Sam’s Club Politics

There has been much buzz around David Brooks’ latest column in the blogosphere, probably because he’s praising bloggers. The thrust of the article is praise for the new book Grand New Party, by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, which is really just an extension of their article “The Party of Sam’s Club.”

I haven’t read the book yet, but from everything I’ve gathered around the internets, the premise seems sound enough, even if I’ve heard it for a few years now. Not to take anything away from Douthat and Salam, but the idea that the Republican Party needs to ditch the contemporary laissez faire of “supply-side economics” (which is to say, lots and lots of tax cuts for their rich donors) in favor of a blend of social conservatism and New Deal-like economic populism has been around for at least a decade now. In fact, it’s been tried before. It’s how Tim Pawlenty, who Brooks cites for his column, positioned himself in left-leaning Minnesota, Mike Huckabee of course ran on such a premise is his Presidential run, to less success, and even John McCain tries to affect the sentiment every now and again, even if the fact that he doesn’t care for much more than military policy and hardline rhetoric towards other countries eventually drowns it out.

There’s really no zero-sum game to electoral politics. At the end of the day, the game is about building a coalition; how you do it doesn’t really much matter. Just because one thing works doesn’t mean nothing else will. And as I said, the general premise of a “Sam’s Club” Republican Party is sound enough in theory, but this inexplicable turn from Brooks I just don’t understand:

There have been other outstanding books on how the G.O.P. can rediscover its soul (like “Comeback” by David Frum), but if I could put one book on the desk of every Republican officeholder, “Grand New Party” would be it. You can discount my praise because of my friendship with the authors, but this is the best single roadmap of where the party should and is likely to head?

Really? Supply-side economics has been the one constant, insufferable dogma running through the Republican Party since Reagan. The reason is obvious from the outside of course; the GOP politicians, donors, power brokers, and various participants in the right-wing echo chamber make lots of money, and they’re basically trying to cut their own taxes. But the sweetest part, for them, is that through the echo chamber they’ve actually convinced scores of rank and file types that their self-serving fiscal policy is really a sound macroeconomic theory. And it’s entrenched in GOP orthodoxy. If toleration can be made for wavering on stem cells, foreign policy specifics, global warming, and even abortion in some cases, no such exception can be made for supply side orthodoxy. Not just in the establishment, but amongst the unwashed masses who have fallen for the canard that if Bill Gates saves a billion dollars on his tax bill next year, that money will come out of his own bank account and somehow wind up putting a lavish dinner on your table. You’d think someone who is deemed astute enough to right for a, supposed, prestigious puplication like the New York Times would know that.

There is a good deal of soundness to what Douthat and Salam propose. It would certainly play well amongst the evangelical right that unquestionably constitutes the party’s electoral base. The problem though, is precisely that supply-side “economic theory” is so heavily pressed upon the DNA of the rest of the party, elite and plebian alike. So in that regard, the authors are almost certainly tilting at windmills, as the GOP would most likely ride Reaganomics to its grave.

At least theyd save a buck.