Liberal pundits have deplored for many years the stale or entirely nonexistent GOP policy agenda — with some justification. Since 2008 the predominant message coming from Republicans at the federal level was anti-government and hostility toward anything that smacked of “compassionate conservatism.” (Perish the thought that Republicans should want to improve the lives of the poor and vulnerable.) But a lot has changed in the last year or so. The GOP’s critics might want to take another look at each party.
Much as it annoys far-left and far-right pundits, the wonkish center-right is having an intellectual feast these days. Suddenly, everywhere one cares to look, speeches, ideas, proposals and essays take on issues like poverty, upward mobility and even happiness. Think tankers, pundits and politicians on the right seem to have simultaneously figured out that conservatism and governance are not mutually exclusive.
David Brooks, the Margaret Mead of the Upper West Side, ventures into the wilds of the right to report back to the Manhattan co-ops on the right’s activities. He breaks the news to them gently:
This is the conservatism of skeptical reform. This conservatism is oriented, first, around social problems, not government. For many years, conservatives spoke as if runaway government was the only major threat facing the country. Defining themselves against government, Republican politicians had no governing agenda for people facing concrete needs.
But the emerging conservatives begin their analysis by looking at concrete problems: how to help the unemployed move to where they can find jobs; how to help gifted students from poor families reach their potential. If you start by looking at these specific matters, then even conservatives conclude that, in properly limited ways, government can be a useful tool. Government is not the only solution, but it is also not the only problem.
But it is worse (for the left) than all that. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is talking about school choice and jobs. The speaker magnifies that message, as Byron York reports:
The largest group of bills, 13 in all, deal with energy: The Northern Route Approval Act (about the Keystone XL Pipeline). The Offshore Energy and Jobs Act. The Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act. The Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act. And more.
On other issues, there is the Innovation Act. The Small Business Capital Access and Job Preservation Act. The Working Families Flexibility Act. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act. And still more.
All have gone nowhere in divided Washington. But now, Hill Republicans believe they have a new opportunity to make progress. The disastrous rollout of Obamacare, they say, has not only reduced the public’s faith in Obama’s ability to handle health care issues. It has reduced the public’s faith in the president overall, and has in addition made voters increasingly likely to view Obama more as a cause of the country’s problems than a solution.
And what does the left have? It has unwavering allegiance to the legislation voters detest most, Obamacare. That resists even attempts to deal with legitimate security issues. Last week, Cantor in a Fox News interview argued, “The imperative is to allow the individuals to take the actions necessary to minimize or mitigate any kind of damage that could occur. This is a very scary issue to a lot of people, and legitimately so. If you have your identity taken from you and abused, and you know, how much is occurring now online electronically. That is a scary thought. The government ought to be willing to just notify victims. That is all we’re trying to do. And asking the Democrats to set politics aside, just this one time and let’s go about helping protect people in case their identity is stolen.” Now the party of “no” and the rotten status quo (including the seriously flawed health-care legislation) is the Democrats.
What else do Dems have? Well, the good old war on women. Politico reports that Hillary Clinton’s new book sounds like an old Obama campaign ad: “I’m very proud of my own daughter, and I look at all these young women I’ve been privileged to work with or know through [daughter] Chelsea, and it’s hard to imagine turning the clock back on them. But in places throughout America large and small, the clock is turning back.” Really, where is that? At a time when more women than men are going to college, women are rising in every profession to populate the top ranks of corporations and women suffer less unemployment, you have to wonder whose clock is being turned back. And President Obama has told us over and over again that the Lily Ledbetter bill swept out any residue of wage discrimination. Now, if Clinton is talking about untrammeled access to unregulated abortion clinics, then she is going to run headlong into the unsavory topic of late-term abortions and leniency with shady abortion doctors. (About the only business Democrats want to exempt from all regulation is the abortion industry.)
Democrats lacking any attractive agenda will no doubt plunge ahead with their victimhood on parade. A plugged-in Capitol Hill Republican e-mails, “It’s going to be every day, all year. Their only hope is to scare the hell out of women and divide the gaps instead of working to bridge them.” Oh yes, there is the inequality agenda, which consists of large spending programs, higher taxes on the rich and hikes in the minimum wage. Actually, this sounds like turning the clock back to hackneyed liberalism of the pre-Clinton era. (I wonder how Clinton’s rich donors feel about her populist crusade.)
Suddenly there are a whole bunch of attractive GOP Senate candidates and presidential hopefuls and a bevy of conservative proposals to help ordinary Americans. (I would not exclude immigration reform, which can help reduce minority voters’ aversion to the GOP and act as a pro-growth mechanism.) You better believe the left — including the single viable presidential candidate who in 2016 will be 69 years old with an agenda from the mid-1960s — is going to be playing the class warfare and gender cards; it’s all the Dems have.