Category Archives: 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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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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Filed under Book Reviews, Political Philosophy, Republican Reformism

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