Pompous journals that you should read

Like a good action movie or one of my sports teams winning the World Series/Stanley Cup/Rosebowl I’m giddy about the new issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. Here’s an item by David Frum* on the future of the GOP. Yeah, that’s right, David Frum:

Already, polls show that Republican voters (as opposed to activists) prefer tax increases on upper-income earners to Medicare cuts. So long as the choice between taxes and Medicare cuts remains latent, the preferences of rank-and-file Republicans may not matter much. But as budget gaps widen, that tension will surely come to the fore.

The trend, as they say, is the trend only till it bends. Yet it’s also true that 12 years is not so very far away. Let’s hazard two plausible scenarios.

1) Reactionary Democrats. Democrats depend hugely on public-sector unions for votes and money. Suppose the party decides to make a priority of protecting their interests and those of their retirees. Democrats may call for higher taxes on the rich to pay for these benefits, but that math does not suffice. The non-rich young will also have to pay.

But the young of the 2020s will not only be poorer than the elderly. They will be ethnically different. Whereas public-sector retirees will be whiter and blacker than the total population, the young of the 2020s will be more Hispanic and Asian. Age competition will also be ethnic competition.

Could that competition be the force that shakes loose Hispanic and Asian voters from the Democratic coalition? Asian voters in particular are better educated, more affluent, and more likely to be self-employed—prime candidates for Republican recruitment. The Conservative parties in Canada and the UK have made great inroads among Asian voters. (In the Canadian election of 2010, the Conservatives won a plurality among voters who speak Chinese at home.) Could a reactionary Democratic Party at last do what George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” tried and failed to do in the 2000s and move large numbers of people of color into the GOP column?

2) Upper-class Republicans. If the fiscal squeeze tightens enough, Republicans will be forced to choose between their limited government ideology and their older voting base. If they choose their ideology, they will need to locate some new voters in upper-income America. They will need to draw back to the Grand Old Party the kind of voters who defected to Barack Obama in 2008: affluent professionals, especially women, in major urban centers. This was the kind of Republicanism practiced in the 1990s by governors like Christine Todd Whitman, John Engler, Tommy Thompson, and George Pataki. Such a Republicanism would not need to jettison its pro-life message, just de-emphasize it, as Democrats have, for example, de-emphasized their message on gun control.

At the beginning of the Tea Party era, there was much talk that Republicans might switch to a more economic, less culturally exclusive message. That talk came to nothing. Instead, Republicans infused cultural exclusion into their economics, drawing a sharp distinction between the “earned” benefit of Medicare and Social Security and other programs that serve supposedly less deserving populations: food stamps, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid.

Yet it does not have to be this way. The GOP can remain a culturally conservative party without needing to endorse vaginal inspections of women or miring itself in fights over birth control. The coming generational shift within the GOP on gay rights points the way to such future change.

Such a GOP would look more like conservative parties elsewhere on the planet—and less like the Southern Democrats of the 1950s. And while some Republicans might dismiss those non-U.S. conservative parties as squishy, it’s worth noting that at least some of them—notably the Germans and Canadians—managed successfully to complete the fiscal consolidation that in the United States still looms terrifyingly ahead.

Of course, this is not the only option for the Republicans. But it’s the way that remains truest to what is most useful in the GOP, as the party of enterprise, opportunity—and freedom.

And here’s what I’m most excited about. A piece by Eric Rauchway on the history of liberalism and radicalism:

In that peak moment of liberalism, one could without embarrassment invoke love as, indeed, all you need; love would do everything that pop music promised, carry you through the darkness and bind you together with all the lonely souls in the nation’s night, tiding you over until the dawn. Certainly there was no other vocabulary, no logic of self-interest or language of patriotism, that seemed able to transcend the divisions among Americans and induce them to support policies for the benefit of others—to do for their country, rather than for themselves. Love gave liberalism, and liberals, guts.

And yet liberals often—and at last completely—rejected it, succumbing to a terrible impulse toward mere rationality. Eric Alterman and Kevin Mattson, in their excellent history of postwar American liberalism, The Cause, circle back occasionally to Lionel Trilling’s Liberal Imagination, with its warning that liberalism “drifts toward a denial of the emotions and the imagination,” becoming “mechanical”—or just dead. Michael Kazin, in American Dreamers, his history of American leftists, suggests that it was the radicals—now all but vanished except as bogeymen—that helped give liberalism life. Each book is a superb history that shows what master historians at the peak of their powers and knowledge can do. Each provides opportunities to rethink the American political tradition.

*I’m aware that this piece probably won’t get him his America card back from the GOP.

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  • By The core of liberalism « Blue Rondo à la Turk on June 14, 2012 at 11:17 am

    […] through a book review by Eric Rauchway from the latest issue of Democracy (highlighted yesterday on this blog), I found a claim about political liberalism that made a little uncomfortable.  The […]

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