Category Archives: Republican Reformism

The GOP After Trump

Few people today remember the story behind the sobriquet “Grand Old Party”—the handy “GOP” nickname for the Republican party, which at first blush seems miscast for a political faction that is considerably younger than its rival in a two-party system. The title was adopted after the Civil War on the heels of a speech delivered in 1875 by John “Jack Black” Logan, who had served in the Army as one of Grant’s favorite generals and was then a U.S. senator from Illinois.

Speaking in the dark days of political radicalism and civil strife that followed the Union victory, Logan inveighed against the restoration of white supremacy in the former Confederacy that was reducing the Republican party to a rump. (The Republicans had flared into existence in the middle of the 19th century pledged to fight “the twin relics of barbarism”: slavery and polygamy.) He opened by citing a report from Louisiana of thirty-five hundred people killed in the state since the end of the war for attempting to exercise their political rights. These victims, most of whom were black, were also Republicans. “Is it true that this gallant old party, that this gallant old ship that has sailed through troubled seas before, is going to be stranded now . . . ?” Logan’s phrase was soon revised from “gallant old party” to “grand old party”—perhaps in homage to the Grand Army of the Republic in which so many Republican hearts of the age were touched with fire. And the name stuck.

This largely forgotten story is told in Trumpocalypse, David Frum’s new book that predicts the imminent (though belated) end of the Trump era and sketches the contours of a decent Republican future on the ruins of the indecent present. Continue reading

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Filed under Book Reviews, Political Philosophy, Republican Reformism

The Case for Trump, Refuted

The most serious pro-Trump book to date argues that its subject is a tragic hero akin to Achilles. The truth is that as long as he remains president, Trump will be America’s vulnerable heel. Continue reading

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How Democracies Degenerate

Rumors of the death of American democracy are exaggerated, but our vital signs aren’t good

On the eve of Civil War, Abraham Lincoln told the story of an Eastern monarch who “once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’”

Today this melancholy prophecy may seem alarmist considering that the American republic is no longer beset by the supreme challenge of secession and disunion. But the present derangement of our politics behooves us to recall the Eastern counselors’ wisdom at a time when few know the predicament we are in.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Republican Reformism

Republicans: Time to Party like it’s 1984

Henry Olsen’s book The Working Class Republican shows how the party of Reagan can once again stand for the forgotten man.

The foreign eye can discern peculiarities of national character that often go unnoticed by natives. A few years back, a writer in the British magazine The Economist noted Americans’ deep appreciation for the nobility of work and said that “in America they call waiters sir.” More than a century before, Alexis de Tocqueville observed Americans’ passion for upward mobility: “The first thing that strikes one in the United States is the innumerable crowd of those striving to escape from their original social condition.”

One of the stranger features of today’s political environment is how much of the governing class either condescends to blue-collar workers or treats them with something bordering on derision. Few political leaders express an ethic of respect for and insistence on labor. It was not always so. “All must share,” Ronald Reagan once declared, in both the “productive work” and the “bounty of a revived economy.” Continue reading

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Republic of Nostalgia

There’s something quintessentially American about the suspicion that the United States has lost its way. As early as 1788, when the Constitution was under consideration, Patrick Henry accused its supporters of trying to “convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire,” thereby dismantling the design of the founding. “When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: liberty, sir, was then the primary object.”

Today, the former glories that Americans seek to recover germinated not in the country’s youth but in its maturity. Continue reading

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The Coming Republican Synthesis?

