July 2, 2014


Can the G.O.P. Be a Party of Ideas? (SAM TANENHAUS, JULY 2, 2014, NY Times Magazine)

[T]he true stars of the proceedings were the intellectuals whose work was showcased that morning and had seeped into the legislators' rhetoric. Two young men, in particular, were responsible for this change: Yuval Levin, a former policy adviser to George W. Bush and founder of the earnest quarterly journal National Affairs, and Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review and columnist at Bloomberg View. Each is an intellectual prodigy in his 30s, and together they have become the leaders of a small band of reform conservatives, sometimes called reformicons, who believe the health of the G.O.P. hinges on jettisoning its age-old doctrine -- orgiastic tax-cutting, the slashing of government programs, the championing of Wall Street -- and using an altogether different vocabulary, backed by specific proposals, that will reconnect the party to middle-class and low-income voters.

The event was a success by almost every measure. In the following days, praise flowed predictably from the conservative media -- National Review, The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page -- but also Mike Allen's Playbook column on Politico, which quoted snippets from the "conservative manifesto for the middle class," and The New Republic. The magazine published a skeptical profile of Levin in 2013, but now it conceded, "Liberals should take reform conservatives seriously," because they are putting forth "valid conservative ideas like increasing the child tax credit or converting antipoverty programs into a universal credit." [...]

It is hard to make the case that a new age of liberalism even exists to be rolled back. The shadow of Reagan still looms large. Bill Clinton, the Democrat who broke the Republicans' streak of victories in 1992, did so as a centrist New Democrat who repudiated the liberal doctrine of his day on issues like race and welfare and diligently courted the blue-collar, white ethnic vote. His famous "triangulation" consisted of compromises with Republicans, and he made so many that conservatives complained he was stealing their ideas.

Today many on the right, including the reformicons, insistently depict Obama as a radical, but they are well aware he kept all but the top sliver of George W. Bush's giant tax cut. And for all the efforts to discredit Obamacare, it was ratified by the most conservative Supreme Court in modern history. Every reformer I talked to acknowledged that the principle of universal coverage is here to stay, in whatever form, including the operations advanced by Republicans who want to "repeal and replace" Obama's plan, the basis of which was hatched from a conservative policy suggestion that originated in 1989 from the Heritage Foundation.

If conservatism is to be taken seriously it can't be about repealing the Second Way and returning to the First; that's been rejected for good in every developed nation.

It has to be about bringing First Way means to bear on Second Way ends, converting entitlement programs from defined benefit to defined contribution, universalizing them, and means-testing them.

Posted by at July 2, 2014 3:20 PM

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