Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Republican Response

I'll go with Ross--the McCain earmarks meme was part of a process moving the Republicans to a really bad place.  No one really cares about tiny earmark expenditures that often enough tend to be reasonable.  It's the broader liberal agenda that they have a problem with--so that's what they should spend some time attacking, with any sort of alternative beyond "cut taxes for the rich."  (Cutting taxes for the poor is fine!)

At this point, I have no clue why they don't even bother picking examples correctly.  Attacking volcano readiness was a horrible idea, and the ever-growing litany of flat-out factual errors from Republican leaders is downright depressing.  This does not help you connect to people's economic problems, does not improve your image in their eyes, and does not appeal to anyone beyond a select group that will rationalize their support for you anyway.  Sure, you lose people once you take certain stands on abortion and gay rights--this is true for both sides of the spectrum.  But you lose everybody when you're no longer perceived as competent or in touch--this happened to liberals a few years back, and it took a bit to come back.   Meanwhile, there's more room for conservative criticism than ever before.  Obama's agenda would have been called audaciously liberal only a few years ago, while the path of next-generation libertarian-conservative reforms is clear enough.  

Focusing on tax rates and deregulation made sense in the early '80s; this was a goal even of supply-side JFK and deregulation proponent Kennedy.  The fact that few people, even on the left, really want to return to this world shows how much the center has really shifted; Clinton wised up to the changes and offered up rather conservative form of liberalism (yes, Republican control in Congress made a difference).  

Now, the debate isn't over the size or existence of government and the entitlement programs, but the manner in which they are run.  Conservatives have plenty to add to this debate; curriculum reform and charter schools for education, market-driven healthcare along the lines of Singapore or France, carbon taxes/cap and trade/congestion taxes on environment, and consumption taxes to raise revenue.  These are fundamentally free market/conservative ideas, most of which at one point were championed by Milton Friedman against a liberal orthodoxy.

 Now, it seems that the only people taking about these issues at all, and even of these specific policies, are Democrats.  Fom a purely non-partisan standpoint, it's better to have both parties engaged; Republicans can support charter schools, Democrats can fund unemployment benefits.  Having a rump party sulking in the corner destroys an essential check on the system and will support a lazy Democrat party as crazy with their majority as Bush ever was.  They certainly can't afford to pay for all of this, and I wouldn't use the success of Clinton in reducing the deficit during a historically anomalous part of the buisness cycle as saying anything about the responsibility of Democrats in general.

Republicans on the state-level are a little wiser.  Jindal, for instance, is actually a star of this movement, with stakes on charter schools, infrastructure building, workforce development, and healthcare reform that even liberals support.  Sadly, it appears that they lack the ability to champion these same ideas on a more national platform as the dynamics of appealing to a party ever-more dependent on a base militate against policy innovation or mass appeal.  This is a party where opposition to the stimulus involves proposing even worse alternatives, rather than taking a cue from right-wing economists and supporting cuts on payroll taxes.  It calls out for national leadership that is willing to own up Bush and commit to tangible alternatives; that is at least willing to get the facts right while waging war not on "waste and efficiency" but the broader agenda prevailing in Washington.  The vicious attacks within the Republican party over the past two years suggest that they are, in fact, still capable of effective attack; just not against the people with whom they actually diagree.  Let's try to turn some of that into productive bipartisan riots.  

Some part of me, though, still cringes at the prominence that a certain sort of political journalism has overtaken this country.  This profession chooses to treat issues like health care and foreign policy purely as excercises in gamesmanship, and elevates the act of a "political speech" into the highest expression of political talent.  Look at how well spoken this person is!  Must be a great politician.  Too bad this other guy can't muster up the correct poise and speech.  He's horrible.  Yes, I know every-day voting decisions are made exactly on these sorts of calculations.  But that's no reason to let the media create an arbitrary guideline for what constitutes "good" and "bad," "weak" and "strong" in politics, elevating the art of political punditry into the role of soothsayer among a group of extraordinarily out-of-touch elites.  

No comments: