Droves of Republican commentators begging the GOP to come back to sanity.
This will be a fun little catch-all thread for the next couple days as more and more of these pieces come trickling in, begging the modern Republican Party (including its base) to dump their shit crazy ideas, embracing moderated versions of their fundamental ideas, and trying to ****ing change instead of going balls deep into their own ideological id.
Why We Need Republicans
By Josh Barro
Feb 20, 2013 2:28 PM CT
Let me be clear: I don't want a Republican Party that's just like the Democratic Party, even though some people on both the right and the left see that as the upshot of Republican critiques like mine.
Political parties should differ on normative questions. They ought to strive for agreement on positive questions -- questions such as, what policies cause gross domestic product and median incomes to rise, how unemployment insurance affects the unemployment rate, or how global temperatures are changing. Currently, Republicans make a lot more errors on these kinds of questions than Democrats.
Correcting errors on positive questions should cause conservatives to revisit some of their top policies, as Bloomberg View columnist Ramesh Ponnuru laid out this weekend in the New York Times. Conservatives say tight money and lower top tax rates would enrich middle-class families. But that's wrong, and if they figured that out, they might stop supporting tight money and lower top tax rates.
Why would a reformed, reality-based Republican Party be different from the Democrats and therefore useful? I can think of a few important reasons, which are the reasons that I remain, however reluctantly, a Republican.
1. Democrats make their own errors in evaluating the economy. The economic situation of the past five years has brought out the worst in the Republican Party. In an environment of depressed demand and a slack labor market, many of Republicans' usual concerns become irrelevant. Government borrowing doesn't crowd out private spending; unemployment insurance doesn't significantly raise the unemployment rate; cutting marginal tax rates is a weak way to grow the economy.
But under normal economic conditions, Republicans' economic worldview has more merit, and Democrats' sanguineness about incentives becomes much more problematic. There will be a time when large deficits really do crowd out private investment and giving people incentives to work will be important for growing the economy. At that time, Republicans will sound the right warnings; Democrats might not.
Admittedly, the Democrats aren't all bad on this. Policy wonks on the left tend to understand that work disincentives from unemployment benefits are unimportant now because of a special condition in today's labor market. But then you have elected officials like Senator Tom Harkin dismissing in general the idea that unemployment benefits discourage work. In the future, we'll be glad we have Republicans around to remind us that incentives matter.
2. Republicans have an often-healthy skepticism of regulation. Republicans' reflexive opposition to regulation is causing them to get a few big issues very wrong, including health care, bank reform and climate change. But Republicans' preference for market allocation over top-down rules leads them the right way on a lot of issues.
Conservatives already won a lot of the big fights against dumb regulation at the federal level in the 1970s and '80s: ending wage and price controls, deregulating airlines and shipping, allowing interstate banking. But some areas of excessive regulation remain, especially at the state and local level.
Two big problem areas are overregulation of land use and costly or anti-competitive business regulations. Conservatives tend to have the right instincts in these areas but don't treat them as important; unlocking the value of urban land and freeing small-business owners from meddlesome local bureaucrats could become signature Republican issues.
At the federal level, the biggest overregulatory error is probably in intellectual property, where patent and copyright protections have gotten far stronger than is necessary to encourage innovation. So far, neither party has been eager to reform intellectual property -- the Republican Study Committee released an excellent report on the topic and then fired its author after coming under pressure from a congresswoman with close ties to the music industry. Perhaps Republicans could be convinced to see intellectual-property reform as a way to make markets freer and stick it to liberal Hollywood.
3. When they try, Republicans can make government more efficient. When I talk about the Republican Party being in dire political shape, the retort I most often hear is that Republicans hold 30 governorships. This isn't a contradiction; in part, it reflects that Republicans are offering up much more appealing policies at the state and local levels than the federal level.
The idea that government should run like a business or a household has led Republicans dangerously astray at the federal level, but this actually isn't a terrible frame for thinking about states. A highway department is a lot more like a business than Social Security is. Although the federal government mostly moves money around, states and localities have lots of employees and direct operations, so greater efficiency really can go a long way. And state budgets really do need to be (more or less) balanced annually.
Republicans have also been more likely than Democrats to recognize that public employee benefits structures are outdated and needlessly costly, and that collective bargaining in the public sector lets unions sit on both sides of the negotiating table.
The split isn't totally partisan. Democrats in some states, like Massachusetts, weakened collective bargaining at the same time as Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin; and some Republican reforms were aimed more at reducing unions' political power than at cutting costs. The most aggressive pension reform of recent years was enacted in heavily Democratic Rhode Island. But in general, Republicans have been more willing than Democrats to look for ways to provide government services more cheaply and efficiently, including by cutting the employee compensation costs that make up about half of state and local spending.
4. Republicans aren't all out to lunch. In the states, the Republican focus on cost containment and efficiency works best when it is combined with a commitment to providing high-quality government services and an understanding that government can and should be useful. Republican governors' talk about improving their states' governments contrasts with national Republican rhetoric, which tends to cast government as an impediment to freedom and growth.
Such a balanced approach is the reason that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has approval ratings in the 70s, or that governors like John Kasich in Ohio and Susana Martinez in New Mexico did the math and accepted Medicaid expansion funds that will benefit their constituents, instead of dying on the hill of opposition to Obamacare.
Balance doesn't prevail everywhere; Republicans in Kansas are undertaking an unwise reform that will make their state's tax code much more regressive, and some Republican-controlled state legislatures are busying themselves with sideshows like studying a return to the gold standard. But the reason Republicans are succeeding in states where their national brand is severely damaged tends to be that their state-level policy agendas are markedly better than the party's national one.
Reaganism After Reagan
By RAMESH PONNURU
Published: February 17, 2013
TODAY’S Republicans are very good at tending the fire of Ronald Reagan’s memory but not nearly as good at learning from his successes. They slavishly adhere to the economic program that Reagan developed to meet the challenges of the late 1970s and early 1980s, ignoring the fact that he largely overcame those challenges, and now we have new ones. It’s because Republicans have not moved on from that time that Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, in their responses to the State of the Union address last week, offered so few new ideas.
