The Spectacle Blog

Let Coburn Be Coburn

By on 5.27.08 | 11:55AM

Sen. Tom Coburn is also on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page today making the case for Republicans who behave like Republicans:

Many Republicans are waiting for a consultant or party elder to come down from the mountain and, in Moses-like fashion, deliver an agenda and talking points on stone tablets. But the burning bush, so to speak, is delivering a blindingly simple message: Behave like Republicans.

Unfortunately, too many in our party are not yet ready to return to the path of limited government. Instead, we are being told our message must be deficient because, after all, we should be winning in certain areas just by being Republicans. Yet being a Republican isn't good enough anymore. Voters are tired of buying a GOP package and finding a big-government liberal agenda inside. What we need is not new advertising, but truth in advertising.

Many conservative reformers would tell us that Coburn's message is exactly the wrong one for the GOP. In his recent conservatism-is-dead piece, George Packer argues that there are two explanations for why the Republicans are currently in trouble: "One is the purist version: Bush expanded the size of government and created huge deficits; allowed Republicans in Congress to fatten lobbyists and stuff budgets full of earmarks; tried to foist democracy on a Muslim country; failed to secure the border; and thus won the justified wrath of the American people." Then there is the second version, which holds that conservatism "has a more serious problem than self-betrayal: a doctrinaire failure to adapt to new circumstances, new problems."

I'm just not entirely sure that these two points are mutually exclusive. Certainly, if Republicans spend more energy on earmarks and liberal-baiting than conservative health care reform they will lose. There are new problems that require conservative attention. But if an essentially welfarist view of government wins out, if we accept that the right ten-point plan can "save the American dream" or some such, conservatives still lose even if our brightest lights are able to come up with a way for Republicans to contain the damage. There's a lot of truth to the conservative reformist argument. But the Republican Party still needs its Tom Coburns.

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