The brand of conservatism practiced by Republican leaders is generally thought to be hard-edged. It offers a harsh critique of government, characterizing it as indulgent, wasteful, and to be largely dismantled. The assessment of any Democratic president is unremittingly dour. A conservative is tough on crime, or at least blue collar crime, advocating severe consequences for breaking the law.
Liberals by comparison are usually portrayed as softies--soft on Communism, soft on crime. Their hearts bleed, their positions shift. They are wracked by guilt, constantly coming up with new things to worry about--the plight of the poor, global warming, polar bears, spotted owls. They seem to be making excuses for people, often portraying them as victims of circumstance. That would be the stereotype.
A conservative argues instead that people are wholly responsible for their fates, that success or failure is a product not of circumstance or opportunity but of character, initiative and determination. Poverty implies laziness. Drug addiction is due to a lack of will power. It's easy to think, then, that a conservative point of view places high standards and high expectations on the self.
And yet the core of hard-core conservatism is in fact very soft. Behind that facade of toughness is an ideology that largely lets people off the hook. The critique of government and the Democratic Party is so fervently pursued that no room remains for self-critique, for reflection. Conservatism is hard on others, soft on self. The legacy of the George W. Bush era--the Iraq War, expanded debt, the financial meltdown--begs for reflection and reappraisal, but prompted instead an even more extreme and defiant version of conservatism to emerge.
The soft core of conservatism allows the individual to take a pass on any number of issues. Climate change doesn't exist, and if it does, it's not our fault, and if it is our fault, we can't do anything about it. At every step in that logic, the individual and the nation are excused from taking action. The belief that government is destined to fail excuses a conservative from trying to make it work. Rather than taking on the tough issue of how to balance government revenue and expenses, a conservative maintains the illusion that tax cuts pay for themselves. The complex abstractions of statistics can be avoided by basing one's views on one's own limited experience. A conservative need not question beliefs, nor care about the poor, nor care about the impact of our lifestyles on future generations and the natural world that sustains us.
These are some serious perks. They excuse the individual from a responsibility to study, to understand, to reflect, to reappraise, to empathize, or to consider one's impact on others. And they go a long way in explaining the popularity of conservatism in its current manifestation. They indulge and satisfy like a chocolate whose hard shell obscures a soft, seductive center.