When Reagan cut rates for everyone, the top tax rate was 70 percent and the income tax was the biggest tax most people paid. Now neither of those things is true: For most of the last decade the top rate has been 35 percent, and the payroll tax is larger than the income tax for most people. Yet Republicans have treated the income tax as the same impediment to economic growth and middle-class millstone that it was in Reagan’s day. House Republicans have repeatedly voted to bring the top rate down still further, to 25 percent.
A Republican Party attentive to today’s problems rather than yesterday’s would work to lighten the burden of the payroll tax, not just the income tax. An expanded child tax credit that offset the burden of both taxes would be the kind of broad-based middle-class tax relief that Reagan delivered. Republicans should make room for this idea in their budgets, even if it means giving up on the idea of a 25 percent top tax rate.
When Reagan took office, he could have confidence in John F. Kennedy’s conviction that a rising tide would lift all boats. In more recent years, though, economic growth hasn’t always raised wages for most people. The rising cost of health insurance has eaten up raises. Controlling the cost of health care has to be a bigger part of the Republican agenda now that it’s a bigger portion of the economy. An important first step would be to change the existing tax break for health insurance so that people would be able to pocket the savings if they chose cheaper plans.
Conservative views of monetary policy are also stuck in the late 1970s. From 1979 to 1981, inflation hit double digits three years in a row. Tighter money was the answer. To judge from the rhetoric of most Republican politicians, you would think we were again suffering from galloping inflation. The average annual inflation rate over the last five years has been just 2 percent. You would have to go back a long time to find the last period of similarly low inflation. Today nominal spending — the total amount of dollars circulating in the economy both for consumption and investment — has fallen well below its path before the financial crisis and the recession. That’s the reverse of the pattern of the late 1970s.
Trying to boost economic growth through looser money is usually a mistake, as Reaganites rightly argued. They were right, too, to think that the Federal Reserve should make its actions predictable by adhering to a rule rather than improvising depending on its assessment of current conditions. The best way to put those impulses into practice is to require the Fed to stabilize the growth of nominal spending. That rule would allow looser money only when nominal spending is depressed. Keeping nominal spending on track is more or less what the Fed did from 1984 through 2007, a period that Republicans sometimes call the Reagan boom (since they see Bill Clinton as having largely kept his policies) and that economists generally call the Great Moderation. Relatively stable nominal spending growth promoted relatively stable economic growth, and it can again.
The Republican economic program of the 1980s also fought against government-imposed restrictions on economic activity: decontrolling energy prices, for example. Today we should target different restrictions. Software patents have become a source of unproductive litigation that entrenches large tech companies and inhibits creativity. Republicans shouldn’t support those patents. Economic growth has to trump corporate executives’ campaign donations.
Conservatives should retain their skepticism about government intervention, the preference for letting markets direct economic resources and the zeal for ending government-created barriers to economic growth that they inherited from Reagan. In his first Inaugural Address, Reagan famously said that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” The less famous yet crucial beginning of that sentence was “in our present crisis.” The question is whether conservatism revives by attending to today’s conditions, or becomes something withered and dead.
In Search of Republican Reformers
February 20, 2013, 1:31 pm
In the last week there have been not one but four impressive pieces on fixing the Republican Party’s policy problem — one by Ramesh Ponnuru in the pages of this newspaper, one by James Pethokoukis in National Review, a lengthy essay by Pete Wehner and Michael Gerson in Commentary, and a sketch of a right-of-center health care reform by Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Avik Roy for Reuters. The proposals vary a bit, but there’s an essential unity to the ideas that they promote. To borrow Gerson and Wehner’s language, they’re all addressed to voters who “now regard the Republican Party as …wholly out of touch with ordinary Americans,” and they all take the obligations of governing more seriously than a lot of recent right-wing rhetoric has done. This, from the Commentary essay, is a solid formulation of the pieces’ common theme:
Until the ideas themselves change, our politics is going to be stuck with the dynamic that Matt Yglesias describes all-too-accurately here, in the context of the minimum wage debate — with Democrats proposing questionable policies that nonetheless address real challenges, Republicans declining to counter with serious policies of their own, and Democrats eventually winning the policy debate more or less by default (or else winning politically because the problems keep festering and the G.O.P. just looks out of touch). I don’t think that dynamic can last forever, for reasons I’ve elaborated on before, and I’m hopeful that the 2016 election will be healthier for the right than 2012 turned out to be. But right now, the pattern of the last two political cycles still holds: Real Republican reinvention is a cause in search of a standard bearer, and the right’s reformers are doing a far, far better job proposing solutions to the G.O.P.’s dilemmas (and the country’s problems) than they are persuading actual Republican politicians to embrace them.
No to the Flat Tax and Other Stale Ideas
It’s time to retire out-of-date economic proposals.
By James Pethokoukis
February 18, 2013 4:00 A.M.
Free enterprise, free markets, competition, and choice: All are timeless economic principles, but their application can and should evolve with changing economic circumstances. When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, the top income-tax rate was 70 percent, inflation was 13 percent, health-care spending was 10 percent of GDP, and publicly held debt was 26 percent. The average American was 30 years old.
Today, the top marginal tax rate is 40 percent, and inflation is 2 percent. Health-care spending and the debt have both risen by nearly 80 percent as a share of output. The average American is 37 years old. Economics and demography require a reworking of the conservative policy portfolio. But center-right politicians in Washington keep offering same-old, same-old stale solutions. A few examples:
1. The flat tax: In the 2012 Republican presidential race, candidates including Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich proposed a flat tax on personal income. The idea seems likely to pop up again in 2016. Most flat-tax proposals are a version of a flat consumption tax devised by economists Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka. If you were creating a tax code ex nihilo, the flat tax might well be the way to go. Simulations, not to mention common sense, suggest that a flat tax with a low rate would produce a larger economy than the current mess of a tax code does.
