I’m almost done with GNP, finally, which, if you knew how grindingly slowly I read, you’d pat me on the head for and say, “Nice job, buddy!” The most rewarding part, for me, is its sly polemic on race and the working class (and by extension, race and conservatism). It’s the most effective antidote I’ve seen to the self-satisfaction that overcomes left intellectuals when this topic comes up. Its most impressive aspect is how silkily written it is, given that it’s a book of co-authored wonkery. How’d they do that? The policy stuff is, of course, super-smart and instructive and largely convincing.
My big question for R&R, however, is this: Why was it necessary to frame the book as a political book rather than a policy book, a book for Republicans seeking electoral advantage via working-class support rather than a book for the trans-ideological wonk community seeking the best means for a bunch of widely shared ends?
I realize that the latter would have to be more a quant-heavy treatise rather than the elegant essay we ended up with, with the related publishing burdens. But, if these analyses and prescriptions have merit, and I think they have powerful merit, wouldn’t it be more durable to use your argument to move the center of the policy debate rather than to inspire GOP strategists. I don’t say this out of malice for the GOP, though I have expressed that here from time to time, but because I think the broader policy community is potentially more favorable to GNP’s basket of family-friendly policies than we might think. Fifteen or twenty years ago, the idea that single-parenthood is a meaningful independent cause or poverty and other troubles was largely confined to conservatives. It is now widely held. Welfare reform was a radical notion, until, thanks to sound wonkery and common sense politics, it became mainstream. I would hate to see a bunch of ideas that should appeal to Democrats as well as Republicans shunted into a partisan ghetto because they were presented as a Republican electoral blueprint.
I don’t quite get Andrew Sullivan’s resistance to your policy approach, but I sympathize a little with his recoil at the implicit cultural politics in it. Not that I don’t share your distaste for the cultural tilt of the Democratic Party at its more rarefied strata (which is very modulated and largely literary, and which he goes out of his way to find Nixonian), but I don’t find the conflicts that emanate from there all that decisive. Are the Democrats really so Pelosified or Hirschmanized that they would resist a brilliant and generous program of economic security for the working class because it has a pro-family bias? Am I wrong in wondering this? I live at something like the epicenter of the cultural tendencies we’re taking about, and I keep finding that these people, married and mortgaged and living within shouting distance of fairly crime-heavy neighborhoods, aren’t nearly as crazy as I thought they’d be.