Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The World as Ross Douthatblog Sees It

Ross Douthat has a blog post up entitled "The World As Wonkblog Sees It" pushing back at Ezra Klein in the latest round of debate over Republican and conservative "reformers."  Klein had argued in an earlier post that conservative writer Josh Barro is forced to become combative with the GOP and its internet loyalists because of big changes over policy that have left reasonable realists like Barro out in the cold.  As Klein argues:
Over the last few years, the Republican Party has been retreating from policy ground they once held and salting the earth after them. This has coincided with, and perhaps even been driven by, the Democratic Party pushing into policy positions they once rejected as overly conservative. The result is that the range of policies you can hold and still be a Republican is much narrower than it was in, say, 2005. That’s left a lot of once-Republican wonks without an obvious political home.
He also sees this is health care:
The basic architecture of the Affordable Care Act is, as has been pointed out ad nauseum, a Republican idea. It was first proposed in a 1993 plan that had 20 Senate Republicans as co-sponsors. It was passed and implemented by Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. It was supported by Newt Gingrich...

In fact, they [Republicans] pretty much abandoned all ideas related to universal coverage, or even big expansions of coverage. They decided some of them were downright unconstitutional. Today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor can’t even get high-risk pools past his members. The health policy space on the right is radically narrower than it was a decade ago. If you’re a Republican who hasn’t been willing to change your positions on those issues, you’re a heretic today.
Klein also points out the big changes when it comes to climate issues:
There was a time when Republicans were leading the way on ideas to fight climate change. The first cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon emissions was introduced into the Senate by Sen. John McCain. The McCain/Palin ticket included a cap-and-trade plank. Some Republicans, like Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, supported a carbon tax.

There’s no serious support in today’s Republican Party for doing anything about climate change...Today’s Republican Party doesn’t want a cap-and-trade plan or a carbon tax or even money for renewable energy research. Whereas a decade ago a policy wonk who worried about the future of the earth could comfortably fit in the GOP, today, anyone who wants to do anything serious about climate change has been written out of the party.
Klein then goes on to argue this shows much a hypothetical "policy scale" going to the Democrats while the GOP retreats into a narrower and narrow field of possible policies to embrace.

While, like Douthat, I am skeptical of these sorts of rating scales I think Klein's analysis really gets to the heart of the "policy free" politics a lot of Republicans are doing these days.  Douthat gives away the game when he tries to push back:
First, you can’t just bracket the “why” of the G.O.P.’s shift without downplaying the ways in which the basic ground of our policy debates has shifted since 2006 as well. For instance, a carbon tax or cap-and-trade bill might have looked like a sensible-centrist “5″ back when Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich were sharing a couch. But back then we were pre-crash and thought we were considerably richer than we actually were; back then the prospects for a meaningful global climate treaty looked much better than they do post-Copenhagen; back then global temperatures were expected to rise faster in the short term than they actually have; and back then we hadn’t yet knocked our own carbon dioxide emissions down to 1994 levels without a cap and trade bill.
To be sure Douthat is correct that carbon emissions have gone down in this country.  However he neglects the fact that this is largely due to a massive recessions and policies the, like higher mileage standards for cars and trucks, that the GOP fought against for decades.  But even worse Republicans are largely arguing global warming doesn't exist not that it can't be addressed because of the economic downturn.  My favorite example of this is Charles Baker's response to questions about global warming when ran for Governor in Massachusetts [!], "I don't believe in the boogie monster."  Thank you Mr. Baker

The problem here is that Douthat is doing exactly what Klein laments pundits like Douthat and Frum do when confronted the GOP's policy black holes:
The choices for Republican policy wonks are stark.  You can take the approach of Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat and Ramesh Ponnuru and evince a continual disappointment that the Republican Party doesn’t embrace more new ideas and be constantly on the lookout for glimmers of hope that never quite seem to herald the coming of dawn.

I'm not asking for Douthat to go all Barro and Frum and come out swinging in his next column, that's just not his style.  But if he continues down the road of making excuses for people like Charles Baker or Darrell Issa, he's not going to get anywhere.  It's time for Douthat to confront the party he has, not the party he wished he had,

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