Jonah Goldberg on the New Reformers

From The Corner:

One reason why the Limbaugh faction is so strident on much of this stuff is that they/we gave the reformers a shot under Bush. And look at what it got us. And on an emotional level, I find it understandable.

When did Limbaugh and co. turn against Bush? Was it in 2004, when it was clear that the domestic policy agenda had lost its legs? My understanding is that movement conservatives, Limbaugh included, were still pretty enthusiastic at that point. I was not, and a large number of anti-war libertarians had also soured on Bush. But I wonder if it was Bush’s “reformism” that turned them off, or if it was in fact Bush’s political failure. Had immigration reform proved a huge political winner, would Limbaugh and co. have been as hostile to Bush? Maybe. These are principled guys.

But what if Bush put immigration reform to the side and pursued a reformist health care deal (which he did, kind of) before taking onSocial Security and thus achieved a big political win? Would Limbaugh and co. have turned against Bush under this scenario, or would they claim credit for a conservative success?

Brooks, Frum and others were very enthusiastic about the Bush administration at one time. Now, the argument sometimes seems like the Reaganites are to blame for innovations they never championed, while the would-be innovators are abandoning ship at precisely the moment the GOP needs all hands on deck.

Wait a second … it seems to that the small government conservatives are the ones who were still wildly enthusiastic about Bush in 2004 — even after Medicare Part D. I worked for David Brooks in 2004, and I can’t say he was “very enthusiastic” about the Bush administration at that point. He wanted a big Republican push on reauthorizing welfare reform. It never happened. He wanted lots of movement on “reformist” agenda items that never happened. And lest we forget all of Bush’s cynical maneuvers on trade, which reformists and purists both opposed. It’s also worth noting that Brooks and Frum are both idiosyncratic figures who hardly agree with each other about everything, but that goes without saying. Jonah is clearly making a point about atmospherics, and I get it.

All the while, John McCain is even more of a New Reformer type than Bush.

McCain may be “a New Reformer type” — but where are the New Reforms? Domestic policy has hardly And of course there is the difference between upper-middle-reformism and lower-middle-reformism, a distinction that I know Jonah finds silly, but that makes sense. McCain wanted to “reform” (i.e., overregulate) campaign finance. The New Disraelites want to reform health care. There’s a big difference. McCain wants cap and trade and Frum wants a carbon tax. Yuval and Ross and I want an environmental and energy policy that works for working families. Being a New Reformer type doesn’t really mean much. Again, the New Reformers aren’t about sticking it to the “agents of intolerance” — that’s the agenda of the Republicans for Obama. Nor are New Reformers about good government causes that move people inside the Beltway — New Reformers are, as Yuval has explained, interested in reforms that will help middle class parents move ahead.

But because some of these folks think Sarah Palin is George W. Bush in a dress, they can’t even back the guy at the top of the ticket in a race against the most leftwing president in — at least — a generation.

Well, this really does vary across different thinkers. We are, as Jonah understands very well, talking about a slew of different, sometimes squabbling personalities.

I am very sympathetic to what Ross, Ramesh, Yuval & Co. want to do, at least when it comes to the policy details. But if they or others in their camp are going to make an argument for a new “vision thing” (as poppa Bush liked to say), I think it is incumbent upon the New Reformers (or the New Disraelites as I sometime like to say) to explain how what they want to do is different from what Bush tried, and why it will get better results. I think there’s a good explanation to be made, but it needs to be made.

I think Ross and I do a solid job of that in Grand New Party, but there’s more to come, of course. I also want to emphasize — I don’t think there’s anything that odd or interesting about what the New Reformers want to do, which is why I think capes aren’t called for. We’re just saying that: Americans care about health care, education, jobs, and the cost of living. So we should talk about these things, not just taxes and national security. And when we talk about these things that people care about, we should offer conservative policies that are relevant and realistic. I would prefer a world in which a universal voucher system replaces public schools. That world will not come to pass in my lifetime, so let’s talk about the weighted student formula and Swedish-style charter laws, etc. Fortunately, core conservative policies — like free trade and free labor markets — help deliver a lower cost of living and value for money. Republicans have a weak brand at the moment, but reform conservatives are working with a solid intellectual foundation.