State of the Union
David Frum and Peter Beinart wrote a pair of cover stories (“The Great Republican Revolt” and “Why America Is Moving Left”) for the January/February issue assessing the current and future political landscape in the United States.
David Frum’s and Peter Beinart’s complementary essays omit a major reason for Republican disarray and the leftward drift of the American electorate—the bankruptcy of conservative ideology. American conservatism rests on two crude concepts. One is free-market fundamentalism (unless the interests of the wealthy are threatened). The second is a form of American exceptionalism that sees American power and wealth as the rewards of special virtue. Rather than broad prosperity, the neoliberal era brought most Americans economic stagnation. The hubris of American exceptionalism brought the worst foreign-policy decisions in more than a generation. The conservative response has been sterile repetition of discredited ideas, appeals to bigotry to attract popular support, and congressional obstructionism.
Rather than being a “shining city upon a hill,” the U.S. is exceptional in being history’s greatest environmental malefactor. The failure of conservative ideology is implicitly acknowledged by the many Republican politicians whose only response to climate change is to deny its existence. Denial of realities and appeals to bigotry may work for limited periods, but an intellectually hollow movement is condemned to long-term decline.
Roger L. Albin
Ann Arbor, Mich.
David Frum’s deeply cynical article confirms what astute observers of the Republican Party have long noted: that the party exists only to serve its elite donors, and supports policies that help the middle class only as necessary to preserve elite rule. Frum offers the party options for the continued manipulation of Republican voters to achieve the elite’s ends.
The first option is “double down”—find an electable candidate to promote the elite’s interests. The second, “tactical concession,” suggests giving in on one issue so the elite can otherwise ignore voters. The very name of the option belies the notion that the voters’ interests actually matter. The third option, “true reform,” requires broad support for policies that would benefit the middle class, and thus would be “uncongenial,” “convulsive,” and “unlikely.”
Frum’s road map shows that it’s time for Republican voters to take the off-ramp.
David Frum ridicules the work of individuals who are trying to help the GOP adopt more-moderate positions on issues like immigration. One of those individuals is Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants. Mr. Frum calls him out as a GOP donor who wants immigration reform because he is “an advocate of importing more low-skilled laborers to meet the needs of his high-turnover industry.”
Mr. Puzder and I have been working with other individuals to enact immigration reform because it’s the right thing to do. We cannot have millions of people living in the shadows while our borders go unprotected; this compromises our national security and ultimately threatens our ability to compete globally.
As the son of immigrants, I can assure you that low-skilled jobs in our country offer something jobs in other countries don’t, and that’s the opportunity to achieve economic success. I’m personally grateful for our exceptional nation, which has allowed me to work low-skilled jobs and make my way to being vice president of a global company.
Luis R. Farias
Vice President, Government Affairs, CKE Restaurants
America was moving left in 1988 (remember “Kinder, Gentler”?). She was moving left in 1992, and 1996, and 2004 (until the election results came in), and then most recently in 2008. I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s quip that the problem with liberals is not that they don’t know everything, but that so much of what they know just isn’t so. It is true that most Americans have come to accept gay marriage. But as Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, marriage is a conservative institution. There are no mass protests to “give peace a chance” with isis, and the most progressive president since Wilson keeps a kill list of terrorists. The signature health-care law of a Democratic president was modeled on a program put in place by a Republican governor, who in turn was inspired by a Heritage Foundation proposal. Peter Beinart says we’re moving left? Please.
This is not 1980, or even 1984. Crumbling infrastructure and soaring student debt are unlikely to be solved by a reduction in marginal tax rates. Anyone paying attention to the debates on the right knows that conservatives are trying to craft different policies to solve the problems of a different generation and that, yes, some of these policies may involve government action. But they are doing so from conservative principles. We’re living during the Obama administration, certainly, but make no mistake: We are living in Reagan country, and the United States, and the world, are the better for that.
Beinart is obviously right that the Democratic Party is more consistently liberal than it has ever been. But the idea that it’s all part of a leftward trend that is invincible even within the Republican Party is much more problematic …
Yes, the fact that many of the conservative movement’s most fervent causes—such as fighting universal health coverage or same-sex marriage or any sort of gun regulation—are not exactly sweeping the country means they will not have a cakewalk in presidential contests where the electorate is not skewed in their favor.
But that’s an influence, not a trend. Beinart believes any GOP general-election candidate this next year will smell the coffee and appeal to Millennials and minority voters by repudiating the hard-core conservatism that’s characterized the nominating process for so long. You sure would not guess that from the electability theories of candidates and analysts alike, who believe a supercharged turnout by the same old conservative coalition could prevail if reinforced by natural fatigue with a two-term president, a sluggish economy, and terrorist fears. Beinart also believes a Republican president would turn the page to the left. Yet the most profound reality the country faces is that a GOP president with a GOP Congress could, via the budget-reconciliation process, repeal almost all of Obama’s accomplishments … Some very reactionary days could be just ahead.
Beinart employs a kind of cheat code by separating out foreign policy … from domestic policy, thereby sidestepping the chief concern of the Republican primary—and increasingly, the country. Just two terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, dwarfed in size by the attacks of September 11, were enough to make terrorism the number one problem facing America, with its highest percentage in a decade, according to Gallup. It’s hard to fully claim that America is moving to the left when the issues animating the public lean strongly to the right.
Even allowing Beinart to limit the argument to domestic policy, I think it breaks down when he extends his analysis from the general public to the political class.
First of all, the next Republican president will not be more liberal on the domestic front than George W. Bush. His signature domestic law, No Child Left Behind, was just replaced by a Democratic president with something that significantly limits federal intervention on K–12 policy. Bush’s welfare state–expanding prescription-drug benefit for Medicare would be met with howls of derision from the current leadership in Congress if introduced today. Post–Tea Party Republicans are as strongly opposed to taxes as Bush, while more strongly opposed to federal spending and government intrusions …
Democratic campaign operatives claim … that the public won’t accept broad-based taxes in exchange for more expansive services. If that’s the case, then you cannot claim that America is moving in a more liberal direction. A generation ago, Democrats would make the case that a strong America is worth paying for.
#Tweet of the Month
This James Parker piece in the @TheAtlantic is best piece I’ve read about me. #realwriter
(Comedian Marc Maron, regarding James Parker’s January/February Omnivore column about his work)
The Big Question: Who Is the Greatest Supporting Player of All Time?
(On TheAtlantic.com, readers answered March’s Big Question and voted on one another’s responses. Here are the top vote-getters.)
3. Judas Iscariot. By betraying Jesus Christ, he set forth events that led to the rise of one of the most successful religions in the world.
— Sean Jin
2. It is said that, after Napoleon, Otto von Bismarck was the most influential man in Europe during the 19th century. Yet he was second to Kaiser Wilhelm I, whom Bismarck cajoled into transforming Prussia into the German Empire.
— Peter M. Kopkowski
1. Rosalind Franklin, who deciphered the X-rays that allowed Watson and Crick to figure out the structure of DNA.
— Scott Locke
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