Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Dominance on GOP Agenda

The other day I mentioned that the hallmark of ideological politics is the belief that political goals are indistinguishable from policy goals; that is, that using policy to consolidate one's hold on power is not just legitimate and reasonable, but the only sensible thing to do.

Well, today's LA Times quotes unelected Republican elites Grover Norquist and Club for Growth's Stephen Moore admitting as much:

"Are we doing it because it creates more Republicans? Or are we doing it because it's the right thing to do, and by the way, it also happens to create more Republicans?" asked Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and a frequent advisor to Karl Rove, Bush's chief political advisor. "It's both."

"Every one of the ideas for the most part has merits on its own, so … they're defensible," said Stephen Moore, a conservative activist who plans to raise $10 million this year to advertise on behalf of Bush's Social Security plans. "But I think, altogether, this was devised as a Karl Rove grand plan to cement in place a Republican governing coalition that could last for a generation or more."

Note the carefully parsed words: although Social Security phase-out is merely "defensible" as policy, the real point, Moore obliquely suggests, is the wonderful political consequences of shredding social insurance programs.

The Times also articulates the point I made back in November, namely that the political playbook is taken directly from FDR, but with diametrically opposite policy content: the goal is to roll back the New Deal, both as a particular set of policies, but even more importantly, as a political alignment:

The party is aiming for a 21st century political realignment comparable to the Democratic domination spurred by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Bush often refers to his agenda as building an "ownership society," a phrase that strategists compare in political terms to the New Deal: a package of programs that builds loyalty among voters for generations. While Roosevelt expanded the role of government in lifting seniors and workers out of poverty, Bush's domestic agenda stresses the creation of personal wealth and individual responsibility, pure Republican ideology.

"FDR achieved for the Democrats two generations of support, in part because people thought he had done something that was real and permanent and improved their lives," said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker who also is close to White House strategists. "Handling Social Security correctly, so that we win the argument over personal savings accounts, I think puts the liberal Democrats in a permanent minority status for a long time."

Abolishing the vestiges of the welfare state is thus a political and ideological goal as much as it is a policy goal for the Republicans. There's no doubt that the Republicans are winning this ideological battle right now, in part because most progressives are, for some incomprehensible reason, shame-faced about mounting the necessary defense. To counter this right-wing ideological offensive, the Democrats need to mount an ideological defense of the value of social solidarity, social welfare, and social insurance.

1 comment:

Ed said...

The conservative argument style of the paranoid mind is not used only by those who are intellectually lazy. It is also the natural hysterical reaction of someone who has gambled, won big and is now betting double or nothing. Republicans have won elections and now see an opportunity to build an ownership society and frame arguments to Republican advantage for decades. But on the other hand is the spectre of failed power (think Clinton after health care failed). If this battle is lost then a tremendous opportunity will be spoiled. And although some Social Security bill is almost certain, it is not at all clear that the people will allow a fundamental shift that allows for foolish old-people in desperate poverty. If this goes down the way of the first energy bill, the loss in the minds of conservative idealogs will be monstrous. The big bet is on the table, and the Republicans are on a hot streak. The shouting is like that at a hot craps table in Vegas.