Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Republican Party Reform/Revitalization

Some thoughts on the topic:

Social Conservatives: The Republican Party’s Dilemma
[...] In order to win, therefore, Republicans need to find a way to adapt Reagan’s core insights–”government that rides with us, not on our backs”–in a way that directly addresses the front-of-mind day-to-day concerns of the lower-middle in the 21st century. These concerns include: unemployment, economic insecurity, wage stagnation, healthcare (security and affordability), education, quality of life, etc. And remember, lower-middle people are not ideologues. Maybe capital gains tax cuts or a flat tax would create a rising tide that would lift all boats. Reform conservatives love them some tax cuts. But people in the lower-middle ain’t buyin’ it. If Republicans don’t have good, credible, conservative policies to address these concerns, lower-middle people will vote for Democrats if only by default. This is the story of 2012. Lower-middle people don’t like Obamacare but they still swung the election for Obama because Romney’s alternative to Obamacare was (perceived to be) zilch. At least the Obama agenda realized what their concerns were and addressed them.

The thing that is holding the party back isn’t simply social issues, but economic ones as well. It has to find a way to speak again to the lower middle class on economic matters. I’m guessing a lot of young people are not voting GOP simply on same sex marriage, but also on the fact that they don’t see the party really helping people like them. The same-sex marriage issue is frosting on the cake instead of the cake itself. The problem with social liberals like myself is that we have internalized the Democratic critique of the GOP instead of seeing what is the real problem. Social issues are a drag on the party. But the problems that drag the GOP down looks more like an iceberg. The social issues are on top and look imposing, but the economic issues are bigger and dwell below beneath the waterline. We can support same-sex marriage and immigration, but as long as we don’t deal with what’s below, the party will not win.

So what to do with social conservatives? Instead of trying to throw them overboard, it might make more sense to lift up more of their salient points, while downplaying that which polarizes. [...]

A Reform Conservative Manifesto
[...] The story about politics is fairly straightforward: elections in America are swung by people in the “lower-middle” class, and if the Republican Party wants to win national elections decisively and repeatably, it needs to appeal strongly to these people.

What can we say about “the lower-middle”?

People in the lower-middle tend to be roughly culturally conservative but are they are not ideologues and they tend to vote their pocketbooks and their day-to-day concerns.

Here is the story reform conservatives say about the Reagan Revolution and why Republicans have not managed to repeat that success:

The Reagan agenda was not 100-proof small-government conservatism. Reagan said that “government is the problem” … “in our present crisis.” Reagan called for “government that rides with us”, not the nightwatchman state.

Reagan won the lower-middle not because the lower-middle clamor for minimal government or (just) because he was such a charismatic figure, but because the Reagan agenda appealed directly to lower-middle day-to-day concerns. Inflation. Taxes that ate significantly into middle and lower-middle pocketbooks. A welfare system that destroyed families and made a mockery of diligent hard work. An unprecedented crime wave that a liberal state was failing to rein in.

It is precisely because the Reagan Revolution was so successful that the Reagan agenda no longer appeals to the lower-middle. Inflation is in check (more than in check). Taxes on the lower-middle and middle–at least federal income taxes–are much lower. Crime, though too high, is much lower. Welfare reform has been a phenomenal success of conservative policy. The problems that Reagan fought are problems that are largely fixed now. We’re fighting the last war. [...]

Jonah Goldberg: Excuse me? GOP to blame for ObamaCare?
The Affordable Care Act — aka ObamaCare — is off to a very rocky start, and according to the law's biggest defenders, the blame falls squarely at the feet of Republicans.

It's an odd claim. Republicans did not write the law. They did not support the law. And they are not in charge of implementing it. Yet, it's got to be the GOP's fault, right?


... Republicans are on the right side of the argument in every particular, save one: the effort to force the Democrats to defund ObamaCare by threatening a debt crisis or government shutdown. The Democrats will never agree to such a demand, and the resulting crisis would surely be blamed on Republicans.

Pull of entitlements

There is a bizarre irony at work here. Both the right and left are convinced ObamaCare will eventually become popular if implemented. Conservatives fear the "ratchet effect," a term coined by the great libertarian economic historian Robert Higgs. Once government expands, goes the theory, reversing that expansion is nearly impossible. Liberals have their own version. They point out that once Americans get an entitlement — Social Security, Medicare, etc. — they never want to lose it. They hope that if they can just get Americans hooked on the goodies in ObamaCare, they'll overlook all the flaws.

There's a lot of truth here, to be sure. But it's not an iron law either. Sometimes, bad laws get fixed. It happened with Medicare in 1989 and welfare reform in 1995. Many of the boneheaded laws of the early New Deal were scrapped as well.

Republicans should have a little more confidence in their own arguments. If you believe that ObamaCare can't work, you should expect that it won't. Forcing a debt crisis or government shutdown won't kill ObamaCare, but it will give Democrats a lifeline heading into the 2014 elections, which could have the perverse effect of delaying the day Republicans have the political clout to actually succeed in repealing this unworkable and unpopular law.
All these things make sense to me. Follow the links and read the complete articles. But how many people in the Republican party are listening? How many haven't yet figured out that America doesn't have the same demographics it did in the 1980's? That the majority electorate's concerns have changed?  How many Republicans are talking to, addressing the concerns of, and trying to win the votes of, a majority electorate that no longer exists?

This is important stuff being addressed in these articles. But I don't post about it much anymore, because I doubt many are listening. It seems like pissing in the wind sometimes.

Jonah's last point is a perfect example.  Forcing a debt crisis or a government shutdown won't kill ObamaCare.  The Republicans will be blamed for it, and that will only help the Democrats in the 2014 elections.  But I'm pretty sure the Republicans are going to go ahead and do it anyway.  To no good end.

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