Tag: GOP

Can the GOP Recover Its Principles?

Today, Politico Arena asks:

How helpful is it to the GOP to have its chairman say the party’s “credibility snapped” while in power and it became “just another party of Big Government?”

My response:

If GOP chairman Michael Steele means it, it’s very helpful for him to say that the party’s “credibility snapped” while in power and it became “just another party of Big Government?”  You first have to recognize a problem if you want to solve it.

For better or worse, we’ve had two major parties for most of our history, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.  At least since the New Deal, the Democratic Party has been the party of government, especially over economic affairs.  By contrast, since the Goldwater revolution of 1964, the Republican Party has claimed to be the party of individual liberty and limited government, although that claim was often undermined by calls for restricting certain personal liberties, and the party was slow, as were parts of the Democratic Party, in supporting the civil rights movement.  But broadly speaking, in our recent history the two parties have been distinguished, nominally, by their different conceptions of the proper role of government.

At no time was that contrast more sharply drawn than during the Reagan administration.  Yet even then there were internal struggles between the Reagan people and the Bush people.  Recall that when Bush ‘41 became president, he called for a “kinder and gentler nation,” which was a slap at Reagan’s limited government principles.  And eventually, of course, he broke his “no new taxes” pledge.

After Bush lost the presidency, the Gingrich “Contract with America,” leading to the Republican take-over of Congress for the first time in 40 years, was supposed to return the party to a principled, limited government path.  It did so briefly, in those heady days of 1995, but by the end of the year the siren song of government power was calling and the party started its slow slide, at the end of which it was barely distinguishable from the Democratic Party.

Thus, it was no accident that in 2000 the party selected as its standard-bearer George W. Bush, who had been utterly absent from the intellectual ferment of the Goldwater-Reagan years.  Not unlike his father, Bush ‘43 stood for “compassionate conservatism,” a slogan ripe with promise for government programs.  And the Republican Congress, now rudderless, was anxious to supply them.  If the party stood for anything, it was incumbency protection.  What better example than the McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform” bill, which Bush signed while saying he thought it was unconstitutional.  What’s the Constitution among friends?

But rudderless, unprincipled government could not go on forever, and so in time it came crashing down upon the Republican time-servers – and the real party of government took over.  Immutable principles, however, such as you can’t get something for nothing, favor no party, and so Democrats too are facing, or will soon face, the harsh realities that flow from abandoning political and economic discipline.  If the Republican Party can recover the fundamental principles that are captured in the nation’s founding documents, and take them to the people, it will then fall to us to decide what we want.  And if we too believe in something for nothing, we will have no one to blame but ourselves for the consequences that follow.  But at least we will have had a choice, which we have not had in recent years.  So, yes, Mr. Steele’s call for a return to principle is helpful.

Reforming the GOP

This morning, Politico Arena asks:

Do you take Glenn Beck’s “new national movement” seriously? Is the GOP establishment letting itinerant celebrities and talk show stars set the party’s agenda?

As Winston Churchill understood, democracy is messy (and, as in his case, sometimes ungrateful).  Glenn Beck is no William F. Buckley Jr.  But then, “Joe the Plumber” probably never read National Review, which like most other journals of “high opinion” was never self-sustaining.  Liberals today, their noses in the air Obama style, look across America from the vantage of the famous New Yorker cover and see pitchfork brigades, forgetting that those who fill the brigades generally love America, which is more than can be said of some of the baggage that has surrounded Obama.

There is a problem in the Republican Party, to be sure.  Nominally the party of limited constitutional government, it recently gave us two presidents from the same family – one standing for a “kinder and gentler” government, the other for “compassionate conservatism” – plus a career Senate nominee for president, none of whom ever really understood the party’s core principles, much less nourished them as they must be nourished from generation to generation.  As a result, the party has been hollowed out intellectually and spiritually, and into that vacuum, which nature abhors, has poured an assortment of people, most from outside the party.

The struggle in democracies between intellectual rigor and populism is as old as that between Socrates and the sophists.  We all know the dangers of populist demagoguery.  But there is also great danger in rule by elites, which are hardly immune from demagogy and outright fraud (witness the “accounting” in the current health care debate).  Achieving that balance is often difficult and messy.  But I for one am encouraged by this populist movement to reform the Republican Party.  I know, for example, that at the Orlando rally The New York Times referenced this past Saturday, people passed out copies of the Cato Institute’s pocket Constitution, which includes the Declaration of Independence and my preface relating the two documents with respect to their underlying principles.  The people who attended the April 15 tea parties and the September 12 march on Washington were ordinary Americans who understand that something is fundamentally wrong, constitutionally, with the direction the country has taken over the past two decades, at least.  They see the Republican Party, in our two-party system, as the more likely institution for changing that, but not as the party is presently constituted.  Still, there are people within the party who give hope and are ready to take over.  Populists working outside the party, together with those of us who do “politics” (broadly understood) for a living, may just be the spark that enables that to happen.

Tea Party Conservatism and the GOP

This morning, Politico’s Arena asks:

Is Tea Party conservatism a help or a hazard for Republicans seeking a return to power?

My response:

Let’s start with some clarity:  “Tea Party conservatism” stands for several things, but it is not the caricature one often finds in the mainstream media, to say nothing of the left wing blogs.  It is a movement with deep historical roots, drawing its name and inspiration from the Boston Tea Party of 1773.  As with that event, taxes brought it to the fore – on Tax Day, April 15.  But taxes are simply the most obvious manifestation of modern government run amok, insinuating itself into every corner of life.  Trillions of dollars of debt for our children, out-of-control government budgets, massive interventions in private affairs – the list of wrongs is endless, and under Obama has exploded.  He stands for nothing if not for making us all dependent on the government he has promised us.  That’s not America.  That’s a foreign vision, which over the centuries countless millions have fled, searching for freedom.

To be sure, the Tea Party movement has its fringe elements, as did the revolt against British tyranny, which the establishment of its day disparaged.  So too does the Obama administration, some of whom have already resigned.  The basic question, however, is what does the movement stand for?  What are its principles?  And on that, the contrast with the Obama vision is stark:  However much confusion there might be on specific issues, which is to be expected, the broad principles are clear.  The Tea Party movement stands for limited constitutional government.  At its rallies, on hand-written sign after sign, that was the message repeatedly seen.  These are ordinary Americans – Republicans, Independents, and even Democrats – who want simply to be left alone to plan and live their own lives.  They don’t want “community organizers” to help empower them to get more from government.

But they do need to be organized to bring that about – to get government off their backs.  And the Republican Party should be the natural vehicle toward that end – the party, after all, that was formed to get government off the backs of several million slaves.  But today’s Republican Party is a mixed lot:  Some understand those principles; but others, as in the NY 23 race, are all but indistinguishable from their counterparts in the party of Obama.  The problem in NY 23 was not that a third party entered the race.  Rather, the party establishment botched things from the beginning, by picking a nominee who properly belonged in the Democratic Party, as her pathetic last-minute endorsement indicated, and that’s why a third party entered the race – with a novice of a nominee who nearly won despite the odds against him.

The question, therefore, is not whether Tea Party conservatism is a help or a hazard for Republicans seeking a return to power?  To the contrary, it is whether the Republican Party is a help or a hindrance to the Tea Party movement?  It will be a help only if it returns to its roots.  The mainstream media, overwhelmingly of the Democratic persuasion, will continue to push Republicans to be “moderate,” of course – meaning “Democrat Lite” – to which the proper response is:  Why would voters go for that when they can get the real thing on the Democratic line?  If Tuesday’s returns showed anything, it is that Independents, a truly mixed lot, are up for grabs; but at the same time, they are looking for leaders who promise not simply to “solve problems” but to do so in a way that respects our traditions of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.  When Republican candidates stand clearly and firmly for those principles, they stand a far better chance of being elected than when they temporize.  That is the lesson that Republicans must grasp – and not forget – if they are to return to power.

A Warning for President Obama

Last November’s rejection of the failed GOP didn’t mean voters were ready to embrace a massive increase in the size of the federal government, says Scott Keeter, director of survey research at Pew Research Center:

Obama campaigned for strong government action on the economy and health care, and most of his voters agreed with this direction. But Obama’s efforts to expand the role of government have alienated many of those who did not vote for him but nonetheless gave him high marks when first he took office.

Pew Research’s political values survey this spring showed no surge in public demand for more government. Indeed, anti-government sentiment, which had been building for years, was heightened by the financial bailout and stimulus program.

Prosperity in Washington

 The current Attorney General, Eric Holder, left DC’s Covington and Burling to return to the Justice Department, where he held a senior post during the Clinton years.  Holder’s mission is to supposedly ”rein in the free market excesses of the last eight years.”  Bush’s people are done with their own crackdown and are now returning to DC’s big law firms to warn their client business firms about the coming crackdown by Holder’s prosecutors.  This is sorta like the GOP legislators who are now trying to lodge complaints about Obama’s spending.  Despite the rhetoric, both sides aggrandize federal power and then enrich themselves (pdf) while advising businesspeople on how to comply with myriad regulations  from the alphabet agencies.

For related Cato work, go here and here.

GOP Health Care Alternative: Drinking the Massachusetts Kool-Aid

Earlier this morning, my colleague, Michael Cannon, blogged a devastating critique of the Coburn-Burr-Ryan-Nunez alternative to the Obama health plan. As he shows, while the bill has some good features (changing the tax treatment of health insurance, expanding HSAs), the good is swamped by a bizarre collection of regulation, mandates, and hidden taxes.

In fact, the bill appears to be based, in large part, on what its sponsors call “the well-known, bi-partisan achievement of universal health care through a private system in Massachusetts.” But the Massachusetts model has failed to either achieve universal coverage or control health care costs. Rather, as I noted in this recent blog, it has led to more regulation, less consumer choice, and increased insurance premiums, while running huge budget deficits that have already led to one tax increase and are now causing the state to consider premium caps and global budgets. One wonders why congressional Republicans would want to head down that road.

Notably, Coburn-Burr-Ryan-Nunez abandons Rep. John Shadegg’s proposal to allow Americans to buy insurance across state lines in favor of a requirement that states establish Massachusetts-style connectors. But the Massachusetts Connector has been one of the worst aspects of that state’s reform, acting as a super-regulatory body, adding new mandated benefits, restricting consumer’s choice of plans, and adding both regulatory and administrative costs to insurance. (In fact, the Connector adds its own administrative costs, estimated at 4 percent of premium costs, for plans that are sold through it.) What the Connector has not done is live up to its promise of breaking the link between employment and insurance, giving workers personal, portable insurance that they could take with them from job to job, and which they would not lose when they lost their jobs. Unfortunately, the Connector has not lived up to its promise in the latter regard. In fact, as of May 2008, only 18,122 people had purchased insurance through the Connector. That’s very little gain for so much pain.

Since there is virtually no chance that the Coburn-Burr-Ryan-Nunez will actually be enacted, perhaps one shouldn’t get too excised about its failings. No doubt it is far superior to Obamacare. And, it is understandable that congressional Republicans want to appear as more than the “party of no.” Still, this looks like a sadly missed opportunity.

Will Specter Turn Left?

I offer some evidence in today’s Chicago Tribune:

Last week, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter was one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate. Today, he’s the most conservative Democrat….

But party-switchers often change their votes as well as their labels.

The day after Republicans won control of the Senate in 1994, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama switched to the Republican Party. He had been a relatively conservative Democrat and had high-profile conflicts with President Bill Clinton, so the switch wasn’t a great surprise. But observers might be surprised to look back at what happened to Shelby’s voting record. According to the American Conservative Union, for eight years Shelby’s conservative voting percentage had ranged between 43 and 76. Even in 1994, as Shelby often found himself opposing the Clinton administration, the ACU gave him only a 55. But from 1995 to 2000, his ACU rating only once dipped below 90, and he scored a perfectly conservative 100 in 2000 and 2001….

In 2001, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party and became an independent. Conservatives said he was actually voting like a liberal Democrat. But that wasn’t quite right. Since he entered the Senate in 1989, his average ACU rating had been 27 – definitely the most liberal Republican, but not Ted Kennedy country. His ADA average was 58 – liberal for a Republican, but a long way from Vermont Democrat Pat Leahy. After the switch, Jeffords’ ACU rating started falling like GOP approval ratings: from 40 in 1999 to 29 in the year of the switch to 6, 10, 4, 8 and 4 during the rest of his tenure.

Specter says he won’t become a party-line Democrat, any more than he’s been a reliable Republican vote. But the evidence from previous party-switchers is that his votes will end up much more in line with his new party.