Sunday, August 29, 2004

On the Ball

The New York Times Magazine points to the instability of the current Republican party and the possibility of a massive conservative civil war if Bush loses this election.

So now we have two sorts of Republicans. The first group is made up of people who still mouth the words about reducing the size of government but don't even pretend to live according to their creed. These Republicans, mostly in Congress, go home to their states and districts and rail against Washington and big government. Then when they get back to Capitol Hill they behave like members of any majority party. They try to use their control over the federal purse to buy votes. They embrace appropriations and champion pork with an enthusiasm that makes your eyes pop.

For them, the old anti-statist governing philosophy exists in the airy-fairy realm of ideals. When it actually comes time to make some decisions about priorities and spending, they have no governing philosophy and hence no discipline. The money just splurges out. ''The current version of the Republican Party is engaged in an outrageous spending binge, and they're being steadied and encouraged by Democrats,'' John McCain observed recently.

The money is appropriated in increments large and small -- a $180 billion corporate tax bill one week, a steady stream of pork projects all the rest. In 1994, there were 4,126 ''earmarks'' -- special spending provisions -- attached to the 13 annual appropriations bills. In 2004, there were around 14,000. Real federal spending on the Departments of Education, Commerce and Health and Human Services has roughly doubled since the Republicans took control of the House in 1994. This is a governing majority without shape, coherence or discipline.

The second group of Republicans is at least trying to come up with a governing philosophy that applies to the times. It understands the paradox that if you don't have a positive vision of government, you won't be able to limit the growth of government. If you can't offer people a vision of what government should do, you won't be able to persuade them about the things it shouldn't do. If the Republican Party is going to evolve into a principled majority party, members of this group are going to have to build a governing philosophy based on this insight.

This is hardly the only schism in the Republican party, however.

There used to be a spirit of solidarity binding all the embattled members of the conservative movement. But with conservatism ascendant, that spirit has eroded. Should Bush lose, it will be like a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself. The civil war over the future of the party will be ruthless and bloody. The foreign-policy realists will battle the democracy-promoting Reaganites. The immigrant-bashing nativists will battle the free marketeers. The tax-cutting growth wing will battle the fiscally prudent deficit hawks. The social conservatives will war with the social moderates, the biotech skeptics with the biotech enthusiasts, the K Street corporatists with the tariff-loving populists, the civil libertarians with the security-minded Ashcroftians. In short, the Republican Party is unstable.

Of course, I could be misreading the situation. The GOP could implode even if it wins this election (subscription only).

In any event, I just love being ahead of the curve (twice no less!).

(Credit to Daniel Drezner for the link, who as usual beat me to the punch.)

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