Posts Tagged ‘Grand New Party’

Grand New Party Blogging: GNP and Dubya

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

After a lapse for the holidays, I finally got around to finishing Grand New Party. But instead of doing a full length review of the whole book, instead I think I’m going to do a series of posts, addressing specific sections and arguments in the book.

Obviously one of the biggest problems a conservative presuming to light the political path forward for the GOP is going to have is explaining away the Bush administration, and Douthat and Salam don’t necessarily shy away from it. But yet, trying to fit the Bush administration into their broader historical narrative of post New Deal America in favorable terms proves quite difficult, and the chapter on Bush yields the most egregious examples of flawed arguments, and outright hackery, in an otherwise strong, if sometimes dense, effort.

For example, the fundamental takeaway from the book’s examination of Bush is that, like Nixon, he had a lot of (mostly electoral) success, but he “executed” things poorly and ultimately proved unsuccessful, and unpopular. The trick for conservatives, apparently, is to build on these “successes,” while avoiding Bush’s mistakes. But the authors’ list of accomplishments is pretty thin gruel indeed.

Most notably, they give Bush credit for “more political victories than any conservative since Reagan.” While that’s true enough, I suppose, what’s more telling is the extent to which the 2006 elections are ignored. That’s a pretty important detail, because 2006, moreso than any of the 3 previous elections, was a landscape changing event. For the first time in the modern, 2 party era, one of the two major parties failed to flip one single seat in either House of Congress, and lost control of both chambers. When juxtaposed to the 2008 elections (which hadn’t happened yet at the time of publishing, obviously) it’s one of the most dramatic political shifts since the New Deal, and certainly the most dramatic since the end of World War II. But Douthat and Salam make little more than a passing reference to this, despite touting the electoral campaigns of 2000, 2002, and 2004 as major events Republicans ought to seek to emulate in the future.

Worse than that, however, is the way in which the authors seek to argue that their “Sam’s Club voters” really, really, loved George Bush. The most striking example is their claim that, in 2000,¬†Bush “won the votes of white working class men by 29%, up from 8% for Bob Dole, but enjoyed only a 7% advantage among females in the Sam’s Club demographic.” Apparently ethnic minorities don’t shop at Sam’s Club, or D&S don’t want to incorporate non-whites into the equation. That seems like a pretty odd line to draw, given that a disproportionate number of minorities are on the lower end of the income spectrum, but it makes a certain amount of sense given that minorities are also disproportionately inclined to vote for Democrats, and so including them would undercut what becomes the authors’ contention that the George W. Bush of 2000 was a working class hero, moderate, “reformer” whose focus on things like education reform was crucial to beating back the quasi-socialists who were looking to push socialized medicine and ever more “income redistribution.”

To their credit, Douthat and Salam do seem to have a pretty good grasp on where Bush went wrong, even briefly attacking the common right-wing belief that the economy was always doing well under Bush, but that the media was burying this “story,” by ceding the idea that real income levels are at least as important as GDP growth and the Dow Jones to most people. But at the same time, Bush’s failures are so documented now that the list of failures is pretty boilerplate, and comes off feeling more like a requisite distancing from Bush than an actual concession that the policies Bush pursued were failures. Indeed, other than the Iraq war, Douthat and Salam write favorably about most of Bush’s more infamous initiatives, from No Child Left Behind and the tax cuts to Medicare Plan D and social security privatization. Rather, their conclusion seems to be not that any of these policies were unpopular, or failures, but that the public didn’t care about them, save for education, but that is apparently limited to the 2000 election.

Maybe it’s merely a testament to the sheer awfulness of Bush’s tenure that even seemingly good faith right-of-center efforts to address him, and to move on, inevitably come up in such weak fashion, but in any event, the dubious nature of both the conclusions and the arguments in this particular chapter of Grand New Party cast a pall over the authors, and on the underlying assumptions guiding the book.

Grand New Party Blogging; Part I

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

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.