But we are not starting from scratch. It would be problematic to transition to a flat tax — at least at the 15–20 percent rate typically proposed — from a tax code that has nearly half of Americans paying no income tax. A flat tax would probably generate too little revenue, making budget deficits worse. One smart way to tweak the idea would be to keep the consumption-tax aspect while adding a more progressive rate structure.
2. The gold standard: The party platform adopted at the Republican National Convention in Tampa included a plan calling for the creation of a commission to consider restoring the dollar-gold link. Been there, done that. A similar panel established by President Reagan dismissed the idea. More recently, a University of Chicago survey of 40 economists found unanimous and vehement opposition to resurrecting the gold standard.
Those results are hardly surprising. The gold standard played a central role in the Great Depression and the severe deflation that accompanied it. Its return would hamstring the Federal Reserve in any effort it made to prevent future recessions from morphing into depressions. The latter, by the way, tend to usher in dramatic expansions in the size of government. A better option would be to anchor monetary policy not in stuff mined from the ground, but rather in futures contracts linked to market forecasts of nominal gross domestic product.
3. The Balanced Budget Amendment: A hot issue in the 1990s, the BBA fell off the radar screen when it looked as if the U.S. faced surpluses as far as the eye could see. But the trillion-dollar deficits of the Obama era have revived the idea. Senate Republicans have submitted legislation for a BBA that would limit government spending to 18 percent of GDP. Putting aside the debate over the wisdom of tying the hands of future Congresses in unforeseen economic circumstances, 18 percent of GDP is too low a long-term spending target given the aging of the U.S. population. Over the next 25 years, 60 percent of the rise of health-related entitlement spending will come from aging, and only 40 percent from inflation in that economic sector. “Even in the unlikely scenario that we completely conquer health cost inflation, we would still have to confront the bigger problem of the growing number of people receiving federal health benefits,” explains former Social Security and Medicare trustee Charles Blahous in a recent analysis for e21.
If you want to implement a BBA, a better long-term target would be 25 percent higher. But why do we need to actually balance the budget? Representative Paul Ryan’s original “Roadmap” plan, for instance, lowered the debt-to-GDP ratio by 30 points over two decades without a single year in the black. Given that the average U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio was 37 percent from 1957 through 2007, a better bipartisan policy goal would be to immediately move the debt-to-GDP ratio onto a downward trajectory, back toward that 37 percent level (from a forecasted 76 percent this year) over the next two decades.
Timeless principles with timely policies: It’s time for Washington to start paying attention.
Your title is a little skewed. It should read: "Neocons and Establishment Heads Fear Losing Power"
How to Save the Republican Party
Michael Gerson & Peter Wehner
The Republican Party is in trouble: In the wake of the presidential election, everybody has said so, and everybody is right. From there, however, a hundred paths diverge and a thousand voices have been heard. The relevant questions are these: How deep is the trouble? How much of it is self-inflicted and how much is a function of circumstance? Can the problem be repaired, and if so, by what means?
By all rights, Barack Obama should have lost the 2012 election. The economy during his first term in office was weak from beginning to end. Growth was anemic when not utterly static, unemployment was persistently high, and, as recently as last year, an overwhelming majority of Americans still believed we were in a recession. The signature legislative achievements of the president’s first term—the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus package—were so unpopular that on last year’s campaign trail he rarely mentioned them.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party, which in 2010 had gained an epic midterm electoral victory, was regarded as highly energized and poised to win. Michael Barone, one of the most knowledgeable political observers in America, predicted Mitt Romney would comfortably defeat the president. “Fundamentals usually prevail in American elections,” Barone wrote four days before the election. “That’s bad news for Barack Obama.”
And yet Obama won going away, defeating Romney by 126 electoral votes (332 to Romney’s 206) and winning the popular vote by nearly 5 million. In the Senate, which many had thought likely to fall to Republican control, the GOP lost two seats; in the House, it managed to hold its majority, but at the loss of eight seats.
The 2012 election was not only a dismal showing for the Republicans but the continuation of a dismal, 20-year trend. Out of the last six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 210 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to the Democrats’ 113. In three of those contests, the Democrats failed to muster even 50 electoral votes.
What is the reason for this swift and stunning reversal of electoral fortunes? The answer lies in a variety of factors—and in their confluence.
The first factor is America’s changing demographics. Much has been written on this topic, but the essential datum is the long-term shrinking of those demographic groups, especially white voters, who traditionally and reliably favor the GOP: from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012. This decline is partially an artifact of a change in the way the Census Bureau classifies Hispanics, who used to be counted among whites before being placed in a separate category. But it has much more to do with a real, ongoing change in the composition of the American populace. In any given contest, the GOP can overcome this obstacle. Over time, however, the obstacle will grow ever larger.
Consider the performance of Mitt Romney, who carried the white vote by 20 points. If the country’s demographic composition were still the same last year as it was in 2000, he would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, he would have won in a rout. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote—rather than his pathetic 27 percent—Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. Republicans, in short, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.
Another factor lies in the realm of foreign policy. For four decades, our adversarial relationship with the Soviet Union was a major issue in presidential elections. Over that period, and particularly from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, Republicans were widely considered the stronger and more trustworthy party when it came to national defense and to keeping America safe. In every presidential election since the Nixon–Humphrey contest in 1968, Republicans began with a significant lead in this respect. With the end of the Cold War in 1989, this potent issue was largely taken off the table. Nor has the decidedly mixed legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade worked to bolster the Republicans’ electoral advantage in the conduct of foreign policy; if anything, the opposite is the case.
Then there is the quality of the candidates fielded by the two sides. Democrats have nominated two candidates—Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—endowed with formidable political skills. The former is one of the most naturally gifted politicians in modern American history; the latter is one of the most ruthlessly efficient ones. Republican presidential candidates, in contrast, have sometimes shown a marked inability to connect with the concerns of working- and middle-class voters or to convince such voters that Republican policies will help improve their prospects in life. In some cases, the Republican agenda with respect to the middle-class electorate has been strikingly uncreative and tone-deaf. In 1996, for example, the GOP candidate, Senator Bob Dole, focused like a laser beam on the 10th Amendment and spoke glowingly of building a bridge…to the past.
