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There’s No Reform In “Reform Conservatism”

[ 174 ] July 11, 2014 |

Krugman recently:

Sam Tanenhaus asks, “Can the G.O.P. Be a Party of Ideas?”

Why, no. This is another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

More specifically, the “reform conservatives” seem mainly to be offering supposedly new ideas for the sake of being seen to offer new ideas. And there isn’t much there there; can you find anything in the Tanenhaus piece that sounds like an important new idea rather than a minor tweak on the current conservative catechism? I can’t. I mean, converting federal poverty programs into bloc grants is supposed to be a major departure?

But don’t take his word for it; take reform conservative Ross Douthat:

I think both writers raise useful points, but also possibly exaggerate the discontinuity between Ryanism and the reformist tendency. Chait and I have gone so many rounds on the True Nature of Paul Ryan over the years that I don’t think it’s worth re-litigating those issues; I’ll just say that from the point of view of conservative reformers, the Ryan who matters (and yes, like all politicians he contains multitudes) has always been the Ryan who did more than any other Obama-era politician to save the G.O.P. from policy unseriousness (and often tried to do still more), rather than a Randian Ryan or an apocalyptic Ryan or any other interpretation of his record Chait prefers. And in this sense, many aspects of Ryanism are pretty clearly foundational for reformers: The wisdom of his basic vision for Medicare reform is taken for granted by most people in our camp (and, happily, by most prominent Republicans), his 2009 alternative to Obamacare, which failed to win over the party at the time, looks a lot like the health care alternative proposed in the recent Room to Grow compendium, and the broad goal of his famous budgets — reforming the welfare state in order to keep the federal government’s share of the economy within its post-World War II bounds — is a broad reformocon goal as well.

Douthat seems to be making this argument in order to argue that Ryan is essentially a serious moderate reform Republican like himself. (Chait has great fun with this, noting that Ryan’s Randite fanaticism is entirely unambiguous.) But what it actually accomplishes is to demonstrate that the “reform conservatives” are also Ryan-style ultrareactionaries. Let’s consider the three major points of agreement Douthat cites. Are they “new” ideas? Are they moderate in any way?

  • The plan to “reform” Medicare by ending it and replacing it with vouchers of decreasing value is a radical change that would have devastating effects on the non-affluent.  Is this a new idea?  Nope — the foundational contemporary conservatives have always yearned to destroy Medicare.  Is it in any way politically moderate?  No; indeed, the idea is so politically toxic that Ryan mounted a campaign to have accurate Democratic characterizations of the plan declared “lies.”
  • The alternative to the ACA advocated by Ryan and shared by the reformers is nothing but bog-standard “let them eat free markets and states’ rights” stuff.  The repeal of the Medicaid expansion it shares with all Republican health care plans would wreak devastation on America’s non-affluent.   It would cause many people to lose their employer-provided insurance, with the almost certainly vain hope that tax credits would be sufficient for most of these people to buy insurance on lightly regulated state exchanges pursuing a race to the bottom.  In other words, while the ACA has already made substantial strides in reducing the number of uninsured, Ryan’s “reforms” would cause the number of uninsured to explode, with much accompanying misery and suffering for those less advantageously situated than Ryan and Douthat. There’s nothing remotely “new” about the idea that if the non-affluent don’t have health care, sucks to be them.  And if you think the relative unpopularity of the ACA means that repealing guaranteed issue and the ACA’s subsidies would be popular, I have many copies of Ayn Rand’s Marginalia to sell you for the low, low price of $10,000 each.
  • Cutting the welfare state to meet arbitrary spending targets is about as old, and as bad, as American conservative ideas get.

The only difference that I can tell between Ryan old-school reactionary radicals and the “reformers” is that “reform” conservatives want to focus tax cuts on middle-class families while Ryan wants to focus on the very wealthy.  Otherwise, the differences are superficial — in his budgets Ryan is forced to make it clear that hitting arbitrary federal spending targets while maintaining Social Security, not cutting defense, and cutting taxes would require either massive George W. Bush-style deficits or the elimination of most discretionary federal spending.  Douthat claims to not want to finance everything with borrowing a la Bush and also claims not to want to take a meat axe to the non-discretionary parts of the federal budget, but how exactly this would work is unexplained.  It could involve just ending Social Security, but there’s nothing “reform” (or politically viable) about that.

In conclusion, I re-propose that Republican “reformers” be called “Taco Bell conservatives.

Comments (174)

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  1. Chris says:

    I can’t remember when the last time was that the GOP had an actual bona fide good and new idea – of its own. Even in the “liberal consensus” years with their Eisenhowers and Rockefellers and George Romneys that we pine after, these characters were just following the trail blazed by twenty years of Roosevelt/Truman.

    Maybe the early 20th century, with the Progressives and all, would be a better bet.

    • DrDick says:

      Certainly not since Eisenhower and I am 62.

      • Steps are being taken:

        WASHINGTON—Saying the now critically endangered species of politician is at high risk for complete extinction within the next 10 years, Beltway-area conservationists announced plans Monday for a new captive breeding program designed to save moderate Republicans.

