Simple Plan

Of all the vast literature on the current plight of the Republican Party, this fairly simple statement from Rich Lowry makes the most sense to me:

[S]o much depends on substance. No “rebranding” will make a difference if Republican policy is not relevant to people’s lives. What the party desperately needs more than different marketing or new political consultants are a few Jack Kemps, political entrepreneurs willing to ignore orthodoxies and evangelize for new ideas.

Kemp did his most important work as a backbencher in the House. Where is his equivalent today? It’s too bad John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy don’t tell some promising member to spend the next three months coming up with 10 ideas for promoting work in America, or for a new welfare reform agenda, or for replacing Obamacare, or for making college affordable. Instead, it’s all federal debt, all the time.

Now to be sure, Jack Kemp’s reputation as an idea man is being considerably inflated by Lowry. But it’s the right idea. Unfortunately, when you start trying to come up with “new ideas” on a broad array of issues, it tends to bring you directly into conflict with ideological shibboleths, the most important being the conservative conviction that government can’t do much of anything competently other than blowing things up and rewarding the already rewarded. Coming up with an actual way of “replacing Obamacare” that doesn’t exacerbate the worst features of the pre-reform status quo ante (e.g., the favorite Republican prescription of interstate insurance sales) isn’t a day’s work but that of years spent trying to overcome or subvert the conservative hostility to any real public sector role in health care, and to the very risk-spreading idea of health insurance itself.

I’m skeptical that a room full of Jack Kemps could come up with a whole lot that would meet any serious public policy smell test while passing the various litmus tests of the conservative movement that National Review (which Lowry edits) helped launch back in the day. But I suppose you gotta start somewhere, unless you want to forget about the steak and keep issuing reports about how to jazz up the sizzle.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.