(Page 2 of 2)
If some conservatives might quibble with the above proposals, Grand New Party contains several more that will send them into open revolt. Drawing on the work of Nobel laureate economist Edmund Phelps, Douthat and Salam call for a program of wage subsidies for the working poor that could cost up to $85 billion a year. While they wisely steer clear of the Republican-sponsored universal health coverage schemes that bedevil California and Massachusetts, the authors endorse Brad DeLong’s plan to require “all individuals and families to set aside 15 percent of income in a Health Savings Account.” Maybe these are terrific ideas, but wouldn’t a conservative want to read more than a few paragraphs about them before accepting such large expansions of government?
The trouble with dismissing limited government as unpopular or politically impractical is that it becomes easy to forget why conservatives championed the idea in the first place. It wasn’t out of cheapness, cruelty, or obsession with some abstract anti-government ideology. It is extremely difficult — much more difficult than the authors seem to imagine — to instill self-reliance through the welfare state, promote economic dynamism while minimizing risk, and, most importantly, carve out a space for family and community life while giving decision-making power and vast amounts of money to centralized government bureaucracies. In short, big-government conservatism usually fails not because Brownie didn’t do a heck of a job but because big government is poorly suited for conserving much beyond its own power.
Grand New Party is sure to start debates. Readers can embrace or discard the various bits of policy wonkery; they can even question how decisive white working-class voters will be in the next partisan realignment. But the single biggest failing of this ambitious, often impressive book is the authors’ casual assumption that it will be easy to use liberal means for conservative ends.
Their first chapter should tell them otherwise: the New Deal was designed to promote the traditional family, but years later its programs undermined the black family in ways that cried out for welfare reform and imposed the tax on childrearing the authors now want to relieve. Douthat and Salam are right about the need to update the conservative agenda. But without the “internal composure that comes of knowing there are rational limits to politics,” as William F. Buckley Jr. put it, our Dayton housewife will forever be disappointed. And so will conservatives.
This review appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?