Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Two Birds With One Stone

1) My laptop adapter is dead, so my laptop is useless unless I can find a new adapter with a universal plug.  Also, my parents and grandparents are here until next Thursday.  Those two events combine to signify that I'll only be posting here when I a) have some rare free time and b) can use Tommy's computer or one at school.  

2) Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, in their new book which I just can't wait to read, seem to argue, as far as I can tell from these reviews and this podcast (sorry to make you go to the National Review), that the Republicans should turn into something between Christian Democrats and Tories in that they want to both play to and alleviate working class anxiety on social, foreign, and economic issues.  Indeed, they take Bush to task for claiming he would build an administration in that vein and utterly failing to follow through.  One argument that Douthat makes on the podcast is largely indicative of what they seem to be getting at.  He claims that no matter what happens in American politics, we'll always have a liberal party that looks out for the economic interests of the very, very poor (who don't have the luxury of worrying about social issues) and the social interests of the elites (who don't have to worry about the pocketbook stuff).  Therefore, it should be the role of a conservative party to look out for all of the interests of the working class, which Douthat and Salam identify as people who are neither college-educated nor destitute.  And if you read the few policy prescriptions in the reviews (although both remark that the list seems rather short), you'll see that they're serious, even on the economic stuff.  Indeed, if a Republican president ever actually proposed wage subsidies for low-paying jobs, the congressional coalition to pass it would almost certainly be led by urban liberals. 

So my question is: assume that in 25 years the issue profile of the GOP reflects Douthat and Salam's thrust; what does the Democratic Party turn into?  If the GOP holds on to it's muscular (if not aggressive) foreign policy, we can anticipate our side drifting to in two directions.  One is isolationism, and the "Iraq syndrome" might lead us there, but I have a heard time seeing bleeding hearts like me (who will stay as long as we're the stalwart defenders of the very, very poor, as Douthat assumes) totally ignoring, say, AIDS and withdrawing entirely from the world.  The other possibility is probably something like a 21st century version of liberal internationalism, as advanced by Matt Yglesias' new book, which I can't wait to read, either. 

But the answers to the social and economic questions aren't obvious, at least not to me.  Since I've raised the Tory analogy, maybe the left's answer is some combination of Democratic Socialist Old Labour, Third Way New Labor, and the Liberal Democrats.  On economics, that would imply either Labour's instincts to promote stale ideas that are better for sounding populist than being of significant help to people (aka, what we've done since the Great Society) or the Lib Dem's emphasis on income redistribution specifically aimed at 1) eradicating extreme poverty and 2) preventing the government from ever redistributing income upwards.  To me it's really a generation question.  The elites of the party would likely head in the Labour direction.  DLCers would obviously love the focus on populist rhetoric (as opposed to honestly populist policies) and the middle class.   And old-school democratic socialists would love adherence to an ideological programme rather than the values that shaped it.  But younger progressives (hell, if you take that label you're virtually guaranteed to be youngish) would likely drift towards the Lib Dems' emphases, all the while at least holding fort with the Tory-right in sustaining a social safety net and doing all of the sort of marginal improvements for the middle class that we can expect out of a third way government.  Essentially, that would look like the Democratic Party today, added a recommitment to actively combating poverty and the imposition of a framework that seeks out any possible way to make the overall fiscal picture more downwardly redistributive.  It would be marginally better than the GOP's posture on substance, but pretty much a wash politically.  

Now social issues are where it gets really interesting.  It's a bit hard to impose the choice-life divide on UK politics since the life side isn't as strong as it is here (and none of the parties have a position on their websites), but the divisions on the abortion related votes of May 19-20 of this year are telling.  If you look through those votes, you'll see that about 3/4 of Tories and a size-able number of Labour and Lib Dem MPs (about 1/4 of each, although the numbers are actually higher for the LDs) support a more restrictive abortion policy that the UK currently has.  That's probably about the same for the numbers if you took a poll of members of the our House on the choice-life question.  However, if the GOP actually undertook the Douthat-Salam transformation, they'd likely boot a large number of our pro-lifers from office, as they tend to represent districts and states with a lot of working class whites, the non-Obama Democrats (in the primaries).  So perhaps a stalwart, almost reactionary liberalism on abortion as preached by NARAL and others might be imposed on the party as a whole from the top down.  That's just my first thought on this area and I don't really have a theory on where we'd go (or where we should go) as a reaction to a hypothetical GOP shift.  

So I want to hear what you think.  How would our party react?  Would it react at all?  How should it react, from an objective standpoint?  How should it react to in order to fashion a new majority?  Finally, if we reacted as you think, or as I do, would you still be a Democrat?  Or would an honest-to-goodness "compassionately conservative" party be better than what we would become?  Or at least good enough that you'd be a swing voter?  

I know this is a strange avenue of thought at a time when our party is looking forward to a landslide victory in a few months, and it's the Republicans who are thinking about reforming themselves.  Yet, it's very possible that the Republicans may turn out to be smart enough to remake themselves and it's very possible that they'll take the path aluded to here.  Indeed, the GOP has probably remade itself 3 times since the New Deal, while I'd argue we haven't done it once.  So, I think it's worth thinking about.   

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