Conservatives had always held the somewhat contradictory position that government can't be trusted in any area of society except when it comes to the power to arrest, detain, imprison, and execute people.
- Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop, Pg. 144
In other words, conservatives hate the government when it is handing out food stamps and welfare checks but love it when it is wearing a uniform and carrying a gun. This has increasingly made little sense to me and helps explain in part why I have been moving rapidly away from a dogmatic political posture associated with "conservatism".
I used to try to explain this contradiction away by pointing out that national defense is a legitimate function of the Federal government but very little, if any, of the billions of dollars in military spending have the slightest linkage to national defense. Even worse the Federalization of law enforcement at the state and local level along with a far too cozy relationship between the military and civilian law enforcement is very troubling to me and I am quite certain would cause outrage among the men who drafted the Constitution, a document that is if anything designed to limit the power of the Federal government and especially military abuses.
I think much of this stems from two main sources. One is a serious ignorance of the Constitution, what it says and what it doesn't and the context under which it was drafted. This is especially odd since a lot of conservatives base their appeal on the Constitution. The Constitution was written in light of and in response to the abuses of a centralized government with a standing military and contains a number of specific articles in the Bill of Rights designed to counter the abuses of an armed force wielded by the state. As many conservatives like to point out, the Second Amendment wasn't written into law to protect the rights of hunters or competitive target shooters, it was a counterbalance to abuses by the state by having an armed and free populace. Without the 2nd Amendment the rest of the rights recognized by the Bill of Rights exist in practice only at the pleasure of the government. In spite of this few conservatives see the armed agents of the state as the most pressing potential source for enabling tyranny.
The second source is the very effective way that reverence for military and law enforcement has been ingrained into the American psyche and national character coupled with a long running fear campaign designed to convince people living in perceived safety and affluence that there is an "other" that seeks to take it away from them, an "other" that can only be vanquished by bloodshed. As long as we think there is someone out there seeking to destroy our way of life, whether commies or pot smoking hippies or Islamic terrorists or
Now don't get me wrong, the opposite end of the political spectrum known as liberalism or more ironically "progressiveness" is wrong on just about every issue and even when it is right on the problem it is invariably wrong on the solution. The direction we need to move, and given the recent outrage over the NSA spying fiasco the political climate seems to be moving, is toward more individual liberty coupled with individual responsibility. But until conservatives resolve the great contradiction there will always be a major disconnect with the electorate.