        According to members of the Initiative to Protect the Political Middle (IPPM), centrist Republicans, who once freely roamed the nation calling for both economic deregulation and a return to Reagan-era tax rates on the wealthy, are in dire need of protection, having lost large portions of their natural terrain to the highly territorial Evangelical and Tea Party breeds.

        “Our new program is designed to isolate the few remaining specimens of moderate Republicans, mate them in captivity, and then safely release these rare and precious creatures back into the electorate,” said IPPM’s Cynthia Rollins, who traces the decline of the species to changes in the political climate and rampant, predatory fanaticism. “Within our safe, enclosed habitats, these middle-of-the-road Republican Party members can freely support increased funding for public education and even gay rights without being threatened by the far-right subgenus.”

        • gocart mozart says:

          “The most difficult task we have is preserving members of this disappearing breed before the desperate need for votes forces them to begin parroting borderline racist anti-immigration ideologies and accusing their opponents of being socialists,” tracker Phil Gandelman said. “We thought we had captured and tagged a truly exemplary specimen a few weeks ago, but when we studied the creature more closely, we realized it was just John McCain.”

        • efgoldman says:

          Beltway-area conservationists announced plans Monday for a new captive breeding program designed to save moderate Republicans.

          Much too late, I’m afraid. Unless they’re doing it from DNA, Jurassic Park style.
          Might’s well start a captive breeding program for passenger pigeons. At least if that works, there’s a food source.

      • Malaclypse says:

        Honestly, aside from disastrous policies in Iran and Guatemala, and giving Nixon a national stage, what did Eisenhower actually do? Give a good Farewell Address?

        • wjts says:

          Built the Interstate Highway system and deployed the 101st Airborne to Little Rock.

          • Malaclypse says:

            Little Rock I’ll give you (and DocA). I’m not so sure I want to sing the praises of a system that probably did more than anything else to destroy the railroads and lock in the private automobile, though.

            • wjts says:

              I dunno. As I understand it, Germany manages to maintain an extensive federal highway system and a robust rail network, so it might be one of those necessary but not sufficient things.

              • efgoldman says:

                Germany manages to maintain an extensive federal highway system and a robust rail network

                Yes they do, either owned and run, or heavily subsidized by, the government.
                Plus gasoline costs way more, on purpose.

        • drkrick says:

          It was a terrific farewell addressing, suggesting that one of his successors marshall up the courage he couldn’t to confront the MIC. Given that his immediate successor had campaigned on a platform calling for increased spending to fix a missile gap he knew didn’t exist, Ike might as well have given a speech encouraging the domestication of dragons for national defense.

        • DrDick says:

          He avoided being as huge a disaster as every Republican to follow him. I always thought of him as pretty much a caretaker president who did relatively little, other than the interstate system. As for Iran and Guatemala, I am not convinced that any of the Democrats of the time would have done much, if anything, different. That sadly represented the elite consensus of the time, just as Vietnam did.

    • Yeggman says:

      Cap and trade (originally used to cut down on acid rain emissions) was pretty good, superior to plain old emission limits if inferior to just a tax on emissions. That said I’m not super knowledgeable about the history behind and I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Papa Bush’s role was greatly exaggerated and it was mostly the work of Congressional Democrats.

    • Greg says:

      Wasn’t the Earned Income Tax Credit their idea? As an alternative to welfare?

  2. Shakezula says:

    I’m surprised there’s enough of the chicken left to fuck by now.

  3. Dana Houle says:

    How are we to know Paul Ryan is serious?

    Because Ross Douthat says Ryan is serious.

    But is Ross Douthat serious?

    Yes, because people like Reihan Salam says he’s serious.

    But is Reihan Salam serious?

    Yes, because Ross Douthat says he’s serious.

    It’s serious all the way down…

    What a bunch of shallow, dishonest, politically maturbatory wankers.

    • CaptBackslap, YOLO Edition says:

      Reihan does support Morgan Warstler’s genuinely innovative wage-subsidy plan, so that’s at least something.

    • David B. says:

      I think you break the chain by noting that whatever it is Douthat wrote up there, it contains zero coherent thoughts, but it does seem to place a great deal of significance on what it is Douthat previously said about Paul Ryan, which i am basing on the fact he talks about himself a lot in that passage ostensibly out a prominent politician. But if Douthat can’t write something readable, who are we to give a rat’s ass about Ross Douthat? Don’t write about being the party of ideas, just have some fucking ideas and write about them, if within skill set. To use the “cons’” favorite nomenclature, I feel like I’ve had Ross Douthat shoved down my throat, and I don’t know why. Isn’t he just a dumb, Catholic David Brooks?

    • Aaron says:

      Douthat shows more thought in his blog than in his column, but I’ve yet to be left with the impression that the waters run particularly deep. Perhaps it’s that he’s simply not comfortable stepping outside of his established, Christian Republican orthodoxy, in order to try to view or understand issues from another angle.

