I make a distinction between Republicans and conservatives that some may see as unnecessary; are not Republicans and conservatives synonymous? Pretty much, at least in 2012, but it would be difficult to overstate just how far to the right the Republican Party has lurched; a process that began, to the dismay of millions of moderate and liberal Republicans, with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964. The cleansing process picked up rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s, with numerous watershed moments, such as the arrival of Newt Gingrich and the politics of destruction. As testimony to Republicans' new approach to governing, many will recall that the Party was able to keep Whitewater in public view, with the help of a stupidly compliant press, for literally years on end, only to have the process finally wind down having demonstrated no presidential malfeasance.
From the judicial standpoint, it was a waste of time and taxpayers' money. But upholding the law had nothing to do with it. The objective was to vilify a Democratic President, obstruct his agenda and ability to govern, and convince the public that conservatives stood on principles. The never-ending rush to spin the story helped feed the narrative that liberals are not to be trusted. Even today people will refer to Whitewater as a scandal, forgetting that there was no wrongdoing, despite years of investigation. It was only a scandal because the Republican hierarchy kept claiming it was. And many will be surprised when reminded that the 12 years of Reagan and Bush saw a dramatically greater number of actual convictions, not accusations, than in the eight years of Clinton. If the reality goes against what you had heard and "just assumed," it is because Republicans worked hard to make it so, for they have shown a superior ability to get their ideas into the media and into people's heads. They dominate most narratives because they understand how to make their messages simple and emotional. What sounds implausible or even ridiculous at first becomes accepted as truth if repeated enough. All propagandists understand this. This why Republicans have said for decades they, against all evidence, are the party of personal responsibility, fiscal prudence, and limited government. Voters who don't study the facts have come to accept this narrative.
And now we see Republican spin taken to new heights, creating a parallel world of logic and reason. They have managed what should have been impossible in a sane world of evidence, facts, and reason; divert enough of the electorate's, and the media's, attention away from the Wall Street banks and turn the middle class against itself. Significant numbers of Americans now think that public workers earn too much, are lazy and irresponsible, and are a drain on our fragile economy. Too many show an infantile understanding of economics by buying into Republican rhetoric that teachers' salaries are too high, so we must rein in those destructive teachers' unions. "Never mind that stuff you hear about Wall Street. Those guys deserve every penny they got, and besides, look at all the jobs they create."
And as we just saw in Wisconsin, there are plenty of voters who are fine with Scott Walker's effort to strip away the hard-fought gains by teachers and other public workers. Many now instinctively believe that there is such a thing in America as "big labor," and that cutting back salaries and benefits of teachers, librarians, firefighters, cops, and others, will somehow drive the economy forward, that and more tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans have apparently convinced more than a few that teachers are now fat cats. The Wall Street bankers that drove the economy into recession have almost entirely avoided legal scrutiny. Forgotten is their unforgivable act of paying mammoth executive compensation with the very tax dollars meant to stabilize the catastrophic mess they created. No accountability, no significant judicial proceedings, and the few penalties levied have been easily paid and treated as nothing more than the cost of doing business.
The banks got away with it while attention has been diverted to where Republicans want it. They, including Mitt Romney himself, have convinced many that pushing back against the oligarchy is class warfare, but endless bitching about teachers and other members of the middle class, with an eye to stripping their rights and reducing their pay, is productive policy. And they have roughly half of that middle class believing it.