After every election half the country sighs with relief while the other gnashes its teeth. What remain constant as Republicans and Democrats rotate through office are the intractable difficulties the nation now faces. From budget surpluses and confidence in perpetual prosperity at the end of the 20th century, America has arrived at trillion-dollar deficits and an economy razed by the Great Recession. The "indispensable nation" that emerged the indisputable victor in the Cold War 20 years ago is today a superpower still, but one mired in the longest war of its history--in Afghanistan, no less, graveyard of the Evil Empire--a superpower strategically adrift in a disordered new world of drone killings, terror, and rising regional powers.
What America needs most amid all this is conservatism: not the ideology of any party, but a disposition to conserve, and wisely invest, our national capital. The capital in question is not merely financial; Lord Salisbury, in an earlier era of humanitarian intervention and empire, warned against squandering "military capital" on unnecessary and unwinnable conflicts. More important yet is our civilizational capital--our habits and laws as a people, the written and unwritten Constitution. How has it fared? Our civil liberties and the civic fabric of American life have lately been torn to rags by both parties.
Confronted by systemic crisis, the parties prescribe a quick fix--quack remedies from invading Iraq to subsidizing Solyndra--while a people hard pressed by diminished opportunity and dwindling incomes stands ready to accept whatever is offered. …