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Ron Radosh

You may not have heard of reform conservatism, but you should. For those who want conservative ideas to be taken seriously and to gain adherents of market-based reforms addressing the plight of the working middle class and the remains of the blue-collar class, the movement is imperative. It is simply not enough to yell “repeal Obamacare.” The conservative movement desperately needs new thinking that shakes things up and provides the kind of reforms that will address the problems our nation faces.

I view it as a most encouraging development that American Enterprise Institute, along with the Young Guns Network and National Affairs, hosted a major event last week to present leading reform conservatives, who spoke alongside both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Other prominent speakers included Ramesh Ponnuru, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Peter Wehner, and Yuval Levin.

To understand precisely their approach, you can download their new e-book, Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class. The book has important essays by some of the most important and talented of serious conservative thinkers, who present new ideas on health care, tax reform, K-12 education, what kind of safety net conservatives should support, and almost every major policy issue. The thrust of their approach is what Peter Wehner notes to be the importance of developing policies that will “assist and empower working families — those who are, and those who want to be, in the middle class.”

Without the kind of effort these reform-conservative intellectuals have put forth, conservatives will always be vulnerable to the charge constantly made by left/liberal and social-democratic Democrats: Republicans don’t care about those who work, or about the poor and minorities. In his essay, Yuval Levin builds upon that task, and writes that conservatives have until now failed to put the call for limited government within the context of taking on what he calls the Left’s “technocratic approach to American society,” as well as its demands for an ever-expanding and limitless welfare state that avoids dealing with “the decentralized vitality of American life” while proposing programs that undermine its moral and economic foundations.

What these writers and thinkers are doing is taking on the ideology and assumptions of the Left’s vision of the world, both by challenging it head-on as well as offering alternative proposals that address the issues the Left always claims conservatives do not care about.

Already, only a scant few days from its unveiling, the left-wing is responding, realizing that this new effort is not just more of the same politicking. First came New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, arguing that a great gap exists between the group’s ambition and its actual ability to influence any Republican politicians. Chait goes back to what the Republican journalist Josh Barro told him last June, which is that “Republicans lack the imagination to come up with ideas to get higher wages, more jobs and affordable health care to the middle class. It is that there is no set of policies that is both acceptable to conservatives and likely to achieve these goals.”

Of course, the new effort precisely addresses Barro’s previous concerns. Of course, the skeptics are like E. J. Dionne, who has evolved over the years from a sharp centrist liberal to an apologist for the Obama administration, and who argues that whatever their intent, they will not succeed. He writes: “they are also limited by an increasingly conservative Republican primary electorate, the shift in the GOP’s geographical center of gravity toward the South, and a rightward drift within the business community.” In essence, his advice is give up — it won’t work, no one will listen, and everyone should accept the inevitable triumph of the Democratic Party and a forthcoming social-democratic European-style welfare state. Dionne, in other words, does not want the reform conservatives to succeed. As he puts it, “reform conservatism is better than the conservatism we have had. … But the conservatism we have had — and the politics it entails — will make it very hard for members of this movement to be as bold or as creative as our national moment requires.”

The Left, as Ross Douthat told Chait, believes that “American conservatism in its very essence is intent on soaking, punishing and immiserating the poor.” The goal of these reformers is to show that this is indeed not what conservatives want. One might ask Chait what he makes of the failures of LBJ’s “Great Society” program, which turned out to be an abysmal failure on many levels, and which they are now celebrating on its 50th anniversary, proclaiming the need to return to and finish Lyndon Johnson’s programs.

One positive sign that goes against the grain is Danny Vinik’s article in TNR, in which he admonishes liberals to take reform conservatism seriously. He suggests that the approach of Dionne and Chait is a cop-out, since instead of taking their ideas seriously and debating them, they respond by simply arguing that Republicans won’t act on any of their proposals. He has one point: there is a tension between trying to get politicians to listen while at the same time critiquing what they have come up with so far. Josh Barro, who is now with the New York Times, comments on what some of the problems are and argues that conservatives do address the deficit, but have not come up with ways to implement the tax cuts they propose.

At least Vinik is honest enough to write that “responding to valid conservative ideas like increasing the child tax credit or converting antipoverty programs into a universal credit is more intellectually challenging. Many liberals are concerned that after eight years of Barack Obama and potentially eight more of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s agenda will grow stale. Without a contested primary, how will the party continue to improve and adapt? Democrats can start by evaluating their policies in comparison to those of reform conservatives.”

I don’t think many on the Left will listen to someone who actually uses the words “valid conservative ideas.” Instead, they will continue to push for a shift further to the left, arguing that their party of choice should follow the lead of either Elizabeth Warren or, God forbid, Bernie Sanders. But, if they have their dithers, the Left should instead take Vinik’s advice: “Liberals should not dismiss [the reform conservatives] because reformers may have underestimated the gap between their ideas and the Republican Party’s current platform.”

If that happens, then we can have a real and meaningful and honest debate between those of us who hold a conservative vision and others who adhere to a leftist and social-democratic one. In the meantime, the smart group of reform conservatives have made a challenge to all conservatives and Republicans to come up with new ways of thinking. It’s about time.

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Top Rated Comments   
" In the meantime, the smart group of reform conservatives have made a challenge to all conservatives and Republicans to come up with new ways of thinking. It’s about time."

