You all know how much we love reform conservatives around here, right? Or at least, you know how much we would love them if they existed. One of the people who claims to be for reforming the Republican Party but always comes up with a reason why actually, the Republican Party is just fine, is Ross Douthat. In Ryan Cooper’s excellent rundown, Reformish Conservatives, he does not even score as high as David Frum, whose idea of reform is just two things: don’t be openly racist and don’t be against even the smallest of gun control measures. Douthat seems to think he is defending the Pope. But not Pope Francis — Pope Pius XII.
Anyway, earlier this month, Matt Yglesias wrote, The Deafening Silence of “Reform Conservatives” on Climate Change. So after thinking about it for three weeks, Ross Douthat shoots back, “But, but, but…” Well, actually he wrote, Reform Conservatism and Climate Change. It’s total apologia. Basically, he says that he can’t be bothered to talk about climate change because the economy is bad.
Okay. Let me say something nice about Douthat. He’s actually not that bad on economic issues. He’s a total social conservative, and in a man as young as he is, I think this really raises questions about someone screwing him up somewhere. But he isn’t one of the usual “screw the poor, love the rich” conservatives. If he really worked at by toning down the social conservatism a bit and revving up the economic liberalism, he’d be a populist. But I’m done now. That’s the last nice thing I’ll say about Ross Douthat.
Just because he doesn’t hate the poor, doesn’t mean he understands economics. Paul Krugman noted this, Depression Economics and Climate Policy. He noted what I talk about around here a great deal. (In fairness: I probably learned it from Krugman in the first place.) When the economy is depressed and there are lots of unused (primarily human) resources laying around, it does not hurt the economy to increase regulations that force industry to invest in clean technology. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. Doing this will actually create jobs.
You may wonder, how can this be? How can there be this win-win situation where we get a cleaner and safer environment while also creating jobs? Simple: not everyone wins. All those rich corporations that are sitting on piles of money that they don’t know what to do with? They are going to see those piles of money shrink. And that is why the Republicans are against doing anything about global warming or for that matter anything at all. They believe it is immoral to hurt the profits of any company by even the smallest amount. On the other hand, they don’t see it as immoral at all to keep many millions of people out of work unnecessarily. That’s the “free” marker!
The question you might be wondering is that now that I (with a tiny assist from Paul Krugman) have pointed out the error in Ross Douthat’s thinking, will he decide that he must start pushing the Republican Party to do something about climate change? Of course not. We will be back to what Yglesias was talking about in the first place. There will be a “deafening silence” from Douthat. As I said, his article was just an apologia — just some fancy footwork to justify his lack of engagement on the issue. He doesn’t want to turn into Josh Barro!
And ultimately, that’s the issue that faces all conservatives who want to make the Republican Party more reasonable. If they start making sense — thinking rationally, accepting facts, striving for consistency — they start to sound like liberals. And then how can they reform the Republican Party? It’s a Catch-22. In order to reform the Republican Party, they must stay crazy and stupid; but if they stay crazy and stupid, they can’t reform the Republican Party. Oh well.