  4. pillsy says:

    The whole thing is severely dumb. A lot of it hinges on the (equally stupid) charge that all liberals have to offer are the same played out, dated ideas that they had in the ’60s. The problem is that the Republican ideas are not only (for the most part) not in any way new, but also that they’re pretty much all completely terrible.

    I do think there’s a certain novelty to the idea that “religious freedom” means ignoring conditions placed on receiving tax breaks for offering your employees certain forms of compensation, but that doesn’t make the idea any less bagel-fuckingly moronic. Likewise, the old liberal chestnut of indexing the minimum wage to inflation is an old liberal chestnut because it’s trivially obvious that you should be doing it.

    • Shakezula says:

      Yes, people should give up the fight for social and economic justice because a bunch of hyper-privileged men who have, collectively, less empathy than a boll weevil, find it tedious. Hearkening and obedience!

      And no fair mentioning why the struggle continues and certainly not who makes the fight necessary.

      • pillsy says:

        And no fair mentioning why the struggle continues and certainly not who makes the fight necessary.

        Well, you can’t blame them for building a coalition around sustaining and defending racials, gender and class inequities, since they weren’t going to be able to advance their preferred policies any other way. What profits a nation if it gains social justice and forfeits its capital gains tax reductions?

  5. Derelict says:

    The tell in all of this is, of course, that the Republican ideas need to be given all kinds of fancy new disguises to make people think those ideas are good.

    Newsflash: If you need to disguise your idea to make it acceptable, the idea is not a good one–and you are a dishonest person for trying to sell it.

  6. Dread Hierarch Scrotum-Piranha says:

    Call them Tinkerbell conservatives – the only reason they continue to exist is that enough of the media scream “I believe in (confidence) fairies” on demand.

  7. Col Bat Guano says:

    While the Reformacons claim they want to focus their tax cuts on the middle class, who wants to bet that all those cuts end up going to the 1% once the sausage is made? Sure some small increase in the child tax credit will be thrown in to make the claim that “working families” are getting help, but that sweet nugget will be encased in a sour wrap of eliminating the capital gains tax or some such.

    • Lurking Canadian says:

      They mean it. It’s just that they define “middle class” as “between $100K-$1M per year”. So it’s broader than the 1%: maybe as much as 2%.

  8. kindness says:

    When ever Sully brings up a Douthat quote expecting to show a principled, moderate conservative I cringe. Douthat is an asshat and that anyone (NY Times…Hello???) would consider his bilge reasonable & moderate is astounding.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Whenever Sully hits “send”, I cringe.

      • witless chum says:

        Whenever Sully hits “send” I have no idea it happened, because he ran out of strikes when he decided to make me feel bad for Sarah Palin by being super creepy and irrational about when and how she had her last kid. Honestly, it’s a poor reflection on me that it took that long.

  9. rea says:

    “New conservative idea” is an oxymoron.

  10. Brownian says:

    I dunno why all these conservative geniuses are having such a hard time. This is the era of accessible data. Twenty seconds on Wikipedia, and I came up with twenty bold new Republican messages for 2016:

    ‘Let Them Eat Aranygaluska’
    ‘Let Them Eat Banana Bread’
    ‘Let Them Eat Baumkuchen’
    ‘Let Them Eat Buccellato’
    ‘Let Them Eat Bundt’
    ‘Let Them Eat Croquembouche’
    ‘Let Them Eat Dacquoise’
    ‘Let Them Eat Faworki’
    ‘Let Them Eat Gingerbread’
    ‘Let Them Eat Kladdkaka’
    ‘Let Them Eat Lamington’
    ‘I ♥ Ayn Rand’
    ‘Let Them Eat Mantecada’
    ‘Let Them Eat Mille-feuille’
    ‘Let Them Eat Prinzregententorte’
    ‘Let Them Eat Šakotis’
    ‘Let Them Eat Soufflé’
    ‘Let Them Eat Torta Tre Monti’
    ‘Let Them Eat Tompouce’
    ‘Let Them Eat Yōkan’

  11. Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    Can anyone remind me what the conversion factor is for units in wrongness from Douthats to Kristols? Is there a correction factor for transposing wrongness about domestic policy to foreign policy.

    Also, while I know that the Kristol is the unit of wrongness in the Imperial system, is Douthat a unit in Imperial, cgm, or SI units?

    Can I say “The Op-Ed page in the WSJ was pretty moderate today – all the Op-eds totalled up to only 1/16 Kristols or 0.5 kiloDouthats”

  12. LeeEsq says:

    The real reason why we can’t have reform conservatism in the United States is that the Red Tory/Bismarckian Conservatism tradition is completely absent from the United States. Regardless of what political party they belonged to, American conservatives have basically been vehemently laisseze-faire since the 19th century. Even cyncial support of welfare state measures or state regulation of the economy is too much for them.