And it is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the party more than 30 years ago. For Republicans to design an agenda that applies to the conditions of 1980 is as if Ronald Reagan designed his agenda for conditions that existed in the Truman years.
To be clear: Reasonable tax rates and sound monetary policy remain important economic commitments. But America now confronts a series of challenges that have to do with globalization, stagnant wages, the loss of blue-collar jobs, exploding health-care and college costs, and the collapse of the culture of marriage.
In addition, on a number of these issues the Republican Party has developed a reputation—mostly but not completely unfair—as judgmental and retrograde. It didn’t help that, during last year’s primary season, one of the final two major candidates in the field (Rick Santorum) promised that if elected he would speak out against the damage done to American society by contraception, or that just prior to the general election, two ultimately failed candidates for the Senate spoke with stunning insensitivity about female victims of rape.
In combination, all these factors have left many in the GOP in a demoralized state, convinced that the challenges confronting them are not superficial, cyclical, or personality-oriented but that prevailing political forces, as well as prevailing public attitudes, present enormous obstacles to the national success of their party. They are right to be worried.
What, then, needs to be done? A good start may be to learn from the past. This is hardly the first time a political party has needed to take stock of new political realities and to recalibrate accordingly.
By the early 1990s, the Democratic Party had endured a miserable, two-decades long losing streak in presidential elections. (The one exception was the election of Jimmy Carter in the wake of the Nixon-era Watergate scandal.) Since the party’s nomination of George McGovern in 1972, the Democrats had come to be viewed, with some justice, as outside the cultural mainstream: flaccid on national defense if not quasi-isolationist, incapable of keeping order in our streets, and anti-growth in their economic philosophy. It had become an omnium-gatherum for left-liberal true believers.
In 1972, an anonymous Democratic senator, later revealed to be Thomas Eagleton, famously referred to George McGovern as the candidate of “amnesty, abortion, and acid.” No wonder, then, that McGovern went on to lose 49 of the 50 states to Richard Nixon. “Nothing is more certain in politics,” wrote William Safire in the wake of this Democratic fiasco, “than the crushing defeat of a faction that holds ideological purity to be of greater value than compromise.” To a greater or lesser degree, that was the case for the Democrats for almost the next 20 years.
Enter Bill Clinton—a reform-minded Southern governor who knew instinctively what had to be done. Having won office in an ideologically challenging part of the country, and having learned from bitter personal experience the lessons of electoral defeat, Clinton resolved to revitalize the party and recharge its connection with the middle-class voting public.*
In preparing for his 1992 presidential run, Clinton became chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a centrist group formed in the aftermath of the 1984 loss to Ronald Reagan. Consciously seeking to distance itself from the rhetoric of the McGovern/Carter/Mondale/Dukakis years, the DLC stressed the core themes of opportunity, responsibility, community, and entrepreneurial governance. Clinton, proclaiming himself a “New Democrat,” called in 1991 for a “New Covenant” between the American people and the government: a “solemn agreement…to provide opportunity for everybody, inspire responsibility throughout our society, and restore a sense of community to our great nation.”
Importantly, Clinton anchored this message in concrete issues: promoting national service; making our streets and neighborhoods safer; strengthening the traditional family and creating a more family-friendly workplace; promoting educational accountability and advocating public-school choice; and, especially, “ending welfare as we know it.”
Welfare was “key,” as Elaine Kamarck, a Clinton adviser, put it, “because it was about values.” And when it came to the value of work, the Democratic Party was out of step with most Americans, who “resented the culture of welfare and the culture of dependency.”
If the promise of welfare reform “sent a political signal,” in Kamarck’s words, a no less powerful political signal was sent in the late spring of 1992 when the rap artist Sister Souljah, who had made racially charged remarks about killing white people, spoke at a convention of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, then still a strong force within the Democratic Party. A day later, Clinton took both Sister Souljah and her host to task:
Of course, Clinton’s party was still the party of the left, and Clinton made sure to embrace its caricature of the Reagan-Bush era as a “gilded age of greed and selfishness.” But his mouthing of such clichés was of lesser import than his work of ideological renovation, combined with his sophisticated ground game aimed at revising his party’s encrusted nominating system. In presenting himself to the American public, he invoked his intended policy initiatives, as well as his willingness to confront ideological excesses within his own coalition, as emblems of a Democratic shift toward mainstream values.
As his two victories conclusively demonstrated, it worked.
In the United Kingdom, the ideological disability faced by Tony Blair’s Labour Party was more acute than what Bill Clinton faced as a Democrat. Prior to Blair’s victory in 1997, Labour had suffered four election defeats and had not won 40 percent of the popular vote since 1970. The core of Labour’s support—blue-collar workers in industries such as coal, steel, and shipbuilding—was being replaced by a service-based economy. Labour was a radical party, favoring such things as unilateral nuclear disarmament and the wholesale nationalization of key industries. It was viewed as hostile to the police and two-parent families. Labour had lost Middle Britain.
Tony Blair was the driving force for modernization. He went about creating what he called “New Labour,” which he viewed not simply as a slogan but an attitude. It meant “confronting the old attitudes of the party not from time to time but every day, at every moment, on each occasion when they tried to reassert themselves.”
The issue that first signaled that Blair was a different kind of Labour Party politician was crime. A wave of youth crime was sweeping the nation, and Blair hit the issue head on. He refused to make excuses for crime, as many in his party were inclined to do, and he put it in the broader context of personal responsibility and the duties of citizenship. In a speech he said: “We cannot exist in a moral vacuum. If we do not learn and then teach the value of what is right and what is wrong the result is simply moral chaos which engulfs us all.” Blair’s close aide Peter Mandelson reportedly believed the speech was “a turning point in the party’s reconnection with the voters of Middle Britain and a seminal speech for Blair.”
