During the week I spent reading Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam's Grand New Party, I had half a dozen different reactions to it. First I was annoyed. Then intrigued. Then, at various times, impressed, curious, and taken aback. And finally a bit baffled. But that's a good thing, right? Better than being bored, certainly.Yes, let's! But you'll have to read the review to see what annoyed me. Also to see what intrigued, impressed, and took me aback. Once we're through all that, however, we eventually get to their policy prescriptions at the end of the book, and this is where the "baffled" part comes in. R&R basically want Republicans to lighten up on the slogans and instead pursue policies that are really family friendly and pro-working class:
Let's start with "annoyed."
Among other things, they propose a massive overhaul of the tax code to encourage family building; subsidies (or pension credits) to parents who care for children at home; more spending on highways; a national health insurance plan very similar to the one most Democrats support today; job subsidies for entry-level jobs; summer enrichment programs for poor kids; more cops on the street; a new school funding formula; and a more progressive payroll tax.Now, obviously R&R have heard this criticism a thousand times already, but that doesn't make it any less true: the moneycons still control the Republican Party and I have a very hard time seeing them warm up to this agenda anytime soon. My $500 billion price tag on their agenda is obviously just a wild flyer (and, I confess, influenced by the fact that I don't really believe their natalist tax plan is revenue neutral), but no matter how you slice it they're proposing some awfully expensive social engineering — and one way or another that's going to mean a whopping big tax increase. Real-life politics is governed by interest groups, and which GOP interest group is anywhere close to big enough to push this through?
The tax plan, they say, is revenue neutral, and the job subsidy program they cost out at $85 billion per year. The other programs they don't put a price tag on. But my very rough estimate pegs the whole thing at several hundred billion dollars per year. Put a gun to my head and I'd guess $500 billion. Like all good social program enthusiasts, they claim that these things will eventually pay for themselves either partly or wholly, but even a liberal like me, who's practically hardwired to believe that well-designed social programs can kinda sorta pay for themselves, finds that hard to swallow. No matter how you slice it, this is a very big agenda.
Still, that said, there's a raging debate in GOP circles these days between traditional small government conservatives and a younger crowd of frankly big government conservatives who think the Goldwater/Reagan legacy has run out of electoral steam. Grand New Party is the best and clearest manifesto yet for the latter. It may be, as I say, that at this point it's mostly "the political equivalent of raising the alert level to DEFCON 2," but if older Republicans don't pay attention to the warning, at least they can't say no one arned them.