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September 09, 2013 12:35 PM Sam’s Club Republicanism Down Under

By Ed Kilgore

On occasion I have noted that the main problem with the “Sam’s Club Republicanism” of very prominent “reformish conservatives” Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam is that Republican politicians don’t support it. But hey, there is now a political role model who gives them hope, as Salam explains at National Review today. It’s Australia’s Tony Abbot, whose conservative coalition won a big victory over the weekend.

As Salam notes, Abbot’s victory is generally being attributed to his qualified opposition to a carbon tax, and/or to the poisonous infighting that has dominated the Labor Party in recent years. But there’s more!

What is most interesting about Abbott, however, is that he departs in many respects from orthodox small-government conservatism. Tom Switzer, the editor of The Spectator’s Australian edition, touts Abbott’s opposition to Labor’s “big-spending and interventionist agenda,” compared the new Australian prime minister to Thatcher and Reagan. But he quickly pivots to acknowledge that Abbott “is hardly the second coming of Milton Friedman,” citing Abbott’s paid paternal leave proposal as a mark of a “social-engineering streak.” It is certainly true that the proposal, which aims to provide subsidized maternity-leave to women for up to six months, is expensive, and Abbott has called for financing it through a 1.5 percentage-point increase in the corporate tax rate on top-earners. The Economist describes the proposal as essentially cynical, “a bit to improve his poor standing among female voters.”
But one could just as easily characterize the paid paternal leave proposal as a reflection of a more “Christian Democratic” sensibility. Abbott’s social conservatism has influenced his views on domestic policy in many respects, as he makes clear in his 2009 book Battlelines. In praising John Howard’s successful Liberal-National government, Abbott cites the fact that it tripled spending on child care and doubled the number of child-care places available, and its support for more flexible workplace arrangements which contributed to a sharp increase in the labor force participation of women. He also favorably referenced the Howard’s government’s Baby Bonus, a universal payment to new mothers, which was recently abolished by the Labor government….
Abbott has managed to combine classic pro-market politics with a call for revamping the welfare state along pro-family lines, and my guess is that this combination could prove just as successful in the United States. Indeed, this combination could go a long way towards demonstrating that the GOP is culturally modern and responsive to the interests of middle-income households with children, a large and culturally diverse constituency.

Yes, it could do so, if there was any indication that Republicans have any interest in “revamping the welfare state along pro-family lines.” Is this authorized in the Constitution? How will it help “job-creators?” Can large tax subsidies for child-bearing perhaps be complemented by abolition of Social Security and Medicare, and if not, how are you going to instantly balance the federal budget while eliminating progressive income taxes?

If Salam and Douthat had some ham, they could make a ham sandwich, if they had some bread. My guess is that long before Republican politicians get down with their agenda, pretty much everyone outside Australia will have long forgotten about Tony Abbott.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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