Political Animal


May 11, 2013 9:32 AM Reformish Conservatives, Ctd

By Ryan Cooper

Like any personality-based listicle, my piece on reformist conservatives generated a bit of buzz, and a bit of scorn. Here are a couple followups.

Jacob Heilbrunn comments favorably, and wonders if I haven’t mis-described Daniel Larison:

Larison is in some ways the most unpredictable member of this gallery of conservative authors. He is aptly described: “An acerbic critic of American interventionism in both parties, Larison has few fans among the GOP’s neoconservative wing. However, his brand of paleoconservatism is on the upswing among the more libertarian-minded Republicans, most recently on display during Rand Paul’s famous filibuster.” Cooper may go somewhat astray in suggesting that with “Obama’s relative hawkishness,” Larison’s views could gain greater traction in the GOP. Actually, unless I am misreading him, Larison has at times been complimentary of what he views as Obama’s realist proclivities. So the gulf between the paleocons and Obamaites may not be all that great—unless, of course, Obama buckles and intervenes in Syria.

This is a good point. Though he was fiercely critical of the Libyan intervention, it’s fair to say that Larison has been often relieved that Obama clearly does not have the appetite for boneheaded ground intervention that Bush did. The point I was trying to make is that while this administration is thankfully free of the swaggering cowboyism of the previous one, there is room for Republicans to Obama’s “left,” so to speak, as there would be for any administration which has assassinated American citizens in secret.

This almost certainly won’t happen, though I suspect there is a rich vein of electoral gold there.

South of the 49th comments, arguing that it’s misleading to compare today’s reformists to the Democrats of the DLC age:

Its worth pointing out that “neoliberals” and the DLC were responding to, what they believed to be, real policy failures of the Great Society. The pushback was against actual measures in place, not just party orthodoxy. Why does this matter? Well, I think it really affects the GOP reformers chances of success. The Bush administration was no conservative equivalent of the second Johnson Administration. His domestic policies included an expansion of medicare and a federal education initiative. Conservatives in the GOP can, rightly, argue that the a real dismantling of the welfare state has never been tried. As a result, reformers are left arguing against a GOP agenda that is 1) mostly hypothetical, and 2) constantly shifts in response to the political winds and the proposals of Barack Obama. This leaves them a much greater challenge than that facing the DLC, who could point to actual policies in place, and argue that they needed to be reformed.

This is a good point, though it’s notable how skittish Republicans get when it comes to brass-tacks proposals to, say, voucherize Medicare. They typically end up demagoguing Democrats’ cuts to social insurance—during the 2012 campaign Romney basically ran as Johnson’s second coming on Medicare. However I do think there is more of an opportunity here than South, if only because the policy bench on the right is so extraordinarily weak. If they could present a consensus, the reformists would face vanishingly little opposition.

In any case, I’m rather pleased with the overall response to this piece. Listicles are a maligned form, probably because they’re one of the favorite fallbacks of harassed web editors who just slap together some Getty photos in semi-random order and pray for controversy. But we did put a lot of work into this piece, and while it was a bit snarky here and there, I genuinely think these folks are doing the most important work in politics right now. The Republican party has been so broken of late it can’t execute the most basic functions, and that is a serious problem. Anyone trying to bang it back into shape is doing God’s work.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • c u n d gulag on May 11, 2013 12:05 PM:

    The problem is that today, the only "reform" that is deemed acceptable in the Republican Party, is reforming further right.

    To say otherwise, is to be labeled an insufficiently Conservative RINO, who needs to be excommunicated from the party.

    As mush as I loathe them, neither Boehner, no McConnell, nor Cantor, is an idiot.
    At their core, I suspect they remain old-school Republicans at heart, who favor business and corporate interests over those of the individual, and want tax cuts favorable to the wealthy.

    But ever since 1964, their party has veered further and further right.

    And Goldwater was smart, and while he was running in 1964 (and afterwards), he kept the John Birchers and the Evangelicals at bay. And if the man who once said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty, is no vice," thinks YOU'RE too extreme, well...

    It was Reagan who saw an opportunity in the Jesus-freaks. He wanted the Evangelicals as ground troops and organizers.

