Wednesday, November 9, 2005

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Open Douthat & Salam thread

The American Scene's Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam have written a manifesto for the Republican Party's future which is on the cover of the Weekly Standard. It opens by stating the depressing truth:

Forget the misplaced loyalty and incompetence on display in Hurricanes Katrina and Harriet. The intellectual exhaustion of the current majority should have been obvious at the close of the last legislative term. After months of political reversals--including the defeat, without a shot fired, of Social Security reform--the congressional leadership managed three victories: a pork-laden $286 billion in new transportation spending, an energy bill larded with generous corporate subsidies, and a noble but unpopular free trade act, CAFTA, that may prove a poison pill for vulnerable GOP congressmen come 2006. All in all, not a bad week--unless, that is, you believe in small government, expanding economic opportunity, and the long-term political viability of the Republican party.

So what's the solution? Douthat and Salam argue in favor of taking the "opportunity society" rhetoric and actually putting flesh to it:

Republicans face three obvious options. The first is to continue to muddle along with the domestic policy that produced the multi-trillion-dollar Medicaid drug benefit, three years of bloated appropriations bills, and the failed push for private retirement accounts, and hope that social issues and national security concerns are enough to keep the party's majority afloat. A second option is to attempt a return to a purer, more fiscally austere faith, even if it means ceding political power, and wait for the looming entitlement crisis to convince Americans of the wisdom of repealing the New Deal.

The third possibility--and the best, both for the party and the country as a whole--would be to take the "big-government conservatism" vision that George W. Bush and Karl Rove have hinted at but failed to develop, and give it coherence and sustainability. This wouldn't mean an abandonment of small-government objectives, but it would mean recognizing that these objectives--individual initiative, social mobility, economic freedom--seem to be slipping away from many less-well-off Americans, and that serving the interests of these voters means talking about economic insecurity as well as about self-reliance. It would mean recognizing that you can't have an "ownership society" in a nation where too many Americans owe far more than they own. It would mean matching the culture war rhetoric of family values with an economic policy that places the two-parent family--the institution best capable of providing cultural stability and economic security--at the heart of the GOP agenda.

Read the whole thing. I'm still mulling it over, but there are some ideas in there that are definitely worth some blog debate.

posted by Dan on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM


I would be curious how a "big-government conservatism" that addresses economic insecurities differs from liberalism, or whether Douthat realizes that big government as the response to economic insecurities is contrary to self-reliance and that such contradiction has been the defining moral distinction between conservatives and liberals for 70-odd years.

posted by: Norman Pfyster on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

NP -
The crux of it is that the Republican Party should become a fully Christian party, so you end up with a party in favor of helping folks in a Christian way and a party in favor of helping folks secularly and retaining strong seperation between church and state.

posted by: ptm on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

In Sum
- defensive muddling [most likely]
- idiological purity [pokadots, moonbeams, hymns]
- blue cheese for all [ fat-cats go on a diet=least likely]

4th choice:
Post glasnost/peristroyka re-frame [ neo-Putinism ]

posted by: stevehar on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

In studying the Confederacy and other entites which have attempted large-scale Adventures and failed, one often comes to the conclusion that it was not that the entity "carried the seeds of its own destruction", but that the structure of the entity led inevitably to the behaviours that in turn caused its downfall. Unless the so-called "grown-up Republicans" are willing to confront this possibility (e.g. the Radicals), then I doubt any significant change will occur.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

NP, I think the "problem" is that the Republicans really aren't against liberalism, in a broad sense of the word.

What they're against is "extreme" liberalism, including some cultural values that are logically distinct from liberalism.

The "self-reliance" stuff is just rhetoric, has been for decades. We see how much "self-reliance" the Repubs have pursued since they took control of both houses of Congress.

It is certainly possible to accept the premises of the New Deal while maintaining that the safety net should be a safety net, not a hammock.

posted by: Anderson on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

This president and this RNC leadership are nothing if not blessed with their opponents and enemies. Unfortunately that situation has a trap of its own, when the other side manages to hand you victory after victory complacency is inevitable.

Sooner or later somebody in the DNC is going to get tired of losing, and that somebody seems to be Hillary Clinton. If _im_ taking a hard look at her as a serious presidential possibility, im quite sure more moderate Americans are in droves.

If you can set the war aside (if that is possible) and look at domestic politics, I think that the one thing that is different than 94-04 is that a big chunk of moderates, fiscal hawks, and former Reagan Democrats have grown bitter with pork barrel politics. A lot of us feel the same people that stormed the walls in 94 have simply taken their own place at the trough.

Playing to that sentiment could be the key to victory for either side. Its one thing to have honest arguments about prescription drugs, or social security, or welfare. Its quite another when the Congress stuffs pork laden legislation like the highway bills and the agriculture subsidies that often have provisions they cant defend and feel no need to even try (bridge to no-where Alaska). Thats the kind of hubris middle American loves to knock on its rear every so often.
Republicans better get their acts together, they are weaker than they think. I have a strong suspicion that this current wake up call at the polls will instead of causing them to rethink their behavior and ideas, cause them to decide they arent pushing them hard enough. The escalation of failure used to be the domain of Democrats, but im betting the Republicans will embrace it with equal fervor.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

"it would mean recognizing that these objectives--individual initiative, social mobility, economic freedom--seem to be slipping away from many less-well-off Americans, and that serving the interests of these voters means talking about economic insecurity as well as about self-reliance."

