It’s a tough time to be a conservative, and not just because John McCain has been nose-diving in the polls. The financial crisis seems to be history rendering its final judgment on conservative economic theory and practice. The entire polity shares a unanimous sense that things are going off in the wrong direction. So what to do if you’re a conservative? On Friday, the Washington Bureau’s Emma Dumain hit the streets to find out. Her dispatch follows:

While this website continues to be updated daily to give you a taste of how people are responding inside the New York Stock Exchange (hint: not well), I checked out two gatherings by the Capitol on Friday afternoon to see how other folks are confronting the economic crisis at hand.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation, whose free-market conservative members hail from all across the country, rallied by the Grant Memorial to open their weekend-long “Defending the American Dream” summit. Signs along the lines of “How ’bout some change in my pocket?,” and “I want a get out of bailout free card!” were the rule, as were the chant “Drill, Baby, Drill!” and spellings of “congress” using dollar signs as substitutes for the letter “s.”

“We are standing in the shadow of the Capitol, where our freedoms are under attack by those who claim big government is the answer to all our problems,” said AFP President Tim Phillips. “We have to fight their expansion.”

A group of friends from Michigan spoke to me about their “disgust” with “the road down which government has taken us.” Their were particularly exercised by pork barrel projects, such as the $10 billion being used to study the sex habits of Tasmanian fleas, according to one of them.

I also caught up with two elderly gentlemen from North Carolina, Korean War vet Herbert Hoover Rosser (yes, as in the Great Depression-era president) and J. Russell Capps, a former Republican member of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Rosser told me that “the government fully intends to place us under a communist, socialist dictatorship.” When asked to elaborate, he suggested I read The Communist Manifesto if I wanted a better sense of where we’re headed.

Capps was considerably more hopeful. “When we first got here, we saw two eagles fly right over our heads,” he said. “That’s a symbol right there. I believe that that is a prophetic sign for America.”

Prophecy was also on the minds of those attending another event, just across the street. There, on the lawn sandwiched between the Grant Memorial and the Capitol, in front of a set of loudspeakers, a goateed fellow stood at the mike with an open bible in his hands: “In economic uncertainly, we are tempted to say, ‘where is God in all this?'”

The speaker, Robert, later explained that “D.C. Awakening” had been in the works for months as an event coinciding with the approaching election; current events, however, have obviously given it some new meaning in the eyes of the two-dozen coordinators, all acquaintances from South Carolina.

The “prayer-in” has been going on all week in this very spot, twenty-four hours a day, with friends working in shifts to make sure someone is always around to keep vigil.

“We pray for Wall Street, for strength,” Robert continued. “We pray for our nation weary with economic turmoil, with the subprime mortgage crisis, with everything all messed up.”