come under close, critical scrutiny?

How did political goals ostensibly formed according to some philosophical integrity become more about power for its own sake than about developing policies to further the best interests of most Americans? As usual, the political right uses every opportunity to frame debate by using scare tactics and flawed analyses of everything from the economy to that strange creation, “the war on terror”. Democrats aren’t simply on the wrong track; they are accused of being disloyal defeatists for suggesting maybe we should begin winding down our occupation of Iraq where “the surge” has turned out to be not a temporary tactical maneuver but a costly ongoing U.S. commitment.

In his remarks to the conference Mitt Romney said he was ‘suspending’ his run for the presidency to support John McCain’s candidacy. And his reason for doing this now, he said, was that he didn’t want to risk a loss in November by splintering the party and face the prospect of a Democratic win that would threaten national security and thwart our ability to fight terrorism; McCain echoed similar sentiments when he addressed the group. Of course no-one in the White House and most Republicans ever acknowledge the uptick in terrorism around the world and the disruptive violence in the Middle East since we invaded Iraq. Romney’s campaign manager, Bay Buchanan, described Romney’s speech as “a class act”, but his inflammatory rhetoric was nothing of the sort.

And how ludicrous, in any case, for those on the right to have embraced Romney as the beacon of conservative thought despite his being a parvenu to the cause. Their support of his candidacy seems, rather, to have been an indication of how much they dislike McCain for failing to follow in lock-step along the path of right-wing orthodoxy and for ‘reaching-across-the-aisle’ at times in an attempt to compromise and move the legislative machinery. Why he even spoke out against the use of torture, horrors.

As a practical matter the right wing of the Republican Party seems intent on proving that government itself is a failed instrument except when it supports an agenda that conforms to its narrow conservative ideology. Hopefully November will bring relief from those who would subvert our national heritage, re-write the Constitution to suit their own predilections and circumscribe the rights and beliefs of an entire nation.