Perhaps it is as simple a matter as self-interest always overpowering communal interest when there isn't some countervailing force like religion or civic shame to contain it, but by seeking to conflate morality and politics and by discrediting such things as civil rights law, healthcare reform and financial regulation — all fueled by a sense of fairness and compassion — the right has succeeded in making the moral verities of the Protestant ethic seem more moral than the verities of the Social Gospel. In effect, morality is now the preserve of the right.
Scarcely a generation ago, you wouldn't have found many conservatives who would have sneered at compassion or tolerance or fundamental fairness, even if they disagreed with liberals on how these concepts might operate in the real world. Today, open contempt for these values is conservative boilerplate for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, and even for the Republican Party itself, whose idea of cutting government is always cutting programs that help the weakest and least fortunate Americans and whose idea of compassion is caring about the tax burden of the wealthiest Americans. Beyond politics, these attitudes threaten to make this the first generation that promulgates an individualism untempered by common decency.