In this era of globalization, unstable employment, and economic stress in working familes, this is a challenge also for the Democratic party. By philosophy and by temperment, I think the Democrats are better suited to take this bull by the horns.

posted by: camille roy on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

By philosophy and by temperment, I think the Democrats are better suited to take this bull by the horns.

Camille, I would love to agree, but unfortunately, the Dems have been congenitally incapable of taking ANY bull by the horns. That is why they lost in 2004. They would much rather hire Bob Shrum to evaluate the polling data on bull-horn-handling, whether to perhaps take the bull only by one horn and, if so, which, etc., etc.

Mr. Buehner, did you mean Hillary as a "serious presidential possibility" in terms of the Dems might nominate her, or in terms of YOU might vote for her?

If the latter, I can think of no more stinging epitaph for the Kerry campaign.

posted by: Anderson on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

I was fascinated by the following comment:

"This is the Republican party of today--an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club."

The GOP has taken over the Democrats' old base. And is now wide open to a thoroughly populist candidate. Go here to see a description of the GOP's current base and the qualities it wants in candidates:

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

I'm happy because the sincerest display of political victory is that even when you lose, your opponents do a lot of what you would have done anyway. Hooray for big government conservatism, maybe once the Republicans have got over their bizarre allergy to government, they can be worth voting for again.

posted by: perianwyr on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

Anderson, im honestly taking a hard look at Hillary right now. I'm voting based on foriegn policy in the next couple election, and I have to say Clinton has raised my eyebrows. She has said all the right things about Iraq, Iran, and NK, but more than that she has said some things that werent strictly necessary to 'look' hawkish. When SK and NK has their little love in over the Olympic unification, they invited Hillary to speak about it and she slammed SK for demonizing the US and forgetting our historic ties, in fact their historc debt. The SKs were shocked and so was I, in a good way. I think that woman might just have the spine to get the job done. I know she has the brains.

If the Republicans run somebody soft in an attempt to get away from Iraq and the GWOT politically, i'll jump ship in a heartbeat. Like I said, I have just lost all faith in their ability to govern much more restrainedly, and the religious conservatives are really starting to get on my nerves.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

Case in point:
"A solid phalanx of Republican moderates drove House GOP leaders to drop a hotly contested plan to open an Alaskan wilderness area to oil drilling as a sweeping budget bill headed toward a vote Thursday.

A plan to allow states to lift a moratorium on oil drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts was also axed"
"Many of the same moderates opposed to the drilling plan remain opposed to the bill's provisions curbing Medicaid's growth, tightening eligibility for food stamps and cutting student loan subsidies.

"I have to represent my district," said Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., who represents farmers opposed to cuts in commodity payments as well as the University of Illinois campus, which is upset about cuts to student loans."

If the Republicans are going to run the place like Democrats used to, might as well let the Dems do it. At least then I can complain in good faith.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

Thanks, Mr. Buehner. I guess the Repubs are REALLY in trouble.

Still, the Dems' ability to snatch defeat from victory's jaws cannot be underestimated. Maybe they'll nominate Robert Byrd or something like that.

(I'm not a Hillary fan, but she is indeed bright and may have some sense. I do wonder whether she has enough warmth to be elected in the Entertainment Republic.)

posted by: Anderson on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

The Republicans remind me of Lenin's comments about the West destroying itself because of its internal contradictions. For them the base is a large but diverse group of religious fanatics but the top and policy makers are oligarchical corporate interests(If someone can tell be of a economic policy that helped small business' run their business' I'd like to hear it). Few if any of their social policies have been implemented if in fact(what happened to faith based action) and not fantasy(the politics of Shiavo). Most have found that in the end the desire to legislate social behavior interfers with control at home for most people(Schiavo, no child left behind and the Medicare prescription plan all require government intrusions to local affairs).
Now much of the public sees that economic policy benefits(capital costs are the lowest in history) only large corporations, as they shed what had becomes post WWII responsiblities(healthcare and pensions) and leave that cost to you without an increase in wages for most workers, they are unhappy and feel betrayed. The betrayal is partially their fault because like most people things are always in conflict, but the loss of trust comes from the actions of their leaders Frist-trust fund abuse, De Lay-campaign fund abuse, Abramhoff-lobbying abuse and possible accessory to murder, Lott-his house in a hurricane ravaged area, Barber-his actions in a hurricane ravaged area, Dewine-the state of Republicans in Ohio as a totality coin scandal in pensions, vote tallies and lastly the President himself. Son of a President whom is a war time leader, a combat vet, diplomat and CIA leader George W has blown all his political capital on programs no one wants(social security changes) and allows traitors to serve in the White House(where is Anne Coulter?).
You can manage and control competing ideas and agendas when people like you. When the relationship between the followers and the leaders is corrupted especially by your own hand little can be accomplished. This is where the Republicans are now

posted by: Robert M on 11.09.05 at 01:06 PM [permalink]

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