    • steve says:

      Would be interesting to see an actual communitarian or “old right” movement emerge in the United States…deeply skeptical of the state but also deeply skeptical of “the market.” Irving Kristol probably fell into that camp (“two cheers for capitalism”) but his dumbass son seems not to have understood anything his father said.

      There is some Noblese Oblige in American politics, I suppose, but it is mainly white center-left folks in the Democratic Party. I find it condescending and awful but preferable to the “let’em starve” position of the Republican party.

    • Just Dropping By says:

      I guess I imagined all those Republican attacks on Obama in 2009 and ’10 for “cutting Medicare.”

    • burritoboy says:

      You can’t have Bismarckian Conservatism / Red Toryism in the US. The only reason you can have it is if you have a landed aristocracy that gets its social status primarily from government or civic service. That way you get conservatives who want a real and functional government – admittedly, it’s still mostly self-serving (they want a government so that they can dominate its higher military and civil service offices), but they still want a reasonably well-functioning government that more-or-less meets the people’s needs to some extent.

      There simply isn’t a hereditary landed aristocracy in the US. Financial or industrial oligarchs generate their social status from accumulating more wealth, not government service. So they have less interest in whether the government is functional. To the extent that the government interferes with their accumulation of wealth, they dislike it without the counterbalance of Prussian aristocrats wanting a real government so they can be military officers in it.

      • LeeEsq says:

        Your kind of right with your reasons on why we can’t have Bismarckian conservatism in the United States. In the past we had some relatively old money families that came close. Theodore Roosevelt was somewhat close to a Red Tory. So was Nelson Rockefeller.

        I really think that the fact that Red Toryism is somewhat self-serving is irrelevant. In pluralistic democracies, most politics are at least a little self-serving in that you want the best for your idenitifed group. Trying to eliminate all forms of self-serving politics usually ends badly.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Your “self-serving” is my “enlightened self-interest”. The problem is when “self-serving” becomes “short-sighted focus on big money now now now” or “unbridled greed among psychopaths”.

  13. steve says:

    What exactly are Ross Douthat’s credentials as a policy wonk? He was a Harvard liberal arts guy?

    I mean he has no policy expertise, no ability to do statistics or think analytically, nothing. So why should we give a fuck what he thinks is and isn’t a “serious” or “good” policy prescription?

    • sharculese says:

      He’s not a policy guy at all and that’s not what he’s paid for. His job is to be the one conservative that moderate liberals read because moderate liberals feel the need to read one conservative and hey, there’s one conveniently in the Times and he doesn’t really say much of anything so it’s like reading candy.

      Thinking is not part of it, he knows it, his employers know it.

    • rea says:

      He was a Harvard liberal arts guy?

      Who got his career started by writing a book about how worthless his Harvard education was.

    • David B. says:

      He probably thinks that’s sufficient, bless his heart. A lot of his stuff seems to presume his presumed moral self-rectitude is a policy qualification, but I guess most evangelicals don’t speak Harvard. A good policy to him is a policy he wants.

      He’s of course having a conversation with Chait over Paul Ryan that neither genuine academic elites are having, nor American people.

  14. What exactly are Ross Douthat’s credentials as a policy wonk? He was a Harvard liberal arts guy?

    He can turn in 1000 words of conservative boilerplate on a deadline.

  15. howard says:

    the day a conservative of any stripe calls for a huge carbon tax to be largely offset by a cut in income taxes and a significant increase in the standard deduction is the day i believe in reform conservatism, since a true reform conservative: a.) believes in consumption taxes rather than income taxes; b.) believes that sparing the planet environmental devastation is a conservative value; and c.) doesn’t think high-income people are overtaxed.

    since there are no such people right now, there is no such thing as a reform conservative.

  16. Warren Terra says:

    All these amazing Supermen of Republican ideas are just Clark Kent in garish spandex – but so long as they remember to take off their glasses, the media can’t recognize them and gets fooled every time.

  17. Glen Allen says:

    So what’s the liberal plan for reforming Social Security and Medicare? Because these programs are fiscally unsustainable with their present structure. We have an aging population with shrinking workforce. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too .

    • Hogan says:

      Raise (or remove) the cap on FICA/Medicare wages.

      • Glen Allen says:

        So a massive tax hike? Asking the taxppayer to give even more of his hard earned money to the federal government ?Is that all you have?

        Same old liberalism….tax tax tax. Property tax, income tax, sales tax, meal tax, FICA tax raise em all! The liberals mantra.

        • MAJeff says:


          • Glen Allen says:

            Mock it all you want but the meal tax had already impacted small restaurant owners in the area (I know two of them). Sales are down.

            All this to fund laptops the school system doesn’t even need. What ever happened to pen and paper?

            • MAJeff says:


              MY PIZZA!!!!!!!!!

              • Glen Allen says:

                They can use the lab. Why is 1:1 student to laptop ratio necessary ?

                • Hogan says:

                  Or for that matter, a 1:1 student to chair ratio? They can take turns sitting.

                • Glen Allen says:

                  Only a liberal could confuse basic furniture with electronic toys.

