28 June 2010

Where the two big American political parties stand.

[I wrote this up and forgot to publish it a couple of weeks ago now. Ooops.]

First up, a manifesto from Mickey Kaus, blogger and unsucessful challenger of Barbara Boxer in last week's CA senate primary. I agree with most of what he has to say, and unsurprisingly disagree with some as well. But it's a good analysis and I give him a lot of credit for well-reasoned heterodoxy.

Second up, the Economist has been considering the Republicans recently. The thrust of this article is that merely opposing things is great when you're the opposition party, but if they want to lead again then they need some real proposal solutions of their own. I agree completely, though loving obstructionism and hating the "Do Something!" atmosphere of Washington as I do I'm more favorable to persistent opposition than they are. Nonetheless, I'd like to see some actual proposals coming from the GOP.

That article is expanded upon by a couple of their correspondents in this conversation. (Below.) Again, I generally agree with the tone here, but there's one big error I think they make, which is conflating the leadership of America's (nominally) conservative party, conservative voters, and conservative intellectuals. Those aren't remotely the same thing.

The political leadership is proposing pretty much nothing. That means that they are hollow, not that American conservatism as an ideology is out of steam. There are good ideas coming from people like Paul Ryan, and from conservative/libertarian think tanks. The fact that Boehner, McConnel et al don't give those ideas any support says more about them than it does about the ideas. Similarly conservative voters are accused of being hypocritical based on the hypocritical stances of the Bush administration and GOP congressmen under Obama.

My thought on the GOP is that their indecision about what the role of the government is is finally coming home to roost. About a decade or so ago I heard someone present the following metaphor. The Dems were like parents who wanted to be their teenage son's best friend, so they bought him a luxury car that they couldn't afford and he didn't deserve and wouldn't be responsible with. The Republicans counter these extravagant offers to the electorate of fancy cars not by explaining why it's a bad idea, but by offering slightly less fancy cars instead. When given a choice between one person who will give you whatever you want, and another who will excoriate you for wanting all this stuff but then give you most of it anyway, you're going to prefer the first choice.

So now the GOP are in this weird position of selling themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility, but also making populist promises not to take away any of the really popular goodies. This was pretty clear with their ObamaCare opposition, which seemed to rest on a ridiculous combination of "this is too expensive and bureaucratic and the government shouldn't be in health care" and "it will screw with your Medicare!" (The Torries seem to have gotten themselves into the same bind by promising to make across the board cuts to the budget except for medical spending.)

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