Ross Douthat's latest is helping convince me that he's not much of an upgrade over William Kristol for the NY Times. Okay--that's not quite fair. For instance, Kristol never wrote something as lucid as this:
Political debates are often framed in binaries: Middle-of-the-roaders versus hard-liners, moderates versus ideologues. But American politics is more complicated than that. There are multiple rights and lefts, and multiple middles as well. So-called extremists can serve the country well. And self-conscious moderates can be intellectually bankrupt.He's absolutely right about that. The problem is that Douthat then sets up a false premise and uses it as a stick to bash these moderates with.
Others, like Collins and Snowe and (until last week) Specter, are simply horse-traders and deal-cutters, whose willingness to cross party lines last month to vote for $800 billion dollars in deficit spending tells you most of what you need to know about their supposed fiscal conservatism. They’re politically savvy but intellectually vacuous. Their highest allegiance isn’t to limited government. It’s to meeting the party in power halfway, while making sure that the dollars keep flowing to their constituents back home.The problem, of course, is that Douthat just described pretty much every Senator, not just Snowe, Collins and Specter. Does anyone seriously think that if this plan had been put forward by a President McCain that Senate Republicans wouldn't have been lining up to vote for it and would have challenged the integrity of any Democrat who dared question the tiniest part of it? Seriously--we lived through the last eight years; we know the answer to that.
And as to the whole "limited government" canard, I think the national mood has pretty much killed that as an argument. Americans are more big-government now than at any time since Nixon. We want a working FEMA; we want clean air and water; we want more food inspectors; we want more IRS agents going after corporate tax cheats; we want universal health care; we want government help with our mortgages; we want government economic stimulus.
Even conservatives don't really want limited government--the government grew exponentially under conservative control, both fiscally and socially. Unless by "limited" they mean "limited to Republican control." Okay, that makes sense.
So where does Douthat recommend the Republicans look for inspiration?
And so in place of hacks and deal-makers, the Republican Party needs its own version of the neoliberals and New Democrats — reform-minded politicians like Gary Hart and Bill Clinton, who helped the Democratic Party recover from the Reagan era, instead of just surviving it.I think there's a legitimate argument to be made that in terms of the party, Bill Clinton fought a holding action at best. Democrats didn't really start to recover from the Reagan era until around 2004 when it became clear that Reaganism really wasn't going to work and that Democrats had better start saying so. And we saw some political gains from that attitude starting in 2006.
At least Douthat isn't arguing that the Republican party needs to become purer, though. Most of the people he suggests--Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman--are, by Republican standards, fairly moderate. (Jindal is a restaurant-quality nutbar.) Of course, moderate by contemporary Republican standards is a pretty low bar to clear, but then again, that's why they're in such a tiny minority.