Moderation and the Minimum Wage

I have mixed feelings about Ross Douthat’s column suggesting that would-be Republican “moderates” can’t claim a coherent economic message just by saying the usual conservative stuff and then endorsing the most popular progressive legislation, such as a minimum wage increase. On the one hand, Douthat’s again positioning himself as a brave heretic–but one who just happens to agree with conservatives on a lot of details, such as the inadvisability of minimum wages increases. On the other, I can empathize with his annoyance at pols whose idea of “moderation” is to embrace one or two conveniently poll-tested policy ideas from the other side, whether or not it fits in with anything else he or she is saying (I sure don’t like it when Democratic “moderates” do that).

But I’ll go him one better: what’s even more displeasing logically and morally than the cherry-picking “moderate” is the ideologue who won’t disclose underlying positions that aren’t popular. For example: if you believe half of what Douthat seems to believe about the actively negative effects of a minimum wage increase, then you need to admit you don’t favor the minimum wage at all. Accordingly, there’s no particular reason other than pure political expediency to embrace the alternatives to a minimum wage increase he urges on Republicans while refusing to embrace them as alternatives to the minimum wage itself.

Maybe that’s what Douthat is trying to say when he tells pols to develop a “an alternative, right-of-center suite of policies on jobs and wages,” but if he means “in lieu of any minimum wage,” he should make that very clear.

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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.