                • MAJeff says:

                  Laptops are “toys” now, huh? Good thing there’s no such thing as “homework.”

                • Hogan says:

                  Only an overfed suburban conservative would pop off about education policy while knowing nothing about it.

                • sharculese says:

                  Only a liberal could confuse basic furniture with electronic toys.

                  I get that you don’t know how to do anything with a computer except play Solitaire and whine on the internet about things you don’t understand.

                  But most people, including high school students, are smarter than you.

                • Glen Allen says:

                  My taxes pay for the school system so you’re damn right I get to talk about it.

                • Hogan says:

                  Oh, and “electronic toy”? 1873 called; they’re wondering where you wandered off to.

                • MAJeff says:

                  He’s still walking uphill, but he can’t remember if it’s to or from home.

                • sharculese says:

                  Sure you can talk about schools all you want. Nobody here is trying to stop your little tantrum. Subject matter knowledge, however, is not guaranteed.

                • MAJeff says:

                  My taxes pay for the school system so you’re damn right I get to talk about it.

                  And it is your responsibility to have a clue, not just derp on in resentful rage at everyone else who isn’t a special fucking rainbow like you.

                • efgoldman says:

                  Only a liberal could confuse basic furniture with electronic toys.

                  Only a glibertarian would confuse a federal tax to continue funding social security with local funding and control of a school system.
                  BTW if we unlimited the SS/Medicare deduction, it would allow making the rate lower, so it’s not so regressive.

                  BTW, one thing that REALLY frosts my pumpkin is people who raised their kids in a town/school system, and agitating for the best for their kids for 13 years, turning their back on the town as soon as the kids are out. Saw it where we raised our daughter. What the hell do they think makes their property values escalate? Hint: it’s not their beautifully manicured lawn, or yelling at the kids to get off it.

            • Hogan says:

              Also drill and kill. KILL. KILL.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Mock it all you want

              No worries there, mate. We got that covered.

              Also, we plan on taxing veggie pizza less, as part of the Broccoli Mandate section of the ACA. Meat Lovers will see a surcharge, of course.

              • MAJeff says:

                And one particular Arby’s will face a 100% tax.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Come the Glorious Socialist Revolution, all restaurants will be locally-owned vegan wrap cafes, with two, maybe three outdoor tables, but strangely only 5 chairs. And they will all be staffed by Manic Pixie Dream Feminists that Glen can resent, yet masturbate (secretly, he thinks) to, furiously.

                • sharculese says:

                  I had a delightful vegan wrap for lunch today. Sauteed tempeh with avocado and a homemade roasted red pepper sauce .

                  I cannot wait to hold Glenn down and forefeed him one.

                • Pseudonym says:

                  Hail Seitan!

              • N__B says:

                Meat Lovers will see a surcharge

                If you said that to JenBob he’d have to change his drawers.

            • wjts says:

              Mock it all you want but the meal tax had already impacted small restaurant owners in the area (I know two of them). Sales are down.

              Then those Job Creators should exercise some Personal Responsibility and move their businesses to jurisdictions where the pizza remains deliciously tax-free.

              What ever happened to pen and paper?

              And why is a 1:1 student/pen ratio necessary? They can use the Pen Lab!

        • Hogan says:

          Massive tax hike? No. Apply the FICA rate to annual salaries above $117,000. Those earners will never miss it, and no one earning less than that will be paying any more.

          But yes, liberals think we should pay our bills. Clearly you disagree.

          • Glen Allen says:

            That’s a tax hike. So nice of you to tell those who work for a living that they will “never miss” the wages they earned through work. Maybe I should put a gun to your head and make you give me 5% of your income since you will “never miss it”?

            • Hogan says:

              Maybe you should get some laws passed saying that we spend less money. I mean, I know it’s harder than whining and moaning on the internet, but give it some thought.

            • sharculese says:

              Why is it always about threats of violence with you manchildren?

              • N__B says:

                His pizza intake has been curtailed.

              • steve says:

                Because they think that they made themselves and can’t see how much they owe to public education, public services, the safety net, public institutions, and so forth. They think the market could exist without the state (that is somehow exists prior to the state) too. So they think this is about expropriation as opposed to contributing to the same system that produced them (i.e.fairness).

            • gocart mozart says:

              That’s a tax hike.

              So it’s more of a religious objection than a practical one. Call Alito maybe he can help you out.

        • DrDick says:

          Not at all. It just means taxing the rich at the same rate as the plebes.

          • Glen Allen says:

            It’s a tax hike. You’re asking the taxpayer to hand over even more of his income. Making over 117 grand is not “rich”. My family has well over that income when our two salaries are combined.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Good for you, pumpkin. That means neither of you hit the FICA cap, so this doesn’t affect you one wee bit.

            • Mayur says:

              It’s a tax increase on people making over 117k, many of who (like myself) benefit from low capital gains taxes on the investment side and therefore are probably less burdened overall than poorer earners.

