Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Beyond Tax Cuts: The Future of the GOP

Mark Schmitt posts a superb article on the undoing of the Republican Party (hat tip: Crooked Timber), a phenomona that I have blogged about ad naseum.

Money Quote
Tax cuts are not conservatism. They are not a coherent worldview. They were a part of the conservative philosophy, but not an end in themselves. Stripped out of the larger framework of smaller government, of modesty about the possibilities of change, of respect for tradition and history, and of the sense that central government can be oppressive as easily as it can be liberating, tax cuts amount to nothing more than a material benefit for a few, and a long-term liability for everyone else. Put another way, imagine that the animating ideas of liberalism were reduced to this promise: "We will create a new cabinet-level agency every single year." That's not a vision that can attract deep loyalty, and neither is the promise of a tax cut every year.

What, exactly, does the Republican Party have left? It doesn't have a commitment to Homeland Security, witness Bush's opposition to the DHS, 9/11 commission, and a myriad of other HS reforms. It doesn't have a commitment to small government, look at the Prescription Drug Coverage plan. It doesn't have a commitment to states rights, look at NCLB. It doesn't care about government non-intrusiveness, look at the FMA and the PATRIOT act. The closest thing to a coherent foreign policy it has is a commitment to democratization, which I support (and tragically, many Democrats have reflexively opposed despite it being a natural extension of liberal views), but even this appears to have stalled out beyond Afghanistan and Iraq (look at our anemic protests towards Putin's Russia, and our devil's bargain with Uzbekistan, for example). I would say Republican's like to blow things up, but then why is North Korea still on the map? It appears that LITERALLY the only thing that "unites" the Republican party is tax cuts, and that coalition simply can't hold together much longer.

What would be interesting is seeing what the "new" GOP will be. In discussing it with my friends, the most popular answer is that the Rockefellers will united with the "traditionalists" (IE, McCain and his ilk), with the libertarians still cautiously supporting them (but, like today, being relegated to the margins), and the social conservatives being the odd men out. They justify this on two grounds, first, that the social conservatives are the farthest from mainstream American thought and thus would be logically the first to be jettisoned, and second that since American youth are more tolerant than their parents, the religious right is a shrinking demographic anyway and thus won't be able to wield as much power. I lean more towards the social conservatives taking control, taking about 3/4 of the traditionalists with them. The Rockefellers, Libertarians, and remaining Traditionalists will become independents or possibly Democrats. The reason I think this is true is that, even if their numbers are naturally shrinking, the religious right still is by far their largest constituency and biggest voting bloc. Not only do they keep the deep south and plain states firmly in Republican hands (and let's remember, the south's Huey Long roots mean it doesn't have any emotional attachment to small, limited government per se, same thing for turn of the century prairie populism, neither has deep, longstanding mistrust of government), but they also represent the GOPs best argument towards otherwise democrat leaning constituencies in swing states. Look at Ohio, for example. There, the GOP isn't selling its economic message to prospective voters, it's seeking to lure voters to the polls by virtue of the anti-gay marriage initiative on the ballot. On economics, they lose, on social policies, they win, and that's why the social conservatives will have disproportionate leverage in the party. Simply put, the social conservatives can reasonably argue that they can create a winning electoral strategy without anyone else's help, which may or may not be true but gives them a lot of maneuvering room in the chaos that is to come. The Rockefellers and Libertarians simply aren't prevalent enough in the GOP base to really influence the party (the former concentrated in the solidly Democratic Northeast, the latter rarely seen outside of Dupont Circle in DC). This grip is only strengthened by virtue of the fact that the vast majority of the Republican leadership is in the social conservative wing (DeLay, Kyl, Santorum, Hastert, Bond, etc). If the moderates wish to take control of the GOP, they'd have to mount a coup, if the social conservatives wish to stay in control, they just have to let the moderates die of attrition. Ultimately, demographics work against this new party, and it will drift back towards the center. But in the short term, I expect the GOP to turn hard to the right, especially if it loses this election.


Anonymous said...

True David there are some factions of the party that are unhappy, but do you really think that John Kerry is a beter alternative? Sure there are some conservative reasons not to vote for Bush, but its hard to believe there is any conservative reason to vote for John Kerry. I believe the folks at Powerline said the same exact thing.

While he is an avid hunter and "has long gone hunting on the cape"(people hunt on the cape?), and may come across as a rugged-outdoorsy conservative, Im not sure people are buying it. In my lifetime in Massachusetts I've never heard of anyone hunting on the Cape nor have I ever mistaken my senator as a conservative. I bring up that one issue lightly but to some extent i think its indicative of his over all supposed 'conservatism'

Conservative groups have much more to lose with kerry than they do with bush. Leave the republican Become disgruntled republicans... yes. But I also think conservatives tend to be a bit more pragmatic in the face of such things.

-Joe Sheehan

N.S.T said...

Schraub- Ronald Reagan managed to become THE symbol of conservatism and he showed a committment to big government, tax cuts, and strong foreign policy- Much like the current POTUS. It's simply unreasonable to define the presence of party unity by the absence of any variation in the views of the party members. Americans are a large, diverse, group of people(given to using hackneyed cliches, I might add)who don't need to choose their party based on a comlpete agreement with the party platform, especially when one considers that there're only two major parties to choose from- there will be variation. As far as conservatism in general, I would humbly submit that ideologies change over time, and that Kerry--if taken as the symbol of liberalism-- may reflect a large ideological rift in the democratic party as well. The man is simply clintonesque in his need to appeal to everyone, to run the fine line on every issue, trying not to offend anyone until his positions are incoherent. As ideological rifts and united political parties, I would assert that Republicans will always be united by a Reaganesque optimism and faith in America, an unfailing ability to emphasize the good, the hopeful things that america embodies, while remaining tough to defeat the bad. Democrats, on the other hand, will always be united by an unfailing ability to see the glass half-empty, a pessimism about America that radiates negativity and gloom. That's the difference between both parties, both ideologies, which no amount of in-fighting in either party could ever affect.

Respond if you like,

Thanks-Nick Tell