The terms of debate on the right in the Obama years have been relentlessly defensive, as one might expect from an opposition party. This negative disposition has been the subject of much unintelligent and unfair criticism that ignores that a primary function of opposition is, quite simply, to oppose. A partisan of any sophistication knows that a loyal opposition, to be worthy of the name, cannot oppose across the board. It should not oppose reflexively, or on narrowly electoral grounds. Nonetheless, it should be expected, more often than not, to oppose with vigor and without apology. It is frequently assumed – mainly by supporters of the ruling party, but also by those centrists wedded to the status quo – that the opposition would not be so contemptible if only it defenestrated its principles and got with the times (i.e., embraced the platform of the Democratic Party). Continue reading

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Getting Right with Bush

“Repeat after me: There is no GOP frontrunner for ’16.” So tweeted New York Times columnist Ross Douthat today, and Republicans may need some time to come to grips with this roulette-like quality to their electoral future. You have to go back to 1964 to find a Republican primary contest without an heir apparent. Meanwhile, libertarian populists – perhaps the dominant reformist camp in the GOP – may not believe their luck. A half-century after Goldwater eclipsed his establishment rivals, it’s becoming apparent that the path to the nomination has again been cleared. The consequences are not hard to predict: A prolonged and pitched battle within the party, featuring previously marginalized populist candidates such as Senator Cruz or even Senator Paul arrayed against more conventional Republicans. Continue reading

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The Line vs. The Ladder

We need a politics that defends free markets but also enables citizens to rise within them.

Yet again, America’s political parties are at crossed purposes. The debate over economic inequality traditionally features two rival definitions of equality. On the left, redistributive fairness reigns supreme. From this perspective, inequality is inherently unfair, and thus it is fair to equalize rewards. On the right, a much higher premium is placed on meritocratic fairness. From this perspective, forced equality is inherently unfair, and thus it is fair to match reward to merit. One definition involves equality of outcome, the other involves equality of opportunity. Winston Churchill – no egalitarian, he – put it pithily: the left favors the line, the right favors the ladder. Continue reading

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Filed under Exchequer, Republican Reformism

Mitt

The most recent Republican nominee for president emphasized the wrong debt.

In the course of one of Senator Taft’s reelection campaigns, his wife was asked at a rally whether her husband was a common man. “Oh no,” she retorted, “he is not that at all. He was first in his class at Yale and first in his class at Harvard Law School. I think it would be wrong to present a common man as a representative of the people of Ohio.”

The question is as old as popular government: Should the highest office go to a common man or an extraordinary one? Continue reading

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Filed under Political Philosophy, Republican Reformism

A Nation Without a Government

“We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around.”
                   —Ronald Reagan

“A nation without a national government is, in my view, an awful spectacle.”    —Alexander Hamilton

The Republican conception and conduct of politics in the Obama era has ranged from denial to delusion, and now seems to have settled on paralysis. After denying the legitimacy of Obama’s initial victory in 2008, it deluded itself that the unpopularity of his crowning legislative achievement – Obamacare – outweighed his immense residual strength heading into the 2012 election. Now, the party has indulged the bizarre fantasy that elections scarcely matter, and consequently that the government can be run from one half of one of its branches. This created a predictable crisis of grinding the government to a halt, and tempting fate over a sovereign debt default. Continue reading

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On Serpents and Doves

“I have always felt that a politician is to be judged by the animosities he excites among his opponents.” It is not necessary to dissent from Churchill’s sentiment to note that it cannot apply equally to all cases of political animosity – especially when the animosities being excited are among allies, not opponents. Those exciting such animosities today reside comfortably on the Tea Party-oriented wing of the Republican Party, and they have enjoyed a respectable hearing on the right for too long. It is incumbent for those sensible Republicans on the receiving end of bizarre allegations about not playing for the home team to reclaim the center of gravity in their party, and present a forthright argument about the dangers of exclusively focusing on arousing the animosity of opponents. This has led to one manufactured budget crisis after another, and it does not form the basis of a healthy political strategy, especially in a period of opposition when the plain necessity is to expand, not contract, public support. Continue reading

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The “Don’t Blink” Republicans

It was Benjamin Disraeli who once sardonically remarked that you could tell a weak government by its eagerness to resort to strong measures. In their budget brinksmanship of late, the Republican faithful in the House exemplify the truth of this adage. There’s only one problem with their expressed purpose of defunding Obamacare through the medium of shutting down the government. It stands approximately zero chance of actually defunding Obamacare.