              The US taxes the wealthy too lightly. We need to at least make FICA non-regressive, which means removing the cap. It’s a “tax hike” only in the sense that it is the removal of an exemption that currently benefits only higher earners. The removal of that exemption also happens to secure the retirement and health of our most vulnerable citizens. Deal with it.

              • steve says:

                Yeah this is a “tax hike” I’d gladly eat. I’d rather not have old people living in poverty.

                It is amazing how even rational self-interest eludes these people. “Hey maybe I should support programs that educate the workforce, maintain public infrastructure, keep the workforce healthy, prevent urban blight and thus market destruction, keep poor people from rioting and revolting, keep pollution under control, etc.” I mean you suck if that is your only reason for supporting a robust welfare state but at least you are reasonable.

                • dr. fancypants says:

                  Yeah this is a “tax hike” I’d gladly eat. I’d rather not have old people living in poverty.


                  Hit the FICA cap for the first time in my life last year, and initially was just confused as to why I was getting larger paycheck deposits. I would neither notice nor care if that cap suddenly went away; I see no good reason why I should be entitled to stop paying in past a certain threshold.

            • Ian Paisley says:

              Making over 117 grand is not “rich”. My family has well over that income when our two salaries are combined.

              That puts you in the top 20% of households in the us.

              For 2012, if your income is over 146k, you’re in the top 10%.

              If you’re not rich, imagine how not-rich the 80% of households below you are. Why are you worrying about how much tax the top 10% pay?

        • Anonymous says:

          If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
          If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
          If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat
          If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet

          • Mayur says:

            Written in a time and place that featured 90% top marginal rates.

            We overcorrected between the ’50s and the ’90s. It’s time for the pendulum to tick a bit back.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          conservative mantra: “user fee ‘em to death”

        • Ken says:

          No, not at all. See, FICA and Medicare don’t count as taxes. Otherwise the 47% would be paying taxes. So applying them on all income, not just the first $117,000, doesn’t increase anyone’s taxes.

      • N__B says:

        Oh, are we going for serious, workable answers? Because I was going to say “confiscatory taxes on pizza.”

    • Malaclypse says:

      So what’s the liberal plan for reforming Social Security and Medicare?

      1) Be clever enough to realize they are two different programs.
      2) Realize that Social Security is, in fact, financially sustainable.
      3) Realize that Obamacare is actually bending the Medicare cost curve.

      Are you stupid enough to think you had a gotcha?

    • howard says:

      no, social security is not unsustainable fiscally right now: it’s impossible to take seriously anyone who argues otherwise.

      the absolute worst you can say about social security’s fiscal position is that it’s not impossible that current expectations as to the level of social security benefits in 30 years or so may turn out to be wrong.

      that’s nowhere close to fiscally unsustainable.

      as for medicare, there are really only two points to be made: the first is that medicare is as sustainable as the u.s. healthcare system in general. insofar as costs are reduced overall in the u.s. healthcare system, we’ll see them reduced in medicare too: it’s a very efficient system.

      and the second is that that’s already happening. whether it will continue to happen will depend on whether the crazy party is allowed to have more power than it does now or not.

      so, bottom line: insofar as there’s an issue in social security, it can be dealt with readily through a variety of mechanisms.

      insofar as there’s an issue in “medicare,” it will be dealt with to the extent that the aca is a downpayment towards single payer or society will have an overall crisis of health care affordability. medicare is a dependent function.

      • steve says:

        If they really cared about reducing social AND government cost they’d support single-payer. It is amazing how much the US government pays per capita (not per patient) to cover a fraction of the population. And then you look at Canada covering 100% of the population for less money per capita than the US.

      • drkrick says:

        … medicare is as sustainable as the u.s. healthcare system in general.

        That’s really well said. Noting it for future use.

    • Autonomous Coward says:

      So, Glen, you somehow think that parroting “But but but that’s a TAX HIKE!” is in any way a rebuttal. It is not.

      I am perfectly fine with high earners paying a little more in tax if it means that old people aren’t going to freeze or starve. You are, of course, free to oppose this. I on the other hand, place a higher value on old people not dying than on a few of the wealthiest having to settle for a Z4 rather than an M4.

      I am uncertain how to make this much clearer.

  18. Murc says:

    You know, am I the only one perpetually baffled by calls for this or that political movement to reform itself, and the sturm and drang surrounding it? It always seems to miss the elephant in the room, which is whether or not a political party (or movement) has good policy ideas and non-destructive ideology or not. More dangerously, and more appalling, at least for me, such discussions always seem to have at their core an assumption that prostituting yourself for the sake of power is both desirable and, indeed, admirable.

    Take the current “reform conservatism” thing that’s going on among some (deeply marginal, lets be honest) folks on the right. Everyone nattering about it seems to be taking it for granted this should be done by the GOP. Why? Not because they’ll admit in any way, shape, or form that their policy ideas might be wrong, But because they lost a couple Presidential elections and look on pace to lose a bunch more, and have a few really tough maps and a painful demographic transition coming up.

