Good Advice

Ken AshfordRepublicansLeave a Comment

Charlie Piece has a little piece of advice for the GOP handwringers struggling to "rebrand" their party as something other that certifiably looney tunes:

Who was it that nailed the Laffer Curve to the doors of the cathedral? It was Ronald Reagan — and, elsewhere, Maggie Thatcher — and I don't recall any great howls of Papist outrage from Sullivan back then, when everything the pope condemns today was just winding into its political strength.

The primary problem for any Republican who genuinely wants to reform his party is to disenthrall it from the mythology that has metastasized within the conservative movement that has been the only real energy in the party since its primary power centers moved south and west. One of the founding myths is the notion of what the pope called out, by name, as "trickle-down economics." It does not work but, most important of all, it never has worked. It didn't work for Reagan any better than it worked for younger Bush, whose eventual unthinking rise to power the Reaganauts made inevitable every time they covered for the dim old cowboy in charge and the fairy tales he used to get elected. Sooner or later, if we followed their path, we were going to get a know-nothing president who also was a political maladroit. Abandon Reagan, all of him, and save your party. Cling to the myth, and we're going to see impotent appeals for party reform every three or four years for the three or four decades.

Good advice.  Doubt anyone in the GOP will take it.  And this bodes well for progressives.  So well, in fact, that EJ Dionne is popping the champagne.  He sees 2014 as the year of the resurrgent progressive.

The reemergence of a Democratic left will be one of the major stories of 2014. Moderates, don’t be alarmed. The return of a viable, vocal left will actually be good news for the political center.

For a long time, the American conversation has been terribly distorted because an active, uncompromising political right has not had to face a comparably influential left. As a result, our entire debate has been dragged in a conservative direction, meaning that the center has been pulled that way, too.

Consider what this means in practice. Obamacare is not a left-wing program, no matter how often conservatives might say it is. Its structure is based on conservative ideas. The individual mandate was the conservatives’ alternative to a mandate on employers. The health-care exchanges are an alternative to government-provided medicine on the Medicare model.

Obamacare is complex because the government is trying to create a marketplace in which people shop for private insurance and receive government subsidies if they need them. It goes to a lot of trouble to preserve the private insurance market. The system does not even include a government plan as one option among many.

But once conservatives succeeded in pulling the health-care debate to where they had always wanted it, they abandoned the concepts they pioneered and denounced Obamacare as a socialist scheme. It’s a classic case of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose politics: Move toward me, and I’ll just keep moving farther away from you.

The right’s strong hand also prevented more aggressive action to ease joblessness. After the crash of 2008, the country desperately needed government to step in to bolster mass purchasing power, the point of stimulus efforts. With interest rates near zero, there was no better time to borrow in order to rebuild a decrepit national infrastructure and make other long-term public investments.

Instead, relentless pressure from the right made the initial stimulus smaller than it should have been — and then prevented any further expansion of government spending. In the blink of an eye, the public discussion was engulfed by an obsession with the deficit as millions languished without a job. Even Republicans are frustrated over how ideological fears about government’s size have stalled transportation bills that were once the stuff of bipartisan concord.

This pattern was repeated over and over on other issues, and the new militancy on the Democratic left is a consequence of a slowly building backlash against the skewed nature of our politics.


The resurgent progressives are battling a double standard. They are asking why it is that “populism” is a good thing when it’s invoked by the tea party against “liberal elites” but suddenly a bad thing when it describes efforts to raise the minimum wage and take other steps toward a fairer system of economic rewards.

And here’s why moderates should be cheering them on: When politicians can ignore the questions posed by the left and are pushed to focus almost exclusively on the right’s concerns about “big government” and its unquestioning faith in deregulated markets, the result is immoderate and ultimately impractical policy. To create a real center, you need a real left.

I don't know.  Maybe.  We're off to a good start with the new NYC mayor, an unapologetic progressive.  Lots of eyes on him.