Via Andrew, Richard Posner isn't too worried about the country's leftward drift. In fact, he thinks that if Obama shifts America too far from the center, it will be good for conservatism, opening the door for a Republican Bill Clinton. But what would a Republican Bill Clinton even look like?
DIA: In writing about the intellectual decline of conservatism you say that the movement has "so far succeeded in shifting the centre of American politics and social thought that it can rest, for at least a little while, on its laurels." Are you at all afraid that, while conservatives rest, Barack Obama will have shifted the centre of American politics back to the left?
Mr Posner: That may happen, but if so it will be good for conservatism! President Clinton in effect co-opted the conservative agenda; I have often referred to him as the consolidator of the Reagan revolution. His economic policies were conservative, but he also supported capital punishment and welfare reform, though obviously the control of Congress by the Republicans was a big factor in the latter. His judicial appointments were generally of moderates, and the two liberals whom he appointed to the Supreme Court were less liberal than the justices they replaced. If the current administration moves the country left, conservatives will be able to campaign from a position of responsible conservatism, rather than pushing a conservative agenda beyond reasonable bounds in order to differentiate conservatism from the centrist policies of moderate Democrats.
The trouble with buiding a "co-opter" for the GOP is that, although some right wingers are convinced that Republicans suffer from a lack of principles, the truth is that the party today suffers in fact from a diversity of principles, and it only gets worse as the party gets smaller. For the last 20 years, Republicans strength has often come from the simplicity of their message: Always Lower Taxes; Always Stronger Defense; Always Family Values. Today's GOP is a victim of that success precisely because that simple all-inclusive message is seen as insulated and calcified.
The key to building a RepubliClinton is knowing where to stick to that message and where to deviate. We can imagine how a 2012 election could look a bit like the 1992 election, when growing concerns about the deficit led to a tax increase that damaged George H. W. Bush's credibility. From today's vantage point, it seems pretty clear that deficits and taxes will be a major issue in 2012 -- an opening, perhaps, for fiscal conservatives. But like Clinton, they will also have to accept certain political realities. Health care will almost certainly pass in some form this year. Can a viable candidate be seen as standing athwart health reform yelling stop in 2012? I doubt it. On education, I could see a conservative embracing student loan reform and a national test standard, while holding firm to district innovation and school choice.
The door seems wide open for a conservative to get serious on the environment. But who's walking through? I asked Eric Cantor at a GOP "listening tour" event what issue he wanted to co-opt, he suggested the environment. His solution was a jumble of "private sector" "incentive-based policies" that sounded like a intro paragraph to a bad paper, but maybe somebody else has real ideas.
At a time when the world must seem inside-out to many capitalist conservatives, they could really go through the looking-glass by taking conservative lesson from Europe. In Slate, Anne Applebaum documents the remarkbale winning streak of Euro-cons. Why are they winning?
They are fiscally conservative. They are, if not socially liberal, then at least socially centrist. They haven't been swayed by the fashion for big spending. They are trying to keep some semblance of budget sanity. And, at least at the moment, they win elections.
In America, candidates cannot live on fiscal conservatism alone. Americans like to be promised ideas. Any Republicans up for a bit of triangulation?
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