Grand New Party Blogging; Part I

I guess every blogger has their thing(s). Ezra has healthcare and food policy, Yglesias has foreign policy and transportation, Kathy has economics and feminism, etc. Now I’d like to think I’m really good with foreign policy, but having been a former political operative my thing is probably electoral politics. Not the sort of silly horserace coverage you can get by watching your television, but real, meat and bones, electoral wonkery. So, to that extent, I pay a lot of attention to various plans of how X Party can succeed, and the most obvious recent example of that is Grand New Party by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam.

I think we’re all familiar with the general outline of the book, but I still felt like I ought to read the whole thing as to best understand their argument, and since we’re going to be re-launching the main page of the site, I’ll be reviewing the book, in full, for that. In the meantime however, I want to pick out a few things as I go along to make note of good points, flawed assumptions, things that don’t make sense, outright hackery, etc.

The book is packaged into 2 parts. The final third or so of the book is “the plan” for the GOP, while the first part is a sort of historical narrative about 20th century politics from the New Deal on. Obviously the second parthas the most relevance, but the first part establishes the author’s assumptions that go into formulating “the plan” for future GOP electoral success. So it’s a bit problematic that the book starts off with a dubious rendering of New Deal history.

Early on the authors establish a focus on “family,” and argue that the New eal did as well. Their proof? Women were actively discouraged from entering the workplace, and male breadwinners were paid a “family wage,” that is a high enough wage on which to support a stay at home wife and multiple children. Leaving aside the irony that it’s largely the far-left that supports a living wage today, and that even most voices on the center-right oppose such a standard, the dubiousness of this reasoning is pretty straight forward; namely it’s not so much that the architects of the New Deal cared about preserving the stereotypical nuclear family unit (although entrenching gender roles certainly may have been appealing to some), but rather the nature of the employment situation in the Depression was such that only so many jobs could be created, and the idea was to support as many people as possible. The way to do this was by having one member of the household work, and paying them enough to support the rest of their family. By organizing society into households and establishing this sort of central planning in employment, the New Deal could maximize it’s effect in supporting the working class. But obviously there’s no reason, short of misogynist pre-conceptions, why it would have to be the man earning the wage while the woman took care of the kids. That the authors continue to focus on this stereotypical family through their history of the 1950’s and into the early 60’s creates a false premise both of the utility of economic policies geared toward entrenching a misogynist outlook of gender roles and family life, but also (and more problematically) misreading what it is that people want from their family lives.