Are you kidding?? Yeah, there are reform-minded conservatives all over the place. And politicians like the ones you listed above have vowed to "crush" them!! Where have you been? McConnell and Cantor are not friends of the conservative movement. Sorry, but anything they're involved in will only serve to ensure their place gorging at the tax trough.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
" ...Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor..." Enough said. This so-called "reform conservatism" wouldn't be anything like "compassionate conservatism" would it? Is invoking those names supposed to fire up the base or something? Please.

How about this: Stop pushing for freaking amnesty and open borders. Stand the hell up like men, and at least fight to repeal obamacare. Those two issues are what are killing the middle class! Stop trying to dazzle us with shiny tinkling objects, and do the right thing!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
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Most of us who read this site regularly need little convincing that the 'reform conservatism' movement is smart, welcome and necessary if the liberal statists who are the country's true reactionaries are to be turned out of office. Read through the essays and then ask whether 'progressives' or 'conservatives' have the fresher ideas. There is no contest. That said, it is also going to take a determined effort (a) to expose explicitly the failures of liberalism in our time (read, Detroit, the IRS, Obamacare, and the V.A., among others), and to do so in a dramatic way that reaches a majority of voters; and (b) to find a candidate--make that candidates--who can be credible not only in exposing the rot of the current system, but in persuading Americans of the urgency of a true reform movement. The intellectual part of the task seems well in hand; the other two parts are still much in doubt.

16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
There is no political solution to an economic problem.

Allowing politicians to implement 'economic policy' is
how we got into our current situation: The US and
the world bankrupt and headed for economic collapse.

The only chance we and the world have is a 'Laissez Faire'
movement to let all the innovators do their thing: create
new wealth by developing 21st century Hi-Tech.

This is _necessarily_ going to require/cause the fall of the
current conjoined monsters Big Government and Big Business.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Who cares what leftists think? Trying to engage them intellectually is a complete waste of time.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
How about a simple law that just expires every single agency, law and regulation on the last digit year it was passed? Exempted would be those agencies directly and specifically mentioned in the Constitution and even they would have all their regulations expire. This includes all the quasi-government power leases Congress has put out to various autonomous organizations.

That is creative, chaotic destruction of every single program, agency and regulation in the federal government and the need to refight each and every single prior battle every decade means that Congress will be tied in knots trying to get 'vital' programs passed while the lesser stuff expires out as all of it needs re-approval.

That is Jefferson's concept of redoing things on a regular basis.

Don't like that?

Then how about a law to let either House of Congress veto a regulation based on the law passed by Congress. They are the ones writing the laws and if an Agency goes beyond the intent of the law then since both Houses had to pass it then either House should get a veto on the regulation.

That is a reform that also allows the slow removal of onerous regulations by either House in Congress and would also check Executive authority so that there is no over-reach. Another way to do that is to require that every regulation be sent to Congress for approval since it is the execution of their power, after all, that is being implemented.

Simple and easy to understand, both of those ideas. Easy to sell. Gives voters a lot more say in what the government looks like. And creates a mad scramble by those who thought that their crony positions were secure once they see the rugs getting pulled out from under them. Slowly diminishes the scope, reach and power of government with only the need for one new law. It is very 'moderate' as it moderates government, instead of trying to have it do 'nice things' it has to start concentrating on its actual job set out for it and stop using the population as guinea pigs for its grandiose ideas that fail constantly. Wouldn't THAT be a new idea? Limit government. Expire power. All you have to do is get rid of enough cronies in Congress to do it.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders?

BRING IT ON!!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Where is George Carlin when we need him?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sb0_8cucTA
skip to 6:25 for "jumbo shrimp", "business ethics", and "military intelligence"
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
" In the meantime, the smart group of reform conservatives have made a challenge to all conservatives and Republicans to come up with new ways of thinking. It’s about time."

Are you kidding?? Yeah, there are reform-minded conservatives all over the place. And politicians like the ones you listed above have vowed to "crush" them!! Where have you been? McConnell and Cantor are not friends of the conservative movement. Sorry, but anything they're involved in will only serve to ensure their place gorging at the tax trough.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're lying and you know it. You know as well as anybody that McConnell didn't vow to crush conservatives or conservative policies - after all, this is a guy with a lifetime conservative rating by ACU of over 90%. Your purposeful selectinve editing leaves out the crucial fact that McConnell was talking strictly to the Washington beltway bandits like Senate Conservatives Fund and Teaparty Express who raise gazillions of dollars and spend it all on themselves, and all of the political ire is directed at conservative Republicans instead of liberal democrats. I say you are lying, because when you say something that you know to be a lie, that makes you someone who lies.

Oh, and btw - he crushed them. As are real conservatives all over America.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually, you are lying. And we know it.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Once again the apologist voice of Rino Republicans blathers forth, projecting itself as conservatism. Meanwhile, real conservatives collectively roll their eyes and laugh.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pipe down pipsqueak.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
" ...Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor..." Enough said. This so-called "reform conservatism" wouldn't be anything like "compassionate conservatism" would it? Is invoking those names supposed to fire up the base or something? Please.

How about this: Stop pushing for freaking amnesty and open borders. Stand the hell up like men, and at least fight to repeal obamacare. Those two issues are what are killing the middle class! Stop trying to dazzle us with shiny tinkling objects, and do the right thing!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
What no one is addressing, regarding amnesty plans, is the creation of millions of additional voters voting 4-to1 for the most socialist of candidates.

Bueller's left the room.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
New ideas bursting out all over. Glad to see that the dogmatists are losing. See http://clarespark.com/2014/05/26/triumphalism-dogma-and-the-left-or-right-un-jewish/. I hope that the irrational polarization in our country and elsewhere is diminishing.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
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