Late Thursday night I was listening (somewhat involuntarily) to the John Batchelor Show on KGO radio. Batchelor is an uncommon well-mannered right-wing talk show host who spends a lot of time bashing president Obama and liberals in a soft-spoken, intellectual fashion rather than by shouting insults.
That night he was complaining that the New York Times and the “liberal” media in general have been using the word “conservative” to describe the hard-line leaders of China and Iran. He argued that the word “conservative” has a very specific meaning in America as a political ideology favoring limited government, low taxes, and that sort of thing - the very opposite of what the heads of China and Iran represent.
He then stretched his “logic” to conclude that because liberals (in his mind) associate “conservatives” with “enemies” they now use the two words interchangeably as if there is no distinction, hence their use of the word “conservative” to describe unscrupulous leaders of other countries. Batchelor had two guests reinforcing his conclusion that the mainstream news media is out to demonize conservatives by changing the definition of the word.
But it was Batchelor who was changing the definition, not the New York Times. By the dictionary (the definitive source of definitions) a “conservative” is someone who is cautious, resistant to change, a traditionalist, someone who prefers to maintain the status quo and is reluctant to try new ways of doing things. This correct definition perfectly describes the leaders of China and Iran, both so entrenched in their particular ideologies that reformers are having trouble gaining a foothold. It also perfectly describes Americans who resist gay marriage, gun regulations, environmental regulations, tax increases, and immigration reforms to name a few. It's not that American conservatives are ideologically equivalent to Chinese or Iranian conservatives, they couldn't be further apart, but they all have the same conservative reluctance to change their ways.