Then there was Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution. Drafted in the early 20th century by the Fabian Sidney Webb, it called for “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.” This was a hallowed text for the left, but Blair didn’t care. “Changing it was not a superficial thing; it implied a significant, deep, and lasting change to the way the party thought, worked, and would govern,” Blair wrote in his autobiography. And so at Labour’s 1994 convention, in the words of Blair biographer Philip Stephens, “Clause IV was buried, and New Labour was born.”
On a whole range of other issues—including welfare, education, economics, and defense—Blair put in place a new intellectual framework that he believed connected his party to the modern world. Blair saw his task as both to teach the Labour Party a new political language and to “change the way it thinks.” He succeeded, and in May 1997 won the biggest election victory in Britain since the 1930s.
Which brings us to today’s GOP.
It is important not to forget the positive in today’s situation: After all, Republicans not only maintain control of the House of Representatives, they hold no fewer than 30 governorships. Still, the resounding Republican midterm victory in 2010 now seems more like an aberration—a temporary backlash to presidential overreach—than evidence of an upward trend. To the contrary, it is the negatives that are politically fundamental.
This is not just bad news for the Republican Party; it is bad news for the country. As much as at any time in recent history, America needs a strong, vibrant party on the right to speak for the civilizing ideal of limited government. Barack Obama has put in place an agenda of unreconstructed progressivism that is at war, not only with Reaganism, but also with Clintonism. He has exacerbated a massive fiscal imbalance, added a poorly designed entitlement that further destabilizes the health sector, and sounded an uncertain trumpet of global leadership. If Republicans urgently need to recalibrate, and they do, it is because the stakes are so high.
Among some party loyalists, there is a natural tendency to maintain that the GOP is simply suffering from a “communications problem,” that if only Republicans spoke more loudly, more insistently, and with greater purity and passion, they would broaden their appeal and proceed to sweep national elections. But that counsel, appealing as it might be to a shrinking segment of the electorate, is surely not adequate to present circumstances. More is needed than pumping up the volume.
Intellectual honesty is the first requirement of self-renewal. Republican problems are not superficial or transient.
For the GOP to revivify itself and enlarge its appeal, Republicans at every level will have to think creatively even as they remain within the boundaries of their core principles. In particular, five steps are necessary, each in the realm of a pressing national need.
First, and most important, is focusing on the economic concerns of working-and middle-class Americans, many of whom now regard the Republican Party as beholden to “millionaires and billionaires” and as wholly out of touch with ordinary Americans. This is a durable impression—witness Bill Clinton’s effective deployment of it more than 20 years ago and its continued resonance during the 2012 campaign when Team Obama portrayed Mitt Romney as a plutocrat who delighted in shutting down factories and moving jobs overseas. Sure enough, in November exit polls, 81 percent of voters said that Barack Obama “cared for people like me”; a mere 18 percent said the same of Romney. They also showed that a majority of Americans (53 percent) said Governor Romney’s policies would generally favor the rich, versus only 34 percent who said he would favor the middle class.
In developing a response to these perceptions, Republicans should not downplay their traditional strengths. Given the feeble path of economic growth, reasonable tax rates and a rational tax code are prerequisites for future job creation at sufficient levels. Given the unsustainable path of health-oriented entitlement spending—which threatens to crowd out every other form of federal spending—some party must rise to responsibility. And given the vast potential economic advantage of newly discovered energy sources—both natural gas and shale oil—Republicans should stand for their responsible exploitation.
But gaining a fair hearing on any of these issues requires changing an image that the GOP is engaged in class warfare on behalf of the upper class. Republicans could begin by becoming visible and persistent critics of corporate welfare: the vast network of subsidies and tax breaks extended by Democratic and Republican administrations alike to wealthy and well-connected corporations. Such benefits undermine free markets and undercut the public’s confidence in American capitalism. They also increase federal spending. The conservative case against this high-level form of the dole is obvious, and so is the appropriate agenda: cutting off the patent cronyism that infects federal policy toward energy, health care, and the automobile and financial-services industries, resulting in a pernicious and corrupting system of interdependency. “Ending corporate welfare as we know it”: For a pro-market party, this should be a rich vein to mine.
Four years after the economic and ethical failure of major financial institutions set off a cascade of national suffering, Republicans are still viewed as opponents of institutional reform. Here, Republicans need a touch of Teddy Roosevelt. America’s five largest banks hold assets equal to 60 percent of our economy, a highly dangerous concentration and source of undue political power. These mega-banks—both “too big to fail” and “too complex to manage”—are the unnatural result of government subsidies, not market forces. By supporting the breakup of the big banks, Republicans would encourage competition and create a decentralized system more likely to survive future economic earthquakes.
Together with this, the GOP could commit itself to ensuring a greater degree of social mobility across the board. At the center of any such effort lies a thoroughgoing reform of the federal role in education, focusing on public and private choice, charter schools, testing and accountability, and merit pay for teachers and principals. But a mobility agenda might also include measures to improve job training, encourage college attendance and completion among the poor, discourage teen pregnancy, improve infant and child health, and encourage wealth-building and entrepreneurship.
By tackling such issues in creative, practical, and persistent ways, the GOP would also be making a statement of political philosophy. Rather than being exclusively focused on budget numbers or individual economic rights, Republicans would be demonstrating a limited but active role for government: helping individuals attain the skills and values—the social capital—that allow them to succeed in a free economy. The Republican goal is equal opportunity, not equal results. But equality of opportunity is not a natural state; it is a social achievement, for which government shares some responsibility. The proper reaction to egalitarianism is not indifference. It is the promotion of a fluid society in which aspiration is honored and rewarded.
Second, a new Republican agenda requires the party to welcome rising immigrant groups. When it comes to immigration, the GOP has succeeded in taking an issue of genuine concern—namely, the lack of border security—and speaking about it in ways offensive to legal immigrants, including vast numbers of Hispanics and Asian Americans (with whom Romney did even worse than Hispanics).
