It really is bizarre. Actually, Obama's unwillingness to fight an ideological war has irritated the heck out of many on the left, like Paul Krugman. And I think that Ambinder is correct here--Obama hasn't attacked conservatism so much as Bush in particular. Were the Republican Party run by canny strategists rather than the likes of Steve Schmidt, and Boehner and McConnell, they might sense an opportunity here: if Obama is railing against Bush alone, then the post-Bush GOP could just go ahead and dump Bush, say he wasn't a conservative, and not defend the guy. Then they could introduce their real conservatism, which isn't sullied by big government intervention, etc. And if Obama is as big a flop as conservatives claim, they just need to wait until 2010, when Obama's big-spending plans inevitably increase inflation to double-digits and double the price of TVs. And yet, they aren't.
Conservatives find it absurd that Americans are about to elect the most liberal president of the modern era and aren't terribly upset by it...Obama has been talking about the larger GOP governing philosophy for a while now, but until recently, the race hasn't seemed like as much of a referendum on Republicanism; it's been more of a referendum on the Bush years.What changed?
The GOP went all in on an ideological war.
What is really happening here is that the conservative era is passing, and it ain't passing quietly. What frightens Republicans the most isn't the thought of a liberal in the Oval Office, they lived through Clinton and thrived for a time. No, what frightens conservatives is that Obama will be successful. At this juncture, all the knowns of politics are out the window. Everything is up for grabs. An Obama win erases all the traditional advantages of conservatism--if Obama manages to turn around the economy and proves a competent commander-in-chief, the Republicans will be out of power for a generation. Well, maybe not, but the only Republicans that will be able to win will be Eisenhower-style centrists that fundamentally preserve whatever progress that the Democrats make. In other words, you might see Charlie Crist elected president in 2016, but not Jeb Bush. People like Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal--the rising conservative stars--might well wind up unelectable (then again, Palin is already there). In other words, the apocalypse is upon us.
Now, if conservatives were confident in their ideology they would have nothing to worry about. But the financial crisis has shown that a key plank in the right's chest since, oh, forever (i.e. free marketeerism) is dead. And if California keeps gay marriage intact, it will be tantamount to a second leg of the chair being destroyed. Conservatives are seeing their worldview and assumptions crashing down all around them, and they're making a last stand by throwing out everything they can because, if Obama wins, they won't get another chance for a long, long time. So, naturally, dirt will now be thrown. The GOP will not go down easily, and if Obama (as is likely) wins, there will no doubt be attempts to block everything on Obama's wish list, and much of the same conspiracy theorizing as accompanied the Clinton years. But will anyone listen? Nobody seems to be now.
Now, some conservatives, like Andrew Sullivan, Ross Douthat, and David Frum have moved on and have new ideas on where to take the GOP. But an Obama victory would permanently change the landscape, and the old rules (like liberal=effete, left coast gasbag) would be gone forever. Some people are frightened of change. And, to paraphrase one of the excommunicated priests of conservative thought, the conservative movement might well be reaching the end of its history.