Michael Gerson observes that "there are, in fact, two belief systems contending for the soul of the Republican Party," namely "libertarianism and Roman Catholic social thought -- a teaching that has influenced many non-Catholics, including me." I think this is sort of right, but it's an importantly qualified "sort of." It's clear that there's a strain of Republican Party rhetoric that's similar in spirit to the Catholic-inspired Christian Democratic parties of the European center-right. Gerson, both as a speechwriter and as a columnist, clearly falls into that tradition. So, too, for most of his presidency has George W. Bush. And now on the campaign trail Mike Huckabee has taken up that banner.

But what neither Bush nor Huckabee nor anyone else seems to have offered is a policy agenda that cashes the rhetorical checks they're spreading around. If the libertarian tradition in the GOP mostly consists of a free-market agenda that's friendly to the interests of rich people and big companies, the Bushian deviations from the free-market line have overwhelmingly been aimed at advancing lobbyist-friendly policies. Similarly, Mike Huckabee talks a good game about inequality, but his distinctive policy proposal is a massively regressive (and phenomenally stupid) National Retail Sales Tax. There's just no there there. In practice to find Republicans likely to support programs that help poor people, you need to look to the generically "moderate" (i.e., vulnerable) Republicans representing culturally liberal coastal areas — Susan Collins, Gordon Smith, etc. — and Christian Democratic talk remains just that: talk.

Photo by Flickr user Zoonabar used under a Creative Commons license

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