Maybe Steele was on to something

MAYBE STEELE WAS ON TO SOMETHING…. Way back in January, RNC Chairman Michael Steele talked to Sean Hannity, who asked the Republican leader if his party is prepared to govern if it reclaimed a congressional majority.

I don’t know,” Steele conceded.

Eleven months later, no one else can answer the same question with any confidence. Ross Douthat doesn’t sound optimistic.

Today’s Republicans … tend to fall back on the reassuring story they’ve been spinning for the last two years, in which they lost to the Democrats only because they failed to hold the line on spending. It’s a narrative that flatters conservative self-regard, while absolving Republicans of the obligation to think too deeply about policy. All they need to do is say “no” to bigger government, and the rest will take care of itself.

This strategy has worked for them in opposition, thanks to the Democratic Party’s haste and hubris. But it isn’t a blueprint for governance, and it ducks the real reasons that the Republicans lost their majority. While the Bush administration overspent, it wasn’t spending and deficits that turned the country against conservative domestic policy between 2004 and 2008. It was the fact that the Republican majority seemed to have no answers to Middle America’s economic struggles, and no appetite for the structural reforms required to keep the United States competitive.

This is even more true today. The United States is facing three overlapping crises — the short-term challenge of a jobless recovery, the long-term crisis of entitlement spending and, in the medium term, an economy that wasn’t delivering for the middle class even before the financial crisis struck. The Democratic Party may have the wrong answers to these problems. But the Republican Party as an institution often seems to have no answers whatsoever.

Not surprisingly, I’d take issue with large chunks of this, including the notion of voters punishing Democratic “haste.”

But the larger point is arguably more important — on the biggest issues of the day, Republicans aren’t just failing to offer good answers, they’re hardly asking good questions.

Douthat’s vision isn’t even close to my own, but he’s nevertheless looking for the same thing I am from Republican leaders — a sense that there are Republican grown-ups prepared to “get serious about policy.”

They’re not — they’re not even pretending especially well — and the consequences very likely won’t be pretty.