Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Republican Class War

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George Packer has written a long and thoughtful article in the New Yorker about the struggles within the Republican Party as it tries to get itself ready for the 2016 election. It’s well worth reading. It begins:

One recent morning at the Jefferson Hotel, in Washington, D.C., Peter Wehner, a conservative writer who served as an adviser for the past three Republican Presidents, described his party’s problems over a bowl of oatmeal. He said, “We got clobbered in 2012”—the fifth Presidential election out of the past six in which the Republican candidate lost the popular vote. “There’s a demographic problem. White votes are going down two points every year. We’re out of touch with the middle class.” Mitt Romney—whose very hair embodies wealthy privilege—was nominated at a national convention, in Tampa, that became an Ayn Rand-style celebration of business executives, the heroic “makers.” During the campaign, Romney wrote off forty-seven per cent of the country—the “takers”—as government parasites. He went on to lose badly to President Barack Obama, whom Republicans had regarded as an obvious failure, a target as vulnerable as Jimmy Carter. In the shock of that defeat, Wehner said, some conservatives realized that “there was a need for a policy agenda that reaches the middle class.” He added, “This was not a blinding insight.”

A generation ago, Democrats lost five of six Presidential elections; in 1992, Bill Clinton, calling himself a New Democrat, ended the streak. Clinton didn’t repudiate the whole Democratic platform—government activism on behalf of ordinary Americans remained the Party’s core idea—but he adopted positions on issues like crime and welfare that were more closely aligned with the views of the majority, including some rank-and-file Democrats. The message, Wehner said, was as much symbolic as substantive: “ ‘We’re not a radical party; we’ve sanded off our rougher edges, and you can trust me.’ ” He went on, “The hope for some of us was that our candidate in 2016 would be the Republican version of Clinton”—a conservative reformer who, having learned from past defeats, championed economic policies that placed Republicans on the side of the hard-pressed, including non-white Americans, the soon-to-be majority.
For fresh ideas, such a candidate had only to turn to a group of Republican thinkers who call themselves “reformocons,” of whom Wehner is a leader. Last year, the reformocons published a pamphlet of policy proposals called “Room to Grow,” on health care, education, taxes, entitlements, and other topics. In an introduction, Wehner writes, “Americans do not have a sense that conservatives offer them a better shot at success and security than liberals. For that to change, conservatives in American politics need to understand constituents’ concerns, speak to those aspirations and worries, and help people see how applying conservative principles and deploying conservative policies could help make their lives better.”
The essays don’t upend Republican orthodoxy. They argue that government should intervene on behalf of poor and middle-income Americans, but in ways that apply market principles to public policy, taking power away from Washington and giving individuals more options. Some proposals are familiar: school choice, health-care savings accounts. Others are more daring—for example, having college education underwritten by private investors, then repaid over the next decade as a predetermined percentage of graduates’ earnings. A few ideas, such as a wage subsidy that would increase the pay of workers making less than forty thousand dollars a year, building on the Earned Income Tax Credit, could easily garner bipartisan support.

“Room to Grow” contains a striking description of the American economic landscape: children born into poverty with little chance of escaping it, and middle-class families overwhelmed by the rising costs of health care and education while their incomes stay flat. It’s not that different from the story that Elizabeth Warren, the liberal Massachusetts senator, tells. After years of ignoring these stark realities—or of blaming big government, in the spirit of Ronald Reagan—some Republicans have begun to sound more like Abraham Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt.
The reformocon project shows how extreme mainstream conservatism has become in its opposition to anything involving the state. The reformocons court right-wing censure simply by acknowledging that the middle class is under pressure, and that government has a role to play beyond cutting taxes. The reckless, and ultimately doomed, shutdown of the federal government by congressional Republicans, in October, 2013, precipitated the first conference of reformocons, in Middleburg, Virginia, and that led to “Room to Grow.”
When the 2016 Presidential campaign began, an organizer of the conference, April Ponnuru, became a policy adviser to Jeb Bush. Governor John Kasich, of Ohio, read an essay by Wehner and Michael Gerson, a speechwriter in the Bush White House, titled “A Conservative Vision of Government,” and expressed approval to an aide. Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, sought policy advice from several reformocons, including Yuval Levin, who, as editor of the quarterlyNational Affairs, is the group’s foremost intellectual. Earlier this year, Rubio published a book, “American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone,” interwoven with the personal stories of struggling Floridians. Most of the policy ideas came directly from “Room to Grow,” a debt that Rubio acknowledged effusively.
To the reformocons, the Republican Presidential race appeared to be stocked with candidates who were eager to take the Party into the twenty-first century. “I thought it was a group of people who would make that case,” Wehner said. He looked up from his oatmeal with a wan smile. “But then came Mr. Trump.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 November 2015 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

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