During the 2012 Republican primary season, for example, with candidates vying for the title of who could be toughest on illegal immigration, Herman Cain described his ideal border fence like this: “It’s going to be 20 feet high. It’s going to have barbed wire on the top. It’s going to be electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side saying, ‘It will kill you—Warning.’” In case anyone missed the point, Cain added helpfully that the sign would be written “in English and in Spanish.”
Instead of signaling that America is a closed society, which it is not and never has been, Republicans would do better to stress the assimilating power of American ideals—the power whereby strangers become neighbors and fellow citizens. In this connection, they would also do better, for themselves and for the country, to call for increasing the number of visas issued to seasonal and permanent farm workers; to champion a greater stress on merit and skill in admitting legal immigrants; and, for the 12 million or so undocumented workers in the United States, to provide an attainable if duly arduous path to legal status and eventually citizenship.
Conservative critics of such reforms sometimes express the conviction that Hispanic voters are inherently favorable to bigger government and thus more or less permanently immune to Republican appeals. It is a view that combines an off-putting sense of ideological superiority—apparently “those people” are not persuadable—with a pessimism about the drawing power of conservative ideals. Such attitudes are the prerogative of a sectarian faction. They are not an option for a political party, which cannot afford to lose the ambition to convince.
Third, Republicans need to express and demonstrate a commitment to the common good, a powerful and deeply conservative concept. There is an impression—exaggerated but not wholly without merit—that the GOP is hyper-individualistic. During the Republican convention, for example, we repeatedly heard about the virtues of individual liberty but almost nothing about the importance of community or social solidarity, and of the obligations and attachments we have to each other. Even Republican figures who espouse relatively moderate policy prescriptions often sound like libertarians run amok.
This picture needs to be filled out, and there is a rich conservative tradition to turn to for inspiration. Included within that tradition is the thought of Edmund Burke, with its emphasis on the “little platoons” of civil society; the Catholic doctrines of subsidiarity and solidarity with the poor; and the ideas developed by evangelical social reformers of an earlier era such as, in England, William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury.
But a turn in this direction cannot be only rhetorical. In pointing to dangers of an expanding central government, Republicans can rightly cite not only the constraints it places on individual initiative but also its crowding-out of civil society and citizen engagement. Specifically, they might propose ways to protect the charitable sector from federal aggression. They might also work to reinforce the activities of civil-society groups by involving them centrally in the next stages of welfare reform, in a robust agenda to overhaul our prison system, and in a concerted effort to encourage civic and cultural assimilation of immigrants.
American society comprises more than private individuals on the one hand, government on the other. Republicans and conservatives can and should take their policy bearings from that crucial fact.
Fourth, the GOP can engage vital social issues forthrightly but in a manner that is aspirational rather than alienating.
Addressing the issue of marriage and family is not optional; it is essential. Far from being a strictly private matter, the collapse of the marriage culture in America has profound public ramifications, affecting everything from welfare and education to crime, income inequality, social mobility, and the size of the state. Yet few public or political figures are even willing to acknowledge that this collapse is happening.
For various reasons, the issue of gay marriage is now front and center in the public consciousness. Republicans for the most part oppose same-sex marriage out of deference to traditional family structures. In large parts of America, and among the largest portion of a rising generation, this appears to be a losing battle. In the meantime, the fact remains that our marriage culture began to disintegrate long before a single court or a single state approved gay marriage. It is heterosexuals, not homosexuals, who have made a hash out of marriage, and when it comes to strengthening an institution in crisis, Republicans need to have something useful to offer. The advance of gay marriage does not release them from their responsibilities to help fortify that institution and speak out confidently on the full array of family-related issues. Republicans need to make their own inner peace with working with those who both support gay marriage and are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage.
Yes, the ability of government to shape attitudes and practices regarding family life is very limited. But a critical first step is to be clear and consistent about the importance of marriage itself—as the best institution ever devised when it comes to raising children, the single best path to a life out of poverty, and something that needs to be reinforced rather than undermined by society.
Other steps then follow: correcting the mistreatment of parents in our tax code by significantly increasing the child tax credit; eliminating various marriage penalties and harmful incentives for poor and for unwed mothers; evaluating state and local marriage-promotion programs and supporting those that work; informally encouraging Hollywood to help shape positive attitudes toward marriage and parenthood. There may be no single, easy solution, but that is not a reason for silence on the issue of strengthening and protecting the family.
Fifth, where appropriate, Republicans need to harness their policy views to the findings of science. This has been effectively done on the pro-life issue, with sonograms that reveal the humanity of a developing child. But the cause of scientific literacy was not aided during the recent primary season, when Michele Bachmann warned that “innocent little 12-year-old girls” were being “forced to have a government injection” to prevent the spread of the human papilloma virus, adding that some vaccines may cause “mental retardation.” Bachmann managed to combine ignorance about public health, indifference to cervical cancer, anti-government paranoia, and discredited conspiracy theories about vaccines into one censorious package.
The issue of climate disruption is far more complex, but can play a similar, discrediting role. There is a difference between a healthy skepticism toward fashionable liberal shibboleths and dogmatic resistance to accumulated evidence. Gregg Easterbrook, an environmental commentator who has a long record of opposing alarmism, put it this way: “All of the world’s major science academies have said they are convinced climate change is happening and that human action plays a role.”
To acknowledge climate disruption need hardly lead one to embrace Al Gore’s policy agenda. It is perfectly reasonable to doubt the merits of pushing for a global deal to cut carbon emissions—a deal that is almost surely beyond reach—and to argue instead for a focus on adaptation and investments in new and emerging technologies. Republicans could back an entrepreneurial approach to technical and scientific investment as opposed to the top-down approach of unwieldy government bureaucracies offering huge subsidies to favored companies such as Solyndra. (See above, under “corporate welfare.”)
Confronting climate change is important in and of itself. It is also important as a matter of epistemology, to show that Republicans are not, in fact, at war with the scientific method. Only then will Republicans have adequate standing to criticize junk science when it’s used as a tort weapon or as an obstacle to new energy technologies.
The agenda sketched above is neither comprehensive nor definitive, but is intended as a starting point for discussion. Its aim is to locate a means of broadening the appeal of the GOP without violating the party’s core principles of life and liberty. Such an approach is consistent with the traditional conservative hope of balancing what Burke called “the two principles of conservation and correction.”
What we have recommended is a series of such corrections, necessary for the task of conservation, and necessary for winning national elections and governing: the political prerequisites to any agenda of reform. These corrections will be the work of many hands, including governors, members of Congress, and policy entrepreneurs. It would also be helpful to create an institution, modeled after the DLC or the Centre for Social Justice in the United Kingdom, whose chief purpose would be to generate the ideas, the arguments, and the policy proposals essential to a movement aimed at winning power and governing effectively. This movement, right now, lacks a headquarters.
In the end, of course, success will also require the emergence of the right presidential candidate in 2016—in some respects the most sobering item in this entire exercise. In the arc of the GOP nomination contest in 2012—involving dozens of state Republican primaries, more than 20 debates, and tens of millions of dollars in ads—issues such as upward mobility, education, middle-class concerns, poverty, strong communities and safe streets, corporate welfare, the environment, cultural renewal, and immigration either were hardly mentioned or, in the case of immigration, were discussed in the most disaffecting way possible. There was more talk about electrified fences and self-deportation than there was about social and economic opportunity and the modernization of our governing institutions.
Any fair-minded survey of rising Republican leaders—the ranks contain, among others, Senators Marco Rubio and Kelly Ayotte, Representatives Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling, Governors Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Susana Martinez, and Scott Walker, as well as former governors such as Jeb Bush—suggests that the GOP possesses impressive political talent. Their challenge is both to refine and relaunch the Republican message, to propose policies that symbolize values and cultural understanding, to reconnect with a middle America that looks different than it once did, and to confront old attitudes, not from time to time, but every day.
The challenge for primary voters, party activists, and party leaders is different: to create the conditions that will give this talented field the intellectual support and leeway to oppose outworn or extreme ideas within their own coalition and to produce an agenda relevant to our time.
Republicans won't win more votes by being more like Democrats. That's going to lose them net votes because they will come out of their base.
They'll win more votes by being moderate in the right ways, while still maintaining principles. This means "fiscally conservative, socially liberal." AKA. Libertarianism.
Reagan already proved this model wins in America. Not only does it attract the conservative base, and attract moderates, but it also create division on the Democratic side (ie. Blue Dog Democrats)
The future of free-market healthcare
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Avik Roy
February 20, 2013
Over nearly a century, progressives have pressed for a national, single-payer healthcare system. When it comes to health reform, what have conservatives stood for?
For far too long, conservatives have failed to coalesce around a long-term vision of what a free-market healthcare system should look like. Republican attention to healthcare, in turn, has only arisen sporadically, in response to Democratic initiatives.
Obamacare is the logical byproduct of this conservative policy neglect. President Barack Obama’s re-election was a strategic victory for his signature healthcare law. Once the bulk of the program begins to be implemented in 2014 — especially its trillions of dollars in new health-insurance subsidies — it will become politically impossible to repeal. And as the baby boomers retire and Obamacare is fully operational, government health spending will reach unsustainable levels.
The great irony of Obama’s triumph, however, is that it can pave the way for Republicans to adopt a comprehensive, market-oriented healthcare agenda. The market-oriented prescription drug program in Medicare has controlled the growth of government health spending. Similarly, conservatives can use Obamacare’s important concession to the private sector — its establishment of subsidized insurance marketplaces — as a vehicle for broader entitlement reforms.
While most Americans view their healthcare system as “free-market,” Switzerland actually has the most market-oriented healthcare system in the West. It translates into universal coverage and low entitlement costs. Swiss government entities spent about 3.5 percent of gross domestic product on healthcare in 2010, compared to 8.5 percent in the United States. That’s a difference of more than $5 trillion over 10 years: real money, especially relative to our $16 trillion debt.
There is no “public option” in Switzerland. Instead, citizens qualify for means-tested, sliding-scale subsidies and choose among a variety of regulated, private-sector insurance products. The Swiss have the freedom to choose their own doctors, as Americans do, and access to the latest medical technologies. They also have short waiting times for appointments.
Both Representative Paul Ryan’s “premium support” proposal for Medicare and Obamacare’s exchanges are modeled on the Swiss system. If premium support is a dastardly right-wing plot, despite its origins in Democratic circles, applying Obamacare’s exchanges to Medicare is even more so. After all, Obamacare’s subsidies only apply to those with incomes below four times the federal poverty level: $60,520 for a family of two. By contrast, Medicare subsidies apply to every American over age 65.
Shifting Medicare to the exchanges would save trillions of taxpayer dollars in future entitlement spending. After all, why should middle-class taxpayers be forced to pay for Warren Buffett’s health insurance?
There is, indeed, a way to use health-insurance exchanges to both reform our healthcare entitlements and reduce premiums for those with private insurance. This transition could take four steps.
The first is to replace or reform Obamacare’s exchanges, which are larded with costly mandates and regulations. These drive up the price of insurance, while limiting insurers’ ability to come up with more innovative, cost-efficient products.
“Community rating,” for example, will dramatically increase premiums for young people, a counterproductive approach when one considers that most uninsured Americans are in their 20s and 30s. States should build free-market exchanges with affordable health plans — as Utah has done — and demonstrate their superiority to Obamacare’s costlier approach.
Second, Republicans in Congress should put the size, scale and growth of Obamacare’s insurance subsidies on the table in all current and future budget talks. The subsidies should end at 300 percent of the federal poverty level, as they do in Massachusetts, instead of 400 percent. And they should not grow at a faster rate than the economy, as they are now designed to do.
Third, we should use the insurance exchanges in the service of Medicare reform. Instead of bothering with complex legislation, Congress should raise the eligibility age for traditional Medicare by three months each year — for the foreseeable future. Retirees will then gradually migrate into the exchanges’ premium-support systems.
Medicaid-eligible seniors should also be offered exchange-based coverage, to improve the quality and coordination of their care.