    At best there’s an implication that the GOPs policy ideas and general morality might be politically unpopular. That goes hand in hand with the idea that it should be reformed. The question of whether or not those ideas are right, which means that abandoning them for the sake of winning elections is both idiotic and morally bankrupt, never seems to be addressed directly.

    The same thing happened when the Democrats reformed themselves during the Reagan years, and indeed during Labour’s two decades in the wilderness in the UK. I’ve read a lot of accounts of Labour’s famous “longest suicide note” platform, and they all seem to take it as a given that off course Labour needed to change, they were getting their asses kicked! Leaving completely aside any rigorous analysis of if they had good policy ideas, which would make abandoning them for electoral victory pointless.

    Similarly, the Clinton and post-Clinton era Democratic Party has produced a ton of Democrats whose milquetoast policy ideas and wishy-washy centrism are wholly inadequate to the needs of the country when they aren’t outright wrong. The best thing you can say about many of them is they aren’t as bad as Republicans and they’re more socially liberal than their predecessors. That ain’t nothing, but it’s pretty weak tea. Why on earth would the Republicans want to emulate that and end up with a bunch of guys who, from their perspective, are doing the same thing? Especially since theirs is a destructive agenda to begin with and they don’t have to worry, at all, about governing.

    Bottom line, the discussion about reform conservatism seems wrongheaded to me, at least, coming from the people on the right who seem to be taking it seriously. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam and David Frum and the others first need to have the discussion about what, if anything, they’re doing wrong. You have to identify the problem before you can change it! Then you discuss reform.

    They all seem to have jumped straight to trying to dress their old ideas up in new clothes. This implies that they really strongly believe in those old ideas and don’t want to change them. Fair enough. Stick by your beliefs, guys. But trying to snow people on them is contemptible.

    • Dilan Esper says:

      That’s a valid criticism of Salam and Douthat. But Frum wrote “Dead Right”, a book that had a fair amount of impact in the 1990′s and which is basically an extensive analysis of the black hole at the center of Republican policymaking. It’s still a good read.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Hey, these guys are trying to make a living selling turd polish. Don’t begrudge them their nickel.

    • LeeEsq says:

      Your party can have the best policy ideas in the world and it means absolutely nothing if you never win an election. Maybe Labour didn’t need to change its classic policy positions despite routinely getting thrashed by the Conservatives in elections but when a party repeatedly gets soundly beaten at the pools, party leaders start thinking that the most voters aren’t buying what they are selling anymore. The same thing happened with the Democratic Party in the United States and probably lots of other parties elsewhere.

      • Murc says:

        Except that Labour wasn’t getting thrashed by the Conservatives. Majorities in Britain were routinely voting for “not the Tories” during the eighties and nineties. (To be fair, the same thing was happening during the Blair years only with Labour.) The Democrats lost three Presidential elections but were otherwise in fine electoral shape, holding the house through the entirety of Reagan and Bush’s Presidency.

        That notwithstanding, I’m not sure why the response to “we can’t get people to vote for good ideas” is “lets sell them bad ideas instead!”. Holding power means shit by itself if you don’t have a good agenda to go with it.

  19. Gwen says:

    Ezra Klein had a vid the other day about the “reform conservatives” and the Export-Import Bank, which has become the new ACORN, apparently.

    I’m glad the Republicans have decided to criticize bankers, but I’m annoyed that the one bank they pick on is the one that actually works to create American manufacturing jobs.

  20. Gwen says:

    But anyway, it all makes sense. The Randroid wing of the GOP has decided that all moochers — even the business-y ones — have to be starved to death.

  21. Ranger Jay says:

    Hmmmm. I’ll believe in this so-called “reformation” when I see them calling for a major (and I mean BIG) reduction in the defense budget. Then, and only then, will I begin to take them seriously.

  22. Dilan Esper says:

    I suspect what is really going on is as follows:

    1. A lot of the smarter Republicans are aware that they are losing national elections in part because of ideological extremism. (The dumb ones think that all you have to do is double down on all aspects of conservativism and you will win like Reagan did. They have no idea of the reasons Reagan actually won.)

    2. There actually is a real debate among factions of the Republican Party as to what sorts of changes need to be made to the party platform (I use that term informally– I don’t mean the meaningless document signed off at the convention, but the issues the party emphasizes and attempts to impelement when it governs).

    3. The debate in 2 is limited in some very stark ways by the power of the party’s financiers. In other words, there is no chance that the Republican Party can actually move away from tax cuts from the rich and huge cuts in spending for the poor.

    4. Some of the smart conservatives mentioned in 1 are social conservatives. And they know that because the party cannot move away from money conservativism for the reasons stated in 3, the logical place for the party to move is on their issues, by taking more moderate positions on immigration, abortion, and gay marriage.

    5. “Reform conservativism” is an attempt to thread the needle created by 1, 3, and 4. It acknowledges that there has to be changes to conservativism to win national elections, wants to make sure those changes do not occur on issues social conservatives care about, but is constrained by the realization (never spoken, but always there in the background) that the money guys will not allow any fundamental change to the economic policies. Thus, the space reform conservativism operates in is limited to relatively minor shifts of tax policy that would assist a comparatively small number of middle class families, and smoothing out some of the rough edges of Republican plans to destroy the welfare state.

