Here are a few of the connotations to which I was referring.
1. Most people think "conservative" means "Republican". Well, I am not a Republican. I sometimes vote for Republican candidates, yes, but the only time I voted for a major-party contender in the presidential general election was 1988. The GOP sometimes calls people with my beliefs part of their "base", but they actually see us a means of getting into political office. Once in office, their priorities turn out to be rather different from those of their "base". This has been a problem for many years, but it appears to be getting worse.
2. It seems to be expected that a "conservative" favors draconian immigration laws. This is not the place for a full discussion of immigration, but there does not seem to be any "side" of that discussion with which I can fully agree. I agree that illegal immigration is, well, illegal, and under most circumstances is also morally problematic. The same is true of speeding, though; respect for the law is of course important, but so is a sense of perspective regarding the gravity of the offense. Illegal immigration has been going on so long and in such numbers that any serious effort to deport all illegal aliens would require a police state, and the prospect of becoming a police state is much more frightening than the problem of illegal immigration.
3. It seems to be expected that a "conservative" will always favor management and oppose unions. When the huge salaries and bonuses of executives are challenged, the stereotypical conservative will say that (a) their contracts are negotiated, so who are we to question the market? and (b) contracts are sacred and must be honored. Where union salaries and benefits are concerned, though, the market suddenly becomes much less infallible and contracts much less sacred. Somewhere at the root of this is the idea that workers should be grateful for their wages as they would be grateful for a gift -- as though the wealthy and powerful were in fact entitled to the labor of men and women and would be justified in forcing them to work for nothing.
4. It seems to be expected that a "conservative" favors an executive branch of ever-increasing strength. This is usually justified as needed to "get tough on crime" or to "fight terrorism". The system of checks and balances simply does not work anymore, and several explicit parts of the Constitution are now routinely ignored. The fact that so much of this was done under the GOP puts the lie to their claim to believe that the original intent of the authors of the Constitution should be the normative interpretation. Instead, we move closer and closer to being a full-fledged police state.
5. It seems to be expected that a "conservative" thinks that if anyone in the unfortunate incident was a bad guy, it was Trayvon Martin, and that George Zimmerman is at least manifestly innocent and possibly a hero. This one has me baffled. A man with a gun overtakes and confronts an unarmed man who is minding his own business. The man with the gun is not a policeman or even a security guard; he is answers to no one. The confrontation takes place on a public street. The confrontation escalates, and the man with the gun kills the man with no gun. Prima facie, the man who (a) prepared for a fight by bringing the gun, (b) initiated the confrontation, and (c) killed a man has done something wrong.
The only real explanation I can come up with for the "conservative" position is that Obama and Al Sharpton came out strongly against Zimmerman. For many people, that fact alone means that Zimmerman must be a good guy.
On the other hand, if the prosecution is not able to make its case to the satisfaction of the jury, there should be no second trial in federal court. We should not allow end runs around the protection against double jeopardy because, once again, it pushes us further in the direction of becoming a police state. (Do you note a theme?) So do, of course, attempts by the president of the US and the governor of Florida to influence the outcome of the trial.
Of course, it is not right to simply be negative. If I can't call myself a conservative, I ought to say what I should call myself, and if I don't agree with much of what people associate with conservatives, I should state what principles I do hold.
Having given this some thought, I think I'll call myself a Chestertonian. I'll have to explain what I mean by that in a separate post.