Saturday, August 9, 2008

Contra Douthatism

Just reading the latest print issue of Doublethink, which features Donald Yoest's profile of Grand New Party authors Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, and can't help thinking: My God, we're back to 1959 and the "Modern Republicanism" that Buckley denounced in Up From Liberalism.

The essence of Modern Republicanism was making peace with the New Deal; now Douthat and Salam want us to make peace with the Great Society. Peace, peace -- there is no peace.

In case anyone doubted that Douthatism is the bastard offspring of David Brooks' "National Greatness," Yoest traces the DNA sample:
Douthat and Salam admit the influence, at least partly, of New York Times columnist David Brooks on their work. Salama worked for Brooks as a research assistant and calls him "kind of a godfather of reformist conservatism" and points to "national greatness conservatism" --- a phrase coined by Brooks and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol -- as a forerunner of the new reformism. . . . Reform conservatives, like the national greatness conservatives before them, dissent from the anti-government enthusiasms of many on the Right."
While I have already written some about what's so wrongheaded with Douthatism -- and will undoubtedly write more -- the main point is that Douthat, Salam, Brooks & Co. are not interested in advancing a conservative policy agenda, they are interested in electing Republicans. On the question of limited government, they offer an echo, not a choice. They don't differ at all from Democrats in their endorsement of a big, expensive, meddlesome federal government; they differ only only in what sort of meddling the government should do, and in wishing to see Republicans in charge of such an all-powerful centralized state.

This is not the conservatism I signed up for, nor is it a philosophically coherent alternative to Democratic "progressivism." The Douthatist scheme -- wage subsidies for "working families"? -- is nothing but Rockefellerism and Scrantonism in postmodern drag.

I call to the reader's attention this trend: These GOP apologists' appetite for big government has only increased as their party has, in the past dozen years, steadlily abandoned the limited-government ideals espoused by Ronad Reagan and by the 1994 "Republican Revolution." Big-government apologists like Douthat blame every GOP setback on the "anti-government enthusiasms" of conservatives, even though the setbacks only multiply and become more severe as Republicans increasingly sign onto the "national greatness" agenda.

A pox on this destructive apostasy and its misguided advocates, whose influence within the Republican Party is the best possible argument to vote for Bob Barr.


  1. A pox on this destructive apostasy and its misguided advocates, whose influence within the Republican Party is the best possible argument to vote for Bob Barr.

    This is not the GOP I once knew.

    Their love for big-government, borrowing and spending, and interventionism here, there and everywhere are major reasons why I re-registered as a Libertarian, and I'm staying put.

    I confess, while the neocons may have given me that final shove out the GOP door, the LP platform is a much better fit for me anyway.

  2. I do not bother much with topical books, so I have not picked up Grand New Party. I have read Mr. Douthat's writing for a number of years, however. A general difficulty with it is that he appears (true or not) to conceptualize himself as a member of a discussion circle with Mr. Yglesias and others he knew at Harvard and his political advocacy comes as a function of the role he assumes in the circle. He seems almost to apologize for what he advocates and to allocate a considerable measure of his ink to offering criticisms of his supposed confederates for their vulgarity. Self-criticism is a valuable and necessary thing, but for it to be self-criticism one must identify in one's viscera with those criticised. Fr. Neuhaus has offered that if your priority is to not be confounded with them, eventually you will abandon them for their antagonists.

    With regard to some of your specific programmatic complaints, one might recall that the negative income tax was an idea promoted by Milton Friedman. Replacing a myriad of subsidies for goods for which expenditure is regular and predictable (food, housing, and utilities) and replacing cash transfers for which the clientele is durably idle (as it is often for the subsidies as well) with a straightforward subsidy to earned income represents a social improvement. The would be less encouragement for perverse behavior and a reduced scope for the therapeutic state.

    The detritus of the Great Society (somewhat in contrast to the New Deal) was the lapse of the lower ranks of the working class into a socially disorganized and dependent state, living as the clientele of the social work industry. Can it properly be said that Messrs. Douthat and Salam have made their peace with that? It seems to me more likely (from Mr. Salam's commentary of late) that they have made their peace with obnoxious identity politics and the sort of reconstituted social ecosystem that emerged in 1967-79.

  3. Here's a response: