GOP Real and Imagined

Inter-Galactic Reform Conservatism

Conservative reformers' program is...respectable. If only the Republican Party were.

Ross Douthat posted what seems to me the clearest and simplest explication of what exactly "reform conservatism" is, the set of doctines being advanced by the handful of pundit-intellectuals I wrote about the other day.

Douthat's program proceeds from two assumptions and is based on six principles. The assumptions are that stagnation is our great economic problem (rather than inequality per se), and that New Deal-Great Society programs and policies make this problem worse. Fair enough. They'd hardly be conservatives if they believed otherwise.

The six bullet points range from the Ryanesque and the stuff that Ryan probably believes but was smart enough to lie about during a presidential campaign (changing Medicare to premium support; means-testing Social Security and raising the retirement age) to things that are more moderate, like tax reform that reduces the burden on working parents and the middle class. On immigration, amnesty is part of the program but only after other enforcement measures are put in place. It would do nothing about climate change and would embrace but soft-pedal and rebrand social conservatism.

Douthat is a smart guy, I am grateful for his nice plug for Democracy a few months ago. And his program is fine. Not something I'd be for, obviously, but, compared to what we have today, it is slightly less hard-core in a few particulars. For example it at least acknowledges that the GOP should do something about health care, which the legislative, actual Republican Party by and large doesn't acknowledge.

So now all he and his comrades have to do is load up on dilithium crystals, fire up the space ship, and go find the universe where the Republican Party exists that will embrace some of these changes. Because it sure isn't this one.

Ramesh Ponnuru responded to my "screed" by writing that I said that "to be a good reformer a conservative has to agree that the vast bulk of conservatives are insane." Well, that's a caricature, but I guess a fair one, within the loose rules of punditry. But my real point, in talking about asset-building and all that, was that the GOP (its elected legislators and the base they feed and fear) is actively and aggressively against the 47 percent and especially the poor, and its warfare mentality will permit very little real change along these lines because those are the Democrats' people; and too much of the base sees compromise as capitulation, and the Rush Limbaugh mentality basically runs the party. I see why these guys are choosing to pretend these things aren't so, but that doesn't mean I have to.