In recent weeks there’s been a fair amount of discussion on the left over the depth and genuineness of the various ideas put forth by conservatives who appear sincerely committed to reforming the GOP. Those strongly skeptical of such efforts include Mike Tomasky and Ed Kilgore. Meanwhile, Jonathan Chait sees a genuine conservative reform movement taking shape, albeit with serious limitations.
In that context, conservative apostate David Frum has just posted a piece — in which he announces to readers that he is taking a break — that is well worth your time. He lays out a set of general principles that should guide conservatives who are genuinely serious about GOP reform. Among them (emphasis mine):
Conservative reformers are understandably allergic to arguments about income inequality…one of the lessons I think conservatives should take from the 2012 Romney defeat is that the increasing concentration of wealth in America has dangerous political and intellectual consequences. […]
Conservative reformers must not absent themselves from the environmental debate. Humanity’s impact on the climate — and how to address that impact — is our world’s largest long-term challenge. If conservatives refuse to acknowledge that challenge, they only guarantee that the challenge will be addressed in ways that ignore conservative insights and values.
Conservative reformers should make their peace with universal health coverage. It’s the law, and it won’t be repealed. Other countries have managed to control costs while covering everyone, and the US can too. A message of “protect Medicare, scrap Obamacare” reinforces the image of conservatism as nothing more than the class interest of the elderly.
I appreciate that conservative reformers must pay lip-service to shibboleths about Barack Obama being the worst president of all time, who won’t rest until he has snuffed out the remains of constitutional liberty, etc. etc. Dissent too much from party orthodoxy, and you find yourself outside the party altogether. Still … conservative reformers should admit, if only to themselves, the harm that has been done by the politics of total war over the past five years. Now Republicans are working themselves into a frenzy that will paralyze Congress for the next 18 months at least, and could well lead to an impeachment crisis. As it becomes clear that the IRS story is an agency scandal, not a White House scandal, conservative reformers need to be ready to do their part to apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel.
You see some conservative reform types grappling with these questions with various degrees of directness and depth. But ask yourself this: How many Republican elected officials are even beginning to address them, in any way, shape or form?
On income inequality, Republicans such as Paul Ryan often talk about increasing social mobility as the answer to inequality, but the Ryan budget — the GOP’s sacred fiscal text — would almost certainly result in deep cuts to education. And the party continues to organize itself around total opposition to any new revenues from the rich that might make the tax code more progressive. There is no sign of any genuine pivot towards articulating an affirmative role for government in creating policies motivated by a more egalitarian spirit.
On Obamacare, no “peace” has been made with the fact that it’s the law — far from it, since Republicans have now voted to repeal it over three dozen times. More to the point, there is no discussion whatsoever of any meaningful replacements — ones focused on the core problem of how to cover the uninsured — that could conceivably become law anytime soon. Indeed, as Sahil Kapur notes, Republicans are currently coalescing around a new “tweak” to Obamacare, one that would make Republicans look committed to helping people with preexisting conditions, and one that stands no chance of going anywhere and is only designed to give Republicans something to “message” around.
On climate change, there is no serious effort that I’m aware of by more sensible Republicans to challenge the climate deniers in their ranks.
As for Frum’s final recommendation — that Republicans admit the destructive aspects of “total war” and pivot towards a more reality-based acknowledgment of just how “scandalous” the various ongoing scandals really are — if anything, Republicans are moving in the opposite direction. Republicans are clearly putting all their chips on a base-motivating strategy for 2014 that’s centered on creating a sinister narrative of Obama/Dem Big Government Overreach, one that rests on turning over every rock in sight in hopes of finding some way, any way, to tie the the ongoing scandals to Obama. And, of course, on tying the scandals to Obamacare, which Republicans are openly rooting for to fail, while offering no meaningful replacement.
As Chait put it recently:
The radicalism of the current Republican Party – its ideological extremism, disdain for empiricism, the inability to share or modulate power – is, to me, the central problem in American life. In the long run, the resolution to nearly every policy problem depends on the GOP refashioning itself as a normal, non-pathological party.
I don’t feel qualified to address the more detailed reform agendas that some of the conservative wonky writers have put forth. But when it comes to GOP elected officials, with the possible exception of immigration, is this really an exaggeration? It seems to me we’re essentially stuck in a stalemate that will last until at least 2014 or even 2016.