    But, the Evangelical Dominionist Christianista's weren't satisfied with being just foot soldiers and organizers - especially when some promises regarding abortion and "Faith-based" initiatives didn't come to pass - and so, they started to run for public office. At first locally, then on a district, then state, level, before running for national office.

    The religious take-over of the Republican Party was completed in the W mis-administration.

    Now, unless you wear your Christianity on your sleeve, and openly espouse Jesus, you have no future in the Republican Party.

    And then in 2009, the Republican Party, seeing that the demographics in this country were going against them, made a huge mistake, took out all of the stops, and courted the John Birchers, via the Tea Party faux movement.

    And so today, while the Jesus-freaks and the Birchers have some things in common, the former Republican "Powers-that-be," the "Business first/low tax," and Military/Neocon, folks, who, while not having much in common with the freaks, but were only too glad to use those folks for political purposes, now find they can't control them.

    And that's where the Republican Party sits today - a former crucible that could melt its core business/military elemental parts into a political force, now looks more like a pressure-cooker bomb, its contents just waiting to explode.

    I won't mind that the Republican Party dies. It's the death-throes that scare the sh*t out of me.

  • esaud on May 11, 2013 12:30 PM:

    He writes: "a real dismantling of the welfare state has never been tried", but there are plenty of examples of the governments conservatives establish when they have full rein: Pinochet's Chile, the rise of Yeltzen's oligarchs, the Bush administration's Iraq Authority. Common threads of each are the strong arm tactics of police/military as population control, coupled with a regulation-free environment for big money interests to do as they please, and a disregard for laws, justice, fairness.

    Anyone who advocates for the dismantling of what they call the "welfare state" should spend a little time in, say, Russia.

    And cund - I especially agree with your last sentence. Whether the Republican party can be destroyed without destroying the whole country is an open question. The only ray of hope appears to be California, where the GOP is now irrelevant.

  • square1 on May 11, 2013 12:48 PM:

    I find it somewhat amusing that liberals are so quick to pronounce the GOP to be ideologically dead and in need of reform.

    Last time I checked, the point of politics was to realize policy goals. Go back to 1988 and look at what liberal Democrats were asking for and what conservative Republicans were asking for. I defy anyone to look at the past 25 years as a victory for liberalism.

    Nor is it as if the GOP has been destroyed at the polls. The GOP controls the House and enough of the Senate to derail all legislation to which they object. While it is true the the White House is increasingly difficult for the GOP to occupy because of demographic shifts and the fact that bomb-throwing rhetoric from a President is off-putting to most voters, if the GOP is smart enough to nominate a Rubio-type who can play the "compassionate conservative" we are likely to have a close election and a repeat of 2000, as the Democrats suffer another enthusiasm deficit.

  • Doug on May 12, 2013 7:35 PM:

    I do object to using the heavily-loaded word "assassinate", or any of its' forms when referring to Anwar al-Awlaki. Or is he somehow different from, say, John Dillenger? And "secret"? How's that when we know about his death and, as far as I know, the administration hasn't denied involvement in that death.
    Now, if you want to argue about whether the use of drones and their concurrent "collateral" damage and deaths is actually worth it, that's something else.

    square1, I think the problem is that there's been three decades plus of misleading and downright false memes about the Federal government, it's activities and abilities from the GOP, little or none of which has been countered by MSM reporting of the facts. A Democratic response is too easily considered sheer "partisanship" and dismissed.
    So, I'd say right now the "policy" of the Democratic Party is preventing the GOP from regaining power, while simultaneously demonstrating that Democrats *aren't* the "tax-and-spend", radical leftist caricatures we're so relentlessly painted to be by the GOP.
    I just don't see any desire for major changes in government policy among the mass of people. While most polls show a majority (60+%) want a focus on jobs and the economy, those polls *don't* seem to translate into support of Democrats at the polls. Why not? The only answer I can come up with is that economy didn't get bad enough to force *enough* voters to re-think *why* they vote for Republican candidate, but it *did* get bad enough to frighten them into, basically, "circling the wagons".
    Perhaps a natural response, but not helpful for the country...