The strategy – to put it no higher – to make defunding ObamaCare a requirement of funding the rest of government has always been doomed to failure, which has not stopped legions of unscrupulous party members from pretending otherwise. It is obvious to all sentient beings that the president cannot sign any bill that consigns his own signature achievement to oblivion. This means that unless the Republicans are happy to preside over a prolonged government shutdown, they will be forced to go on funding the operations of government. Continue reading

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Wanted: A Republican Tony Blair

It is a secret no longer well kept that the Republican Party is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. The Democratic talking point of recent years has been that the left represents the future while the right is stuck in the past. That the first assertion is hogwash does not invalidate the second. In significant measure, Republicans are a party in need of renovation. Nowhere is the need for a decisive break with the past more evident than in the economic realm, where it clings to a platform formed in response to the particular crisis of the 1970s that has long since been resolved. Reformist Republicans have undertaken a campaign to drag their party, inch by inch, into an acceptance, even an embrace, of a new reality.

Toward this end, many of them have appealed for guidance to David Cameron’s “One Nation” Toryism – or, if you prefer, “liberal conservatism.” This movement, inaugurated in the modern era by Harold McMillan, broadly fits Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s description of “Tory men and Whig measures.” Their politics are more modern than their predecessors’, evincing respect for gay rights, environmental protections and even the lauded National Health Service. They have implemented the beginnings of an austerity regime to balance the budget without undue hardship on the poor and disadvantaged.

This model is not perfect in every particular, but the thrust of it holds enormous appeal. And yet a more persuasive model for Republicans may come from the opposite side of British politics, from the man to whom Cameron has declared himself heir: Tony Blair. Every tough-minded Republican, whatever their opinion of Blair, will profit from reading “New Labor,” his chapter in My Journey that recounts the transformation of the Labor Party.

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Don’t Pass the Bill!

On the subject of immigration policy in America, one can no longer easily distinguish progressives from conservatives, Democrats from Republicans. This is not the doing of the left, which is largely united in the conviction that immigration, legal or illegal, skilled or unskilled, enriches our nation in ways large and small. It is, rather, a result of the right’s splintering on the issue. The conservative elite has not been shy about its support for amnesty for illegal aliens, while the conservative base remains adamantly opposed.

The silence of the conservative elite on the adverse impact of mass low-skilled immigration is easily explained: In principle, few find these effects – chiefly, widening class divides – all that bothersome. David Brooks is not one of them. Brooks prides himself on uniting two distinct, almost contradictory, political traditions: Burkean epistemological modesty, that is, the awareness of limits of what we mortals can know and engineer; and Hamiltonian activist government to encourage enterprise and nurture human capital. This potent blend – aimed at fortifying national power as well as a healthy social order that is the prerequisite for ordered liberty – is much too neglected on the right today.

When it comes to immigration, however, Brooks’ policy preferences comport perfectly with those in the party who have no patience for schemes to enhance social mobility and equality of opportunity. Continue reading

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Filed under Republican Reformism, Social Policy

A Better DREAM

The question of immigration reform has lost some of its salience of late, undoubtedly an upshot of America’s protracted economic distress. The credit crunch and tepid recovery has manifestly weakened the pull of the American immigration magnet, but not for long. It will come back, and when it does, the governing class would do well to depart from tradition and conduct a debate that Americans need and deserve.

It may be worth stating up front that an immigration reform bill is highly desirable, even quite necessary, to put right a system riddled with inefficiency, imprudence and unfairness. But that bill deserves to prevail only on the condition that it recognizes and reflects the complex balance of interests and principles that coincide on this delicate ground. The DREAM Act now before Congress, the latest stab at “comprehensive” immigration reform, is not such a bill. It deserves to be terminated with extreme prejudice. Continue reading

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June 30, 2013 · 5:54 pm