Cato's David Boaz had an interesting observation about conservatism in an email to WaPo's Jennifer Rubin (h/t: Ed Brayton). Boaz writes that, contrary to conservative pretensions to originalism and permanence, "sometimes ideas evolve:"
Take traditional values, for instance: In pre-Reagan years even National Review thought that segregation was a traditional value. That opinion is long gone, and banished from mainstream conservatism. Or take the role of women in society: A generation ago (maybe a long generation) conservatives said that mothers should be home with their children. By 2008 conservatives enthusiastically said that a mother of five, one of them a pregnant teenager and another a special-needs infant, could perfectly well serve as vice president. Conservative ideas on gay rights have also evolved and will continue to evolve. Conservatives defended the sodomy laws until the Supreme Court struck them down (the Montana and Texas Republican parties still do). But most have moved on to opposing gay marriage and gay adoption, and some have even accepted civil unions for gay partners. Twenty years from now, conservatives will deny they were ever anti-gay, just as they now have no memory of ever supporting discrimination against African-Americans or women.
Here's a sketch of the process from my POV:
1). Liberals propose something new.
2). Conservatives fight against it.
3). Liberals win, and their idea is adopted.
4). Conservatives co-opt the now-traditional idea.