Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Can You Say . . .

. . . false dichotomy? Democratic Strategist, Ed Kilgore sides with David Brooks in agreeing that the battle for the soul of the GOP and the Conservative movement is between so-called "Traditionalists" and so-called "Reformers" and that, unfortunately for Brooks (who thinks he’s in the "Reformer" camp) and fortunately for Kilgore (who wants nothing to do with either) the "Traditionalists" have won. I called this a false dichotomy but that’s not the same thing as saying that I don’t think there’s anything worth considering in both Kilgore’s and in Brooks’ pieces. There is. But, as usual, I think there is a mighty bit of confusion in all of this discussion (and not just on Brooks’ side of the argument) about the difference between securing principles and securing victory. It would be ever so nice to see more conservative commentators who were interested in securing both.

Discussions - 1 Comment

David Brooks is misreading an important argument and doing so for his own purposes. If by "reformers" you mean guys like Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Yuval Levin, and if by "traditionalists" you mean guys like Rush Limbaugh and Brent Bozell, then yea, there are differences between the two groups but also real similarities.

First the similarities. Both groups are generally in favor of keeping federal taxes at least as low as they presently are. Both groups are pro life and generally socially conservative. Both groups are against a government take over of healthcare. In fact is is tough to come up with POLICY DIFFERENCES between the two groups that might justify a pundit civil war.

Now the differences: The traditionalist and reformers like to talk about different things. Traditionalists prefer to talk about lower taxes and want to cut taxes at all levels (especially on business and investment). Their motto is still "a rising tide lifts all boats". Traditionalists are not particularly worried about or interested in income inequality. Reformers worry about income inequality and would like to skew future tax cuts to working class families in the form of tax cuts. But the key is that both groups want low taxes. Reformers are also more interested in health care reform. The irony is that traditionalists probably agree with the reformers on free market oriented health care reform but don't really like to talk about the issue except to block whatever Big Government proposal is coming down the pike. Traditionalist pitch their message to people who are already conservative (the base). Reformers are trying to gain the allegiance of those who are not yet conservative, but who might be if they are given the right set of policies.

It must be added that there is an element of ego involved also. Limbaugh has attacked Douthat in ways that are not at all justified by any policy diffeences that exist between them. On the other hand nobody likes to be told that they represent the dead past.

What practical politicians like Jindal and Pawlenty see is that the policy differences (as oppossed to the policy emphasees) between traditionalists and reformers are so small that they can easily be joined in coalition by a politician who speaks to both sets of interests.

Brooks himself is writing in bad faith. He want to move the GOP left on the economy, enviormentalism, and social issues. Not far left, but well to the left of where either the Limbaugh's or Douthat's want the GOP or America to go.

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