In his latest column, New York Times house-conservative David Brooks is still euphoric about his learning experience at a National Review Institute conference that just ended. It seems that while at the conference David (if I may be familiar) mingled with two of his favorite thinkers, Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz. Like our New York Times-columnist, these certified conservatives were frustrated at how the GOP is still obstinately resisting the now widespread acceptance of big government, and they joined David in calling for a GOP that would reach out to the Northeast and to minorities and provide them with social programs and more safety nets. The country needs new conservative opponents “who don’t share the absolute anti-government story of the current GOP.”
Young Pod was especially vexed at the “mentality” that “makes it hard for Republicans to analyze social and economic problems that don’t flow directly from big government.” Thus they ignore what others see, that “wages no longer keep pace with productivity gains.” Bill Kristol was irritated that the Republicans “opposed the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law but never offered an alternative. The party opposed Obamacare but never offered a replacement.” Podhoretz, Jr. then chimed in by reminding David that “as soon as Republicans start talking about what kind of regulations and programs that government should promote, they get accused by colleagues of being Big Government conservatives.” (This awkward sentence is not my own but David’s or Pod’s, who being media celebrities, can get away with such cruddy prose.)
Allow me to express my shame that I’ve misjudged the GOP so completely. Up until now I viewed it as one of our two institutionalized social democratic parties, which fully accepts all the social programs and economic regulations that existed in this country through the presidency of George W. Bush. It seems I was mistaken. The Republicans were just preparing themselves under the last president to carry out their real plan, which was to push this country back to the level of very limited government that someone like Murray Rothbard would have approved. I must have been truly deluded not to have seen this; or to have imagined that the GOP was trying to save existing entitlements when it spoke out against Obamacare.
One would also believe from listening to David’s mentors that the GOP has voted consistently against raising the minimum wage. What Kristol is griping about is not that the Republicans have never voted to raise the minimum wage. He’s just unhappy that they’re not doing enough to raise it right now. Of course that policy would impact negatively on the poorer states, which can attract new business with low taxes and low wages. But presumably that wouldn’t matter since the rubes who benefit from relatively low wages do not live for the most part in the Northeast, where David, John, and Bill feel at home and have their fan base.
Something else that captured my attention in David’s commentary is the assumption that the GOP should favor a more controlling central government in order to regain their eroded national base. But why should a voter who believes in strict constitutional government support a party that is making itself indistinguishable from the left wing of the Democratic Party? The notion that Brooks and his buds put forth, that their new party will be a coalition that will leave some room for the Neanderthals, isn’t going to cut it. In Pennsylvania, the GOP vote was down in 2012 throughout the conservative regions of the state because the voters loathed Romney as a Democratic look-alike. Why would those who stayed at home last year come out to vote for a Republican version of Obama, albeit one who is presumably better disposed toward the present ruling coalition in Israel?
It also seems sensible from a strategic perspective for a party that is truly committed to reducing rather than expanding the managerial state to wait until the other side has messed up and then to offer an alternative in contrasting colors. I couldn’t imagine what could be gained by embracing the other side’s follies, except for one obvious advantage. Since the neoconservatives, in whose ranks the conversationalists belong, have always favored social democratic policies together with an aggressive liberal internationalist foreign policy, it is natural they should use their power over the “conservative movement” and their influence over the GOP to push our national politics further toward the left. If they did anything that is less predictable they would be acting out of character.
Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, and Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers. His latest book, Leo Strauss and the American Conservative Movement: A Critical Appraisal, was just published by Cambridge University Press.