Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Not the Gipper's Party

When the Reagan conservatives took the helm of the GOP, many stated, "It's not Nixon's party anymore," meaning that the moderate Rockefeller-wing had been moved out of the party. But while the GOP revels in their reelection, I would argue that the Bush II GOP, "Isn't Reagan's party anymore" either.

The forthcoming specter of social security "reform" is causing even the most ardent Republicans in to worry about a populist backlash, as we read in today's LA Times commentary:

What Pawlenty realized — and what President Bush apparently fails to grasp — is that the Republican Party has changed. The rich still vote for Republicans in large numbers, but they're not the party's heart and soul. To win elections, the GOP increasingly relies on socially conservative voters of modest means.

Which is why Bush's second-term agenda is so spectacularly wrongheaded. Social Security privatization (a good idea whose time hasn't come) and tax cuts for the rich (cast as "tax reform," of course) are on the front burner, and an amnesty for illegal immigrants (which would put even more pressure on native-born workers without college degrees) isn't far behind. The Freedom Club GOP is riding high — and the Sam's Club crowd is left in the dust.

Consider this from the perspective of a not atypical GOP voter — say, a young married woman with three small children living in Ohio. She voted for Bush because he promised to vigorously defend her family against terrorists and because he shares her values. But she has material interests too. She would like to raise her kids full time, but the money isn't there. Her husband is working long hours, but it's not nearly enough, and the tax cuts barely made a dent in their debts. At some point, she has to wonder, what has President Bush done for me lately?

Precious little is the right answer, and GOP politicians would do well to take note. Liberals like Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter With Kansas," have long argued that populist conservatism is nothing more than a con. Conservatives sell values to the working class, but they deliver economic ruin. It's a view that is overheated, under-informed and more than a little condescending. Unfortunately, it contains a grain of truth.

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