The Spectacle Blog

Conservatives, Don’t Be Conservative

Some advice from The Nation.

By on 2.24.14 | 3:37PM

I assume Rand Paul has the sense not to take political advice from The Nation, but in case he doesn’t, he and other Republican presidential contenders should consider the following suggestions.

Yes, writer John Nichols is right: The GOP should revisit its history. But certainly not through Teddy Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, and “progressive reformers who laid the groundwork for a New Deal.” Instead, consider conservatives like Calvin Coolidge, Robert Taft, and John Adams. In other words, look to just the opposite.

President Eisenhower, one of Nichols’s “old” models for a new Republican Party, was not quite the progressive Nichols believes. Conventional wisdom after the Second World War held that the federal government would have to maintain a heightened level of spending to maintain growth or enter collapse; Eisenhower dismissed the fiscal oracles by beginning a period of deregulation and abolishing wage and price controls.

Nichols gives further economic recommendations for the GOP:

…it must abandon the dictates of the Wall Street speculators, hedge-fund managers and right-wing billionaires who have defined its agenda toward such extremes.

The advice leaves out an integral aspect: a method. The best road to cutting crony capitalism does not include a continual effort to bloat the federal government—what a New Deal-inspired candidate would do. A well-fed big government is a habitable environment for cronies. Eisenhower’s warning of a “military-industrial complex,” which Nichols cites, is a perfect example. Eisenhower was not targeting corporations as villains, but citing public policy gone wrong, specifically “misplaced power.” Corporate welfare can only exist if there is something powerful enough to provide that welfare.

Combatting an overblown NSA program and reducing American intervention abroad should be security and foreign policy goals of future Republicans, but a strengthened United Nations is the wrong path. More internationalism does not reduce internationalism. Step away from Republicans who have written books titled “One World.”

Nichols also praises Willkie’s strong defense of unions as a policy platform for Republicans to adopt. Conservative skepticism of unions, however, does not lie in their good origin, but in what they’ve become. Paleoconservative Pat Buchanan has listed "wonderful" things unions have done such as establishing the eight-hour day, child labor laws, and commonsense safety standards, but also criticizes them for having done “some insane things.” It’s the insanity that concerns conservatives; though, something tells me Buchanan is not who Nichols has in mind in his search for “old” conservatives.

In any case, attacking Paul’s slogan of a future-looking Republican Party is trivial. Paul’s saying is a rhetorical device rather than a historical or philosophical point. Whether true or false, conservatism has been viewed as the politics of Bush, McCain, and Romney. The Republican Party has become associated with their “conservative” platforms. Even if it incorporates old ideas—which it absolutely should—the GOP 2016 platform needs to be packaged as “new” in order to distance itself from the unpopular policy proposals of the last decade. Let’s just clarify what we mean by “old” policies.

Actually, I take all of this back. Any 2016 GOP contender who gets campaign advice from the progressive Nation should withdraw his or her bid at once.

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