Early this morning, Erick Erickson posted a lame critique of the conservative reform movement over at Red State, On Conservative Reformers. Mostly it is just an excuse to savagely attack Josh Barro. He describes him as a “late twenty-something gay male.” Until reading that, it had not occurred to me that Barro was gay. In fact, it hadn’t even occurred to me to think about his sexual proclivities. I’m not sure what the mention of this fact is for, other than to impugn Barro in the eyes of Erickson’s bigoted readers. If I were similarly inclined, I would mention that Erick Erickson is a late thirty-something frozen pig-faced male. It would actually make more sense: you can’t help but notice that if you watch the man talk for half a minute. It’s freaky, but just like Barro’s sex life totally irrelevant.
Erickson doesn’t think that Barro is a conservative. This just isn’t true. Barro is quite conservative. What he isn’t is an apologist for the Republican Party. What Erickson doesn’t like is Barro’s embrace of Obamacare. But this isn’t exactly true. I’ve heard Barro argue against the program a number of times. He just seems to be taking a strategic approach to it. What’s more: it is a conservative program. When did it become a litmus test for being a conservative? Barro isn’t calling for a single-payer program. He is defending a program that was Republican orthodoxy only 5 years ago.
Erickson then goes on to claim that Barro left the Manhattan Institute after it was “clear he was not a conservative.” There is no evidence of this, and Erickson is just pushing a standard conservative snark about it. After that, Erickson spends a lot of time claiming that the only reason Barro has a job is because of his famous father, economist Robert Barro. It’s a sad attack. (My opinion is that smart as he is, Barro probably would not have made it so far as a political commentator if he weren’t conservative. But this is just because there is a real shortage of thoughtful conservatives. See, for example: Erick Erickson.)
The article finishes up on Barro by incorrectly explaining why liberals like Barro. He wrote, “But liberals want to take Barro seriously as a conservative reformer because he wants to ‘reform’ by moving in their direction on both fiscal and social issues.” This isn’t why liberals (and moderates) like Barro. They like him because he is a conservative with actual ideas. He doesn’t go on talk shows and lie. And unlike most public conservatives, his claims to want to help the poorer classes are more than just a smokescreen. Personally, I like the fact that I don’t get talking points from Barro. In other words: he doesn’t bore me.
The rest of the article is supposedly about the conservative reform movement, which Erickson claims is “crowded.” But it isn’t clear what Erickson means by “reform.” After all, this is a man who thinks that support of Obamacare that was conservative mainstream only 5 years ago makes someone “not conservative.” He claimed that the reformers are more Republicans than conservatives, but this is just the slight of hand of an ideologue who never wants to take responsibility for actual policy. But more to the point: he seems to be saying the Republican Party only needs to be reformed to the extent that it isn’t pure enough in its commitment to conservatism. In other words, it’s the same old argument, “The problem with George W Bush is that he wasn’t conservative enough.” Or: “I think conservatism is great; we should try it some time.”
Fully half of the article is is an attack on “Washington” and “elites.” He even writes, “Conservatism wins when it is populist and middle class.” But this, of course, is the same old middle class populism that we get from the Tea Party folk who are screaming that we must cut the top marginal income tax rate, slash corporate taxes, and eliminate the estate tax. In other words: it is an ideology that panders exclusively to the interests of the power elite. But in Erickson’s mind, billionaires are not the elite. The elite are people with college degrees (Erickson has a JD, but apparently he doesn’t count) and who live in Washington and New York.
Erickson ends by noting that Reagan took the “academic” conservative ideas and combined them with “mid-western understanding of human nature.” Erickson is big on the idea that liberals live in a fantasy world whereas conservatives live in the real world. This, I guess, is the “real” world of perfect markets and rational expectations. But what he is saying, in effect, is, “We don’t need no stinking reformers!” All the conservative movement needs is another charismatic leader like Ronald Reagan and everything will be fine. And in the short term, this might work. A Republican might win the presidency in 2016. But without major changes in the party, that’s likely to be a last (four year) hurrah for some time. Liberals should thank Erickson for doing his part to ossify the conservative movement and to show that bigotry is alive and well in it.
Update (4 June 2013 12:30 pm)
Josh Barro hit back this morning, writing, “I’m not sure why my sexual orientation is mentioned right at the top of his hit piece on me, following only my age. (Just kidding; I know exactly why Erickson mentioned this so early.)” Pow!