The Ghost of Jacob Javits

Ramesh on Brooks:

... I think Brooks is right that a lot of conservatives have a paralyzing misimpression of Ronald Reagan. He's also right, in my view, that organized conservatism, and not just the Republican party, needs some innovation. But not just any old innovation, or innovation for its own sake, which is what Brooks comes close to suggesting. He thinks Rudy Giuliani should be free to "innovate" on social issues, and John McCain on economic ones. He thinks it's terrible that James Dobson criticizes Giuliani's "innovations," and that the Club for Growth criticizes McCain's. If Brooks wants to argue that that the party simply needs to move left on economics and social issues, then I'd be interested in seeing his case—but there wouldn't be anything especially innovative about it. And when the Club for Growth goes after a Lincoln Chafee or an Arlen Specter, which is what it spends much of its time doing, it's not stifling some creative conservative rethinking.

This is a crucial distinction, I agree - there are all sorts of kinds of reformism, conservative and otherwise, and what the Chafees and Specters represent (the long-interred corpse of Rockefeller Republicanism) is deservedly viewed by most people on the Right as a dead end. My erstwhile co-blogger Reihan once made the distinction between upper-middle and lower-middle reformism - that is, reform geared to the interest of the upper-middle class, and reform geared to the interests of the working class. So campaign-finance regulation is classic upper-middle reformism - it's a boutique issue that only the overclass cares about - whereas Mitt Romney's health care plan was an attempt at lower-middle reformism, since its main beneficiaries were supposed to be people teetering on the edge of having affordable health care coverage.

Pace Andrew, this latter kind of reform is very much in keeping with modern American conservatism, given that lower-middle reformism on issues like crime and welfare - and the rejection of Rockefeller Republicanism along the way - helped the GOP rise to power in the first place. (It's worth noting that Kevin Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority, which limned the Reagan coalition before it existed, was essentially a long, data-rich brief for lower-middle reform as the foundation of a new majority.) "Compassionate conservatism" aimed in this direction and missed the mark, but it's still a promising path for the GOP to take. Republicans aren't going to become the party of the Northeast or the Pacific Northwest any time soon, which is where upper-middle reformism has always found it's natural home, but they can be competitive in the Midwest and the border South - which means more Pawlenty and Huckabee, and less Christine Todd Whitman.