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Thursday, May 28, 2009
"Moderate" Republican Approach is Bad Policy, Bad Politics
The Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) are berating Republicans for being too dogmatic and assert that the Republican party should follow the "moderate" path in order to reverse its fortunes.
Don't buy it.
We've been down this road before. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush was pressured by all the reasonable people to come to an agreement with congressional democrats on the budget. The Democrats demanded tax increases. Bush opposed them, but listened to the voices of reasonable moderates that the Republicans needed to meet the Democrats half-way. Bush agreed to the Democrats demand for tax increases and in return, the Democrats agreed to cut spending ($2 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases, as I recall).
The result: a policy failure and political disaster. Democrats reneged on the spending cuts and the deficit continued to increase (See Crime of the Century, here). The tax increases slowed the economy and contributed to the 1992 recession. Even though it was Democrats who demanded the tax increases, and Democrats in Congress that refused to cut spending, it was Bush and Republicans who paid the political price for the tax increase and rising deficits.
Flash forward to George W. Bush's presidency. Bush was unquestionably a conservative foreign policy wise, and he didn't repeat his father's mistake on taxes, but domestic spending was a different story. As President, George W. Bush sought to be a "compassionate conservative," -- he didn't want to be branded a meanie like Newt and congressional Republicans. So Bush gave the moderate Republicans most everything they wanted budget-wise -- a huge new entitlement for seniors' prescription drugs, increased spending on education, health care, housing, transportation, earmarks up the wazzoo and a myriad of expensive new federal programs.
New federal spending and programs may be a lot of things. They may be good or bad. They may be necessary or unnecessary. Whatever they are, they just can't be described as part of a conservative agenda.
The result of Bush's moderate policies: the President was pilloried for (a) not spending quite enough on these programs and (b) not controlling the deficit.
Question: did Bush get any credit for crafting a bill with Ted Kennedy to get the federal government more involved in fixing the education system? Nope. In fact, Kennedy and the Democrats turned around and attacked Bush and No Child Left behind, even though Kennedy, the Democrats, and Republican moderates crafted the bill.
The fact is, the calls for Republicans to become more like Democrats are a political trap. The policies are bad. The politics is even worse. Democrats aren't looking for Republican help -- they are looking for cover. Democrats control all three branches of government. This is their baby. How is it working so far? The chart below gives us a good indication of where we go from here.
Anybody think this is going to work?
Of course not. And keep in mind that the Democrats refused to pass the Bush 2009 budget. Instead, they waited until Obama took office so they could get everything they wanted. The Democrats own these deficits.
What happens next is predictable. Welcome back Stagflation! Welcome back gas lines!
And President Obama's big plan for solving our problems: create a new entitlement for health care! Good luck with that.
Republicans would be insane to get on board this train as it goes off the cliff. Instead, we need to reassert the core conservative principle: shrink the size and scope of the federal government and reduce spending at all levels of government.
What are the two biggest examples of Republican success in the last 30 years? Reagan and Newt. What do they have in common? They understood that the Republican party needs to reject the moderate, "Democrat lite" agenda that is a slightly slower road to fiscal disaster.
I could be wrong, of course. It is possible that Chris Matthews and the folks at the Today Show and MSNBC are really concerned about the future of the Republican party and are trying their best to give our party the advice we need to defeat the Democrats in 2010. Of course, if you believe that, you may be one of the 95% of Americans still waiting for their tax cut.
If George HW Bush's 1990 budget agreement is exhibit A, and No Child Left Behind is exhibit B, and George W. Bush's domestic spending is exchibit C, here's two more for you:
Exhibit D: Domestic Drilling
George W. Bush pushed for conservative pro-energy policies, but was stopped time and time again by Republican moderates in the Senate who prevented efforts to expand domestic energy production, both offshore and at ANWR. Policy wise, a huge loser as it left us increasingly vulnerable to the price-shocks we saw in the summer of 2008. Politically, how did that work out for the party? Not so well. $3 a gallon gas is a loser -- as the Democrats will soon find out (of course, in their case, high gas prices are evidence their policies are working as intended!)
Exhibit E: Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain
Again, the media and Democrats have beaten the GOP up time and time again for not nominating moderate Republicans. If only the Republicans would nominate someone like McCain... was the refrain we heard in 2000 and 2004. Well, Republicans nominated McCain and, how much goodwill did that moderation buy him on the campaign trail? Zip. He became crazy John McCain the warmongering, racist dementia patient.
My take: there is zero upside to watering down our principles. I believe that our principles make for good policies and good politics. The way to victory is by making the case for conservatism and convincing people that our principles are the right ones. Reagan did it. Newt did it. In each case, they benefited from the clarity provided by out-of-control unified democratic majorities.
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