Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Changing the Game

In The Weekly Standard, Matt Continetti explores the GOP's political "double bind," arguing that possible steps the GOP could take for reform could shatter its political coalition.  As he puts it:
Trying to appeal to the coalition of the ascendant and the Reagan coalition simultaneously would give the party a severe case of political schizophrenia. The GOP would bewilder its historic base of support while disappointing newcomers, leading to confusion, disillusionment, apathy, and perhaps (ultimately) dissolution.

The Republicans, like feminists, can’t have it all. They are trapped in the double bind.

Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, who worked for President George W. Bush, have a cover story in Commentary on how to revive the Republican party. Their proposals are well intentioned, cogent, and in some ways persuasive. When they get into the nitty-gritty of specifics, though, they bump up against the double bind.

For example, Gerson and Wehner propose “ending corporate welfare as we know it”; “supporting the breakup of the big banks”; and “thoroughgoing reform of the federal role in education, focusing on public and private choice.” Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner made similar arguments shortly after the election, when he called for a “new Republican populism” that “can promise to level the field by getting the bureaucrats and politicians out of it” and by cutting regulations and ending bailouts.

Sounds great. But a word of caution: There is little evidence these policies would be any more popular than traditional Republican ones. And one reason there is so little evidence is that there is no serious advocate for these ideas within the ranks of Republican officeholders. Why is there no advocate for these ideas? Because major elements of the Republican party oppose them.
Continetti suggests that one strategy Republicans might turn to in the face of this double bind is the acceptance of the idea of a "conservative welfare state."  This kind of conservatism would accept the legitimacy of the state but then try to reform this state so that it accomplished conservative ends.  This wouldn't necessarily be totally centrally controlled state; Continetti leaves a big space open for federalism.

As he concludes his vision of a conservative welfare state, Continetti writes:
The conservative welfare state of our dreams would be, well, a state. That is, it would be an effective federal government. And it would be a community. Human beings are not faceless monads choosing identities at will from a universal menu of options. Human beings are born into families, faiths, and nations.

The security of all three of these pre-liberal forms of association is important. For families, that means growing incomes while lessening the costs of child-rearing, and giving parents blocking gear against the offenses of a hazardous popular culture. For faiths, that means protecting ministerial exceptions and religious liberty. For the nation, that means borders that are secure, a trade policy that puts the interests of American laborers over the interests of multinational corporations, a sound currency, and a fearsome military.
The emphasis on "community" in Continetti's vision has considerable merit, especially the recognition that we find ourselves members of community and that people are social animals and not just profit-seeking automatons.

Whether one agrees with all the details of Continetti's alternative vision or not, he certainly does make a good case for Republicans changing the policy playing field.

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