Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

You should read this article by R. R. Reno. I’ll wait until you come back. He gets to the point in his first paragraph where he writes:

Our political culture is now being shaped by liberals. That’s not because their ideas are sound. They’re often not. But conservatives largely don’t have ideas, or at least not ones that can animate national campaigns.

This reminds me of Daniel Moynihan writing about the Nixon administration (and the center-right generally) in the 1970s. Moynihan wrote:
Their prospects were less than splendid. They had no program, far less a mandate to put one into effect. They had almost no thinkers, almost no writers, almost no reputation for a sophisticated or even compassionate view of social policy.

But within some years, Moynihan would write that “of a sudden, the GOP has become a party of ideas.” As Reno points out, the GOP, at the national level, is less a party of a ideas than it used to be. There used to be this description of the relationship between the Democrats and Republicans in the 1950s and 1960. The Democrats were the sun and the smaller Republican party was the moon that circled them offering somewhat cheaper, somewhat less corrupt, somewhat more big business-friendly versions of Democratic policy in the hope that Democratic error would lead to some short period of Republican rule. That seems to approximate the current relationship between the Democratic and Republican parties of California.

At the moment, the national Democrats and Republicans have a different version of the sun party-moon party dynamic. As Reno says, the Democrats (in the form of the senior party leadership) are the sun party. They have a plan to manage America’s long-term relative decline, to deal with wage dispersion is a modern economy, and to deal with changing family norms. The Republicans aren’t converting themselves into junior Democrats, but they are still defining themselves in response to the Democrats.

The Republicans are defining themselves in opposition to whatever the Democrats offer. That is the biggest reason behind Romney’s self-destructive “you built that” campaign.  Obama defined himself as the candidate of raising taxes on high earners who “didn’t build that”, so the Republicans must be the party that focuses obsessively on the virtues and interests of high earners. Even though Republicans define themselves by opposition to, rather than compromise with, the Democrats, the Republicans remain the moon party. Their identity is still formed in reference to the other party. This is also the great temptation of libertarianism. In a moment of frustration and ideological confusion, it offers a simple and clear contrast to the Democrats - even if a libertarian program (as distinct from a program with some ideas borrowed from libertarians) would make the Republican party’s problems worse.

More on: Politics

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles