[F]or Goldwater and his conservative descendants the problem is more complicated and intractable than the racist label would imply. Even if they harbor no prejudice at all, they cling to a political philosophy that has no practical way to prioritize racial justice without betraying its central tenets. This is a huge problem!This only vaguely alludes to what I was really thinking so let's take another stab at it. The problem with conservatism is not that conservatives are racist** but that their political ideology lacks practical means of combating racism. What do I mean by that?
Conservatism relies on free markets, but it's not clear what the market mechanism would be for rectifying historically determined racial inequities that were produced by non-market forces. The production of white supremacy was accomplished largely by the heavy-handed intervention of government in the form of police states, restraint of trade, subsidies and affirmative action for whites, slave and convict labor for minorities, federally enforced educational apartheid, and so on. All of these measures were, in a strict sense, unconservative in that they attacked markets and individual freedom in order to create an unnatural social and economic hierarchy.
Each of us lives in that hierarchy today, in a country in which the median white family has ten to twenty times the wealth of the median black family. It is not clear how this hierarchy that was created by the deliberate policies of a racially conscious white elite can be destroyed by the invisible hand of a colorblind free market. Indeed, what we've seen, instead, is an entrenchment of the unequal status quo.
This is the great problem of modern conservatism. It insists on policies that do not address -- that are ideologically incapable of addressing -- the kind of society our ancestors created. Americans did not create an equal opportunity society; they created a white supremacist one. Yet modern conservatism acts as if a studied neutrality toward the historically determined status quo is enough to tear down white privilege.
Thus affirmative action is opposed, as if the status quo doesn't represent a massive built in affirmative action for white people. Low taxes on the rich are upheld as religious dogma, along with disproven trickle down economics propaganda, as if such a tax regime has no implications for the protection of an incumbent white elite at the expense of an emerging minority nation. Universal health care is opposed, despite (or in some cases because of) its disproportionately positive effect on people of color as it rectifies historically determined inequeties in access to health care.
The conservative position, though rarely acknowledged, implies that though our discriminatory and unequal society was proactively and deliberately built to favor whites, we cannot afford to take any comparably proactive steps to rectify the injustices. It is thought that the pill would be worse than the poison. Thus we must trust in the market and the goodness of individual Americans to produce gradual change.
Though he has now decisively turned toward full hack status, back in the mid-90s Dinesh D'Souza actually wrote one of the most comprehensive attempts to grapple with these issues from a conservative perspective. The results were revealing. He consistently downplayed the power and resilience of American racism and in the end called for the repeal of the 1964 civil rights act! Ron Paul has since argued for the same outcome. It is absurdity, but it is well-rooted in conservative thought. In the face of our very complicated, racist, and unconservative (in the sense of unfree markets and persons) past that has determined our unequal present, modern conservatism more readily guides its followers to absurdity than to solutions.
**Though, statistically, they are more likely to be so: according to Pew's respected survey the gap between Democrats and Republicans on racial views has widened in recent decades. 1 in 5 Republicans still oppose interracial marriage, while only 1 in 20 Democrats do.