Reformish Conservatives, Ctd

Like any personality-based listicle, my piece on reformist conservatives generated a bit of buzz, and a bit of scorn. Here are a couple followups.

Jacob Heilbrunn comments favorably, and wonders if I haven’t mis-described Daniel Larison:

Larison is in some ways the most unpredictable member of this gallery of conservative authors. He is aptly described: “An acerbic critic of American interventionism in both parties, Larison has few fans among the GOP’s neoconservative wing. However, his brand of paleoconservatism is on the upswing among the more libertarian-minded Republicans, most recently on display during Rand Paul’s famous filibuster.” Cooper may go somewhat astray in suggesting that with “Obama’s relative hawkishness,” Larison’s views could gain greater traction in the GOP. Actually, unless I am misreading him, Larison has at times been complimentary of what he views as Obama’s realist proclivities. So the gulf between the paleocons and Obamaites may not be all that great—unless, of course, Obama buckles and intervenes in Syria.

This is a good point. Though he was fiercely critical of the Libyan intervention, it’s fair to say that Larison has been often relieved that Obama clearly does not have the appetite for boneheaded ground intervention that Bush did. The point I was trying to make is that while this administration is thankfully free of the swaggering cowboyism of the previous one, there is room for Republicans to Obama’s “left,” so to speak, as there would be for any administration which has assassinated American citizens in secret.

This almost certainly won’t happen, though I suspect there is a rich vein of electoral gold there.

South of the 49th comments, arguing that it’s misleading to compare today’s reformists to the Democrats of the DLC age:

Its worth pointing out that “neoliberals” and the DLC were responding to, what they believed to be, real policy failures of the Great Society. The pushback was against actual measures in place, not just party orthodoxy. Why does this matter? Well, I think it really affects the GOP reformers chances of success. The Bush administration was no conservative equivalent of the second Johnson Administration. His domestic policies included an expansion of medicare and a federal education initiative. Conservatives in the GOP can, rightly, argue that the a real dismantling of the welfare state has never been tried. As a result, reformers are left arguing against a GOP agenda that is 1) mostly hypothetical, and 2) constantly shifts in response to the political winds and the proposals of Barack Obama. This leaves them a much greater challenge than that facing the DLC, who could point to actual policies in place, and argue that they needed to be reformed.

This is a good point, though it’s notable how skittish Republicans get when it comes to brass-tacks proposals to, say, voucherize Medicare. They typically end up demagoguing Democrats’ cuts to social insurance—during the 2012 campaign Romney basically ran as Johnson’s second coming on Medicare. However I do think there is more of an opportunity here than South, if only because the policy bench on the right is so extraordinarily weak. If they could present a consensus, the reformists would face vanishingly little opposition.

In any case, I’m rather pleased with the overall response to this piece. Listicles are a maligned form, probably because they’re one of the favorite fallbacks of harassed web editors who just slap together some Getty photos in semi-random order and pray for controversy. But we did put a lot of work into this piece, and while it was a bit snarky here and there, I genuinely think these folks are doing the most important work in politics right now. The Republican party has been so broken of late it can’t execute the most basic functions, and that is a serious problem. Anyone trying to bang it back into shape is doing God’s work.

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.