Republicans Need to Relearn How to Govern; Democrats Need New Policy Ideas

Harold Meyerson (Washington Post, May 10) was wrong to conclude that “The emerging Republican game plan for 2006…(reflects) their bankruptcy of ideas.” The Republican problem is not their lack of ideas but that the Bush administration has confused the politics of governing with the politics of campaigning. In 2005, President Bush proposed or endorsed major reforms of social security, taxes, immigration, and tort law. Most of these proposed reforms have not yet been addressed because the Bush administration would not work with Democrats to find a common ground, and the Democratic leadership would not even acknowledge the problems of current law that these proposed reforms would address. The prospect for comprehensive immigration reform is better only because of substantial support among the Democrats.

For all that, it is the Democratic Party that has been bankrupt of appealing policy ideas for the past 30 years. Marty Peretz, the editor of the New Republic, recently remarked that

It is liberalism that is now bookless and dying. Who is a truly influential liberal mind in our culture? Whose ideas challenge and whose ideals inspire? There’s no one, really. What’s left is the laundry list: the catalogue of programs…that Republicans aren’t funding, and the blogs, with their daily panic dose about how the Bush administration is ruining the country.

The policy proposals that are now bubbling up from the congressional Democratic leadership are a grab-bag of old ideas, some of which are remarkably dumb. An increase in the minimum wage is dumb because it reduces the employment of the least-skilled members of the labor force with most of the benefits accruing to secondary workers in non-poor families. An increase in the fuel economy standards is dumb because it reduces the cost of driving and applies only to new vehicles. One proposal that merits serious bipartisan attention is to revive the pay-as-you-go rules on federal spending and taxation that expired in 2002.

In summary, the Bush administration needs to learn how to govern, and the Democrats need to generate some appealing new policy ideas.