30.8.04

FOURTH TURNING ALERT. What public policies best for the future, and what best for the governing conservative coalition? Dan Drezner points to a David Brooks essay that notes the following policy dimensions.
1. War on Islamic extremism.
2. Entitlement reform.
3. Social mobility
4. Restore integrity of institutions
5. Energy
6. National service.
Professor Drezner's reaction is mixed. He invites readers to read and understand the Brooks essay and offer their comments.

Mr Brooks's conclusion:
By using government in limited but energetic ways, conservatives could establish credibility that would enable them to reduce the size of government where it is useless or worse -- export subsidies, agricultural subsidies and the like. Then they could use that credibility to reduce the increases in entitlement spending -- the giant set of programs that crowd out everything else.

More than that, conservatives have it in their power to refashion the political landscape. American politics is now polarized, evenly divided and stagnant. It has become like World War I. Each party is down in its trench, lobbing the same old arguments, relying on the same old coalitions. Neither party is able to gain a lasting advantage. Neither party is able to accomplish much that it is proud of.

Trench warfare finally ended because somebody invented the tank. It is time for one party or another to invent the tank, some new governing philosophy that will broaden its coalition and transform the partisan divide. For Republicans, the progressive conservative governing philosophy is the tank. It is the approach to politics best suited to the emerging suburban civilization, best suited to life during a war on Islamic extremism. It is the way Republicans can build a governing majority and leave a positive mark on the nation and its destiny.
It also sounds a lot like the same old public policy debate as I have understood it for years: the Democrats offer all sorts of programs, and the Republicans offer to operate them more effectively. I fear that it will take something more jarring than a one-off terror raid with jetliners to get people thinking along those new lines.

RUNNING EXTRA: George Will has it about right:
From the New Deal through the civil rights revolution, liberalism strove to use expanding government to drive the alteration of society. Conservatism's mission was largely restoration -- rolling back big government. Neither persuasion is now plausible.

Kerry insists he is not a "redistribution Democrat." But of course he is. And Bush is a redistribution Republican. There is no "natural" distribution of social wealth. Distribution is influenced by social arrangements, from property laws to tax laws to educational arrangements, all of them political choices. Both parties have redistributionist agendas.

In disavowing "redistribution," Kerry presumably means he rejects the old liberal belief in recarving the economic pie, rather than making the pie grow, to ameliorate the condition of the poor. But he favors using government power to direct the flow of wealth to public school teachers, or to protect the flow to trial lawyers. Up-to-date liberalism defends the strong, not the poor, who are either reliable Democratic voters or nonvoters. Republicans defend their own muscular interests.

The vocabulary of the two-party argument just a generation ago now seems as anachronistic as the 1890s argument about the free coinage of silver. Liberals have next to nothing to say about poverty or, because of their servitude to the public education industry, about the calamitous inadequacy of inner-city schools, which is both a cause and a consequence of the social pathologies of poverty. Conservatives, whose party has delivered on its 2000 promise to increase federal involvement in education and health care, no longer invest even rhetorical energy in the cause of "small" or "limited" government. And now their presidential nominee wants an even bigger government role in policing speech.
This 11-D post on public attitudes toward politics merits attention.

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