GOP Reformers Just Make Things Worse

Michael R. StrainEarlier today, Jonathan Chait wrote, Republican Reformers Stop Being Polite to Tea Party, Start Getting Real. Seeing that title, I jumped right in. I was prepared to savage any silly ideas that Chait had about Republican reformers and where they do or do not fit into the conservative movement. But that title was just about as inaccurate as it could be.

The article summarizes two articles in the most recent issue of National Affairs magazine. One by conservative hacks Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner. And another by AEI’s Michael Strain[1], who I will admit has shown himself in the past to not be a total idiot and nutjob. As Chait describes it, the “Prague Spring for the mainstream” conservative intelligentsia. And then he spends the rest of the article showing how it is nothing of the sort.

The problem is that being a conservative in any capacity is a really well-paying gig. No one is going to threaten his cushy job at AEI in the name of fixing the Republican Party. But even if one were so inclined, they would quickly figure something out that I’ve been talking about for years: the Democratic Party is the conservative party. So if these people really want to reform the Republican Party, they have to pretend that the Democratic Party is something that it is not. Chait puts it perfectly:

What they refuse to do is compare actually existing Obama policies to actually existing Republican policies. The reason for their refusal is obvious: It would force them to forfeit their claim to partisan loyalty by defending the Democratic agenda. After all, if they consider broad access to medical care a worthy goal, isn’t Obamacare—while perhaps suboptimal—better than nothing (which is the plan Republicans have repeatedly voted for)? If they favor fiscal stimulus to reduce unemployment, even if they quibble with the particular design of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, isn’t it a radical improvement over the Republican program of fiscal anti-stimulus?

He then goes on to note that it isn’t that Republicans don’t have actual policies that they are vigorously pushing. It is just that they are the most vile policies imaginable that no conservative apologist could countenance. This is the Wonderland that conservative intellectuals live in. If you talk to them (And I do!) about their policies, they will tell you about how they are good for the poor. This is where Paul Ryan gets all the hammock garbage. The reason that people are poor is that the government is giving them too much! But when you step out of Wonderland, it gets hard. Poor kids go to school hungry. Poor kids get worse educations. Poor kids die at a much higher rate than rich kids. Well, the conservative intellectuals don’t want that, so they stay locked up inside Wonderland where all children are equal and have a good shot at the American Dream.

What’s most important to me in all of this is that these would be reformers aren’t just spewing out their Wonderland message of the perfect conservative policy. They are also reinforcing the beliefs of the reactionaries that Obama and the Democrats are secret communists trying to destroy the nation. And these “Republican reform” articles (it’s a genre) are always peppered with these distortions about the Democrats that reinforce what the Tea Party crowd already believes.

A more fundamental problem is that if there really were such a thing as a reasonable Republican, he would not stay one for long. Think of Michael Strain. If he really believes in what he claims to believe in, he fits much better in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. But if he became a Democrat, he might lose his job at the AEI. I’ve wondered the same thing about Norman Ornstein, who is also at AEI. But I put him in the same category as David Cay Johnston and Bruce Bartlett: people who align with Republican ideals but don’t seem to vote with the party anymore. But Strain is much younger without the enormous reputations of these three men. So he has to be careful.[2]

But I have some advice for him and others like him: stop trying to be reformers. You’re only making things worse.


Look at that picture of Strain above. He looks like a nice young man. He’s welcome in the big tent of the Democratic Party. I know that the two of us would be on opposite sides of the tent. But I’d welcome him. I doubt he’s much more conservative than Obama.

[1] Be careful. This is Michael R. Strain. It is not the Louisiana Republican Michael G. Strain.

[2] Generally, reform is for the older, so Strain is actually showing more bravery than most people in Washington.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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