Saturday, November 05, 2005

Sam's Club Republicans

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam of the always thoughtful American Scene blog penned a very interesting lead article for the Weekly Standard titled The Party of Sam's Club. They argue that the largest swath of the Republican base is socially conservative rather than economically libertarian/conservative, thus the GOP must make an earnest effort to appeal to the working class families that vote Republican or are in the middle. Their policy prescription is mainly a muscled-up version of compassionate or big-government conservatism. As the put it:
The third possibility--and the best, both for the party and the country as a whole--would be to take the "big-government conservatism" vision that George W. Bush and Karl Rove have hinted at but failed to develop, and give it coherence and sustainability. This wouldn't mean an abandonment of small-government objectives, but it would mean recognizing that these objectives--individual initiative, social mobility, economic freedom--seem to be slipping away from many less-well-off Americans, and that serving the interests of these voters means talking about economic insecurity as well as about self-reliance. It would mean recognizing that you can't have an "ownership society" in a nation where too many Americans owe far more than they own. It would mean matching the culture war rhetoric of family values with an economic policy that places the two-parent family--the institution best capable of providing cultural stability and economic security--at the heart of the GOP agenda.

It's a very detailed article with some very good policy suggestions - and some questionable ones as well. Of course, as one of the 11% of the electorate who identify with the Enterprise category - socially and economically conservative - I am reluctant to let the government interfere too far into economic matters. But much of what they suggest seems rather sensible. As they say, read the whole thing.

By the way, it is noteworthy that they should emphasize economic reforms. They accept an argument that has been made often by Ramesh Ponnuru, and it is that social conservatism is much more popular than economic conservatism. This flies in the face of the thesis set forward by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge in their book, The Right Nation, where they conclude that it is the libertarian economic and social message that has the broadest appeal. I think this is quite wrong, and Ponnuru, Douthat and Salam have the better of the argument. If the Economist authors were correct, then Bush's social security reform efforts would have gone further than they did, and anti-gay marriage amendements would not be passing in every state they are put forward.


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