    Any questions?

    • Autonomous Coward says:

      This is a Good Post, Dilan.

      More people should read it and people more smarterer than I should comment on it.

    • Murc says:

      No, that seems about right.

      Although, really, you’d think some of these supposed bright lights, even if they’re just being nakedly political, would simply argue “Why change at all? All we need to do is control one of the three veto points, and we can keep the Democrats from doing anything. If at any time we control two, the Democrats will actually help us pass our agenda if we toss them a few inconsequential bones. If at any time we control all three we can keep wrecking up the place. Getting all three is tough, but getting two at any time isn’t that hard; the most Americans have gone back to the same party in a row for the Presidency is five, and that involved FDR.”

      I mean, you’d have to dress that up a bit for public consumption, but I don’t see how it isn’t an effective line of attack that both plays well in the media and plays well internally. The only people who won’t like it are people who want the GOP to change because they think it is actually wrong, and how many of those guys are there?

      • Pseudonym says:

        But that doesn’t seem like a line of attack that’s going to get the voters riled up or the money guys opening their checkbooks. More to the point, perhaps, who’s going to pay for you to share that opinion?

    • sharculese says:

      I would mostly agree with that, but I would add, as Ed Kilgore’s been pointing out, that the reformicons other big problem is that as much as they talk about changing the party, they’ve been very squeamish about actually taking on anyone in the party, which leads them to spend more time than they should talking up reform to liberal-ish publications like the Times that aren’t really the market for what they’re selling.

      • Murc says:

        Well, conservatism as a whole is really prepared to exile you very, very quickly if you decide parts of it are wrong and start saying so publicly. The reformicons haven’t actually been touching any of the sacred cows, they’ve been talking around them.

        There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. Would that liberals were more willing to cut dead people whose primary jobs as liberals exists to be “even-the-liberal.” But it does mean these dudes are never gonna get any traction unless they have a real constituency, and it is unclear they do beyond a tiny circle of intellectuals.

        • sharculese says:

          Sure yeah. But at a certain point, they have to ask themselves whether they believe in fixing conservatism strongly enough to put up any risk for it, and the answer right now is clearly, ‘no, they do not.’

  23. So-in-so says:

    I suspect “Reform Conservatism” is like GWB’s compassionate conservatism, a mask to hold in front of the ugly reality and pretend it got work done. Not helped by regularly lowering it to wink at the faithful so they get that nothing is really changed.

  24. jkay says:

    But the GOP’s been long on good ideas for Big Lies for taking away all the good stuff since Nixon.

    And isn’t Lemieux right about Reform Conservatism being just another lie? After all, Big Lies worked before too well.

    But most historical Republicans have been Tory moderate good governance types
    Except the liberals like Lincoln. What else were TR and Ike?

    Frum invented the WORST lie of Iraq, the “Axis of Evil”. Though he was the ONLY Republican whom liked Obamacare.

  25. mark says:

    I propose Re-fail-agins.

    Hate when people call them Re-thugs. They LIKE being called thugs. We need to call them what they are: liars and cowards who always, always FAIL.

  26. […] were many annoying things about the news media’s recent re-discovery of the new conservative intellectuals – among them, […]

  27. […] Most reformicon (react-icon?) proposals still hold to the old Reaganite dogma that “the government isn’t the solution to the problem, the government is the problem.” Instead of “tax cuts,” the new right-wing buzzword is “tax credit.” Reading their foundational document, “Room to Grow,” you wonder whether the reformicons might try to solve terrorism with “tax credits” as well; the phrase appears 21 times in the manifesto, and “credit” 81 times (abortion and gay rights go unmentioned, guns are mentioned once). Given that immigration is the single biggest issue that faces the Republican Party, one would expect a chapter, or even a paragraph, on the subject — she would be wrong. Sadly, for reform conservatives, the Obama administration has already begun expanding tax credits and has signaled its intent to do more, meaning that reformicons generally substitute real change for the Taco Bell effect. […]

  28. […] Most reformicon (react-icon?) proposals still hold to the old Reaganite dogma that “the government isn’t the solution to the problem, the government is the problem.” Instead of “tax cuts,” the new right-wing buzzword is “tax credit.” Reading their foundational document, “Room to Grow,” you wonder whether the reformicons might try to solve terrorism with “tax credits” as well; the phrase appears 21 times in the manifesto, and “credit” 81 times (abortion and gay rights go unmentioned, guns are mentioned once). Given that immigration is the single biggest issue that faces the Republican Party, one would expect a chapter, or even a paragraph, on the subject — she would be wrong. Sadly, for reform conservatives, the Obama administration has already begun expanding tax credits and has signaled its intent to do more, meaning that reformicons generally substitute real change for the Taco Bell effect. […]

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