Fourth is to gradually shift the remainder of Medicaid’s low-income enrollees into the exchanges. Today, Medicaid recipients face a strong disincentive to seek work, because entry-level jobs can force them to give up their health coverage in exchange for modestly higher income. The exchanges would allow these workers to climb up the income ladder while maintaining their insurance.
The end result would be a fiscally sustainable, fully reformed set of entitlement and insurance programs that place American families in charge of their own health dollars. In other words, everything that conservatives have always wanted. And we’d have Obama, in part, to thank.
The OP made pretty much this exact argument.
One more time: why should the GOP change? They hold the House, and they have never done better in the State houses than they're doing right now. Why change?
Reagain was a fiscal conservative, social liberal???? Who knew!
But Reagan knew. He was a Democrat before he was a Republican. But more than that, he was a student of libertarianism. His speeches from the 60's and 70's sound like they came from a Ron Paul rally.
Does the War Party Have a Peace Caucus?
The Hagel saga highlights foreign-policy foibles of Tea Partiers and realists alike.
By W. James Antle III
February 17, 2013
Chuck Hagel’s confirmation process has been the most depressing episode in the Republican foreign-policy debate since George W. Bush was president, not least because the debate is still constrained by terms set by John McCain and impersonators such as Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte.
Hagel may be flawed, but Senate Republicans have largely subjected the would-be Obama defense secretary to a show trial for his modest dissents from the Bush administration as a GOP senator from Nebraska. Among many of Hagel’s former colleagues, the idea that Bush’s Iraq policy was anything less than an unqualified success somehow remains controversial.
Worse, none of the Tea Party freshmen took the opportunity to distinguish themselves from their colleagues in the hearings. This is to be expected of Marco Rubio, who has made his hawkish inclinations plain, but not the trio of senators endorsed by Ron Paul—Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and his son Rand Paul.
All three of these senators joined the vast majority of Republicans in delaying Hagel’s nomination. Lee has said he will ultimately vote against Hagel, calling his positions “weak” and “dangerous.” Cruz has been too demagogic in his opposition even for Graham and McCain.
The bigger concern is what this means for these senators’ broader foreign-policy views. In the 1990s, Republicans used some lowest-common-denominator issues—congressional declarations of war, no troops under foreign command—to appeal to less interventionist conservatives drawn to Pat Buchanan, while remaining conventionally but covertly hawkish.
Even Bush famously called for a “humble foreign policy” and talked about “exit strategies” during the 2000 campaign, likely trying to minimize defections to Buchanan. Are Ron Paul voters being similarly played?
Hagel himself represents the kind of realist Republican who hasn’t always been particularly antiwar. He voted for the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and national surveillance. In 2004 he called for reinstating the draft, albeit on the grounds of shared sacrifice across socioeconomic lines. Hagel’s gradual shift on Iraq was certainly important, but less decisive—and less reflected in his voting record—than Rep. Walter Jones’s.
Moreover, Hagel’s own performance at his confirmation hearings left much to be desired. To be sure, much of this had to do with the fact that the Obama administration pushed him to disavow rather than defend many of his positions. Few of us would sound eloquent disowning our own opinions and embracing someone else’s.
But how strong of a voice for foreign-policy restraint will Hagel be within the administration if he has already walked back many of his stands before taking office? And he seemed ill-prepared for obvious questions, something that cannot necessarily be blamed on White House efforts to censor him.
By contrast, Paul and Lee have voted against the Patriot Act, in favor of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and for measures designed to remove or dilute the indefinite detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act. They have both sought to impose checks on warrantless wiretapping. Paul introduced and voted for a resolution to revoke the authorization of the Iraq War.
For his part, Paul has argued that the issue of extrajudicial killings under the domestic drone program is of more importance than the Hagel confirmation fight. And he has implied that his Hagel vote was motivated in part to win Republican support for extracting information from CIA director nominee John Brennan.
None of this is to say it’s not troubling that we haven’t seen a realist caucus emerge during the Hagel confirmation fight, one that pushes back against the more hysterical accusations or at least acknowledges the millions of Americans who don’t want another Iraq.
But it is worth noting that there are Republican senators currently serving who have gone further on foreign policy and civil liberties than Hagel ever did.
A failing of many Republican realists, from Jon Huntsman to Richard Lugar, is that for all they do to alienate the rest of their party, they seldom oppose wars when it matters most. At best they express regret after the fact, before reluctantly supporting the next one. Usually, they confine their complaints to the Sunday talk shows.
Perhaps Republicans who retain their conservative movement bona fides will be able to have more impact when it counts. Until that has been demonstrated, however, skeptics will expect another “humble foreign policy” let-down.
Why No “Realist Caucus” in the GOP Has Emerged
By Daniel Larison
February 19, 2013, 12:57 PM
There was something else from Jim Antle’s good article on Republican foreign policy divisions that I wanted to discuss. Antle writes:
The Hagel fight represents the Republican Party’s larger foreign policy weaknesses in miniature, beginning with the fact that there is any controversy over Hagel’s nomination in the first place. One might think that leaders of a party so closely identified with the Iraq debacle wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to castigate one of their few nationally-known colleagues when he was more prescient about the war’s pitfalls and was less willing to persist in a bad cause. A party led by people who think that the “surge” makes up for the greatest strategic blunder in a generation (or, more absurdly, think that it means that the U.S. “won” the war) isn’t suited to pass judgment on anyone else on matters of national security and foreign policy.
Minimal awareness of past failures might encourage Republican hard-liners to hold their tongues and be less obnoxious in their treatment of one of the relative few elected Republicans that recognized the folly of the war long before any of them did. There is no such awareness, and no desire to acquire it. Put simply, no “realist caucus” emerged in the last two months because most party leaders remain stuck in a fantasy world in which the Iraq war was a great success, uncritical support for all Israeli policies is wise, and unending hostility towards Iran is prudent, and most elected Republicans continue to take their cues on these issues from the people who have been wrong about virtually every major foreign policy issue for at least the last fifteen years.
Damn Direckshun...where do you find the time?
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