Conservatism wrapping around the Union
To look into this aspect of a political theory, we need to define conservatism, and show the difference between a Conservative, and a Republican. While most of the Republican Party is associated with the term Conservative, the two are not synonymous.
From the GOP:
“The Republican Party was born in the early 1850's by anti-slavery activists and individuals who believed that government should grant western lands to settlers free of charge […] abolishing slavery, free speech, reducing the government, streamlining the bureaucracy, returning power to the states and women's suffrage. These are all stances the Republican Party, in opposition to the Democratic Party, adopted early on… [we are] committed to keeping the nation strong and secure through strengthening our military, deploying a missile defense system, strengthening the NATO alliance and supporting military families and veterans.”
From the National Libertarian Party
Libertarians believe the answer to America's political problems is the same commitment to freedom that earned America its greatness: a free-market economy and the abundance and prosperity it brings; a dedication to civil liberties and personal freedom that marks this country above all others; and a foreign policy of non-intervention, peace, and free trade as prescribed by America's founders."
Again, these two statements look very similar. Both seem to say: smaller government, equal rights, and strong defense. However, a closer look shows us some real differences. For one example (one I use to highlight the point of this post) lets look at their policy on taxes and governmental social programs.
The GOP preaches a philosophy of lowering taxes, and trying increase an ownership society. They appreciate the need for welfare reform, so as not to punish the achievers of our nation by placing the burden of non-achievers on their backs.
On a different tract, Conservatives believe that taxes, and the social programs supported by them are fundamentally wrong. “Instead of tending to the basics, government has grown into a bloated conglomerate of political services that gets larger every year with no end in sight […] It is time to recognize that welfare cannot be reformed: it should be ended. We should eliminate the entire social welfare system. This includes eliminating AFDC, food stamps, subsidized housing, and all the rest. Individuals who are unable to fully support themselves and their families through the job market must, once again, learn to rely on supportive family, church, community, or private charity to bridge the gap.” (NLP)
The flaw in this mentality is that it assumes that we as people do not have any social or moral value to the betterment of society. It assumes that the sole reason for success in the nation is due to individual ability, and therefore, no responsibility for others is necessary.
The Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution have been the founding documents that allowed our nation to become the most powerful, and successful nation in modern (Industrialized) history. Yet a “Conservative”, by definition believes that success is only from personal labor and talent, not from the society as a whole. They do not feel that they owe this country (not the notion, the people) any debt for the incredible opportunities they have been afforded. For a simplistic example, a true conservative believes that if they are to go through school, finish college, and amass great wealth, they owe no debt to the countless others that helped along the way (bus drivers, day-care workers, trash men, etc…).
While most Republicans believe that welfare, while flawed, has a purpose that cannot be ignored, Conservatives believe that it, along with most other social programs, should be abolished.
Republicans once stood for "Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men..." under John C. Fremont, yet the conservative movement that owns it today has driven these basic values of compassion out of the Party.
Where this leads us to is back to the premise of the question. Will Conservatism squeeze the morality of our people so tight as to break the foundations of our nation? We have always been a nation of immigrants. Generous and giving; and always willing to lend a helping had to a fellow citizen in need. If this changes, we loose the ability to inspire the world.