Republican commentator David Frum, who recently mortified many members of his party by suggesting that Paul Krugman might be right about the US economy, is back with a long essay in New York magazine.This time, Frum expresses dismay about how the Republican party has lost touch with reality.
In the space of only a decade, Frum observes, the GOP has gone from being a party dominated by reasonable right-of-centre pragmatists to being hijacked by right-wing extremists.
A lifelong Republican, Frum sums up his views this way:
I’ve been a Republican all my adult life. I have worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, at Forbes magazine, at the Manhattan and American Enterprise Institutes, as a speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration. I believe in free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government. I voted for John McCain in 2008, and I have strongly criticised the major policy decisions of the Obama administration.
And then he looks at the views one has to have to be a loyal member of today‘s Republican party, and he’s appalled by what he sees:
America desperately needs a responsible and compassionate alternative to the Obama administration’s path of bigger government at higher cost. And yet: This past summer, the GOP nearly forced America to the verge of default just to score a point in a budget debate. In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Republican politicians demand massive budget cuts and shrug off the concerns of the unemployed. In the face of evidence of dwindling upward mobility and long-stagnating middle-class wages, my party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners. When I entered Republican politics, during an earlier period of malaise, in the late seventies and early eighties, the movement got most of the big questions—crime, inflation, the Cold War—right. This time, the party is getting the big questions disastrously wrong.
It was not so long ago that Texas governor Bush denounced attempts to cut the earned-income tax credit as “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.” By 2011, Republican commentators were noisily complaining that the poorer half of society are “lucky duckies” because the EITC offsets their federal tax obligations—or because the recession had left them with such meager incomes that they had no tax to pay in the first place.
In 2000, candidate Bush routinely invoked “churches, synagogues, and mosques.” By 2010, prominent Republicans were denouncing the construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan as an outrageous insult.
In 2003, President Bush and a Republican majority in Congress enacted a new prescription-drug program in Medicare. By 2011, all but four Republicans in the House and five in the Senate were voting to withdraw the Medicare guarantee from everybody under age 55.
Today, the Fed’s pushing down interest rates in hopes of igniting economic growth is close to treason, according to Governor Rick Perry, coyly seconded by TheWall Street Journal. In 2000, the same policy qualified Alan Greenspan as the “greatest central banker in the history of the world,” according to Perry’s mentor, Senator Phil Gramm.
Today, health reform that combines regulation of private insurance, individual mandates, and subsidies for those who need them is considered unconstitutional and an open invitation to “death panels.” A dozen years ago, a very similar reform was the Senate Republican alternative to Hillarycare.
Today, stimulative fiscal policy that includes tax cuts for almost every American is “socialism.” In 2001, stimulative fiscal policy that included tax cuts for rather fewer Americans was an economic-recovery program.
Frum’s observations are far from radical. A couple of weeks ago, we noted that the Great Hero of the Republican party, Ronald Reagan, would not likely be able to get elected today, because of, among other things, his willingness to raise taxes when he needed to.
Frum attributes the GOP’s drift to the extremes to the influence of talk radio and FOX News, ethnic competition, and the pain of economic stagnation. He observes that, once he raised his views on FOX News, he was immediately banned as a commentator.
The America championed by the current Republican party would be a brutal country with even more extreme wealth inequality and poverty and an even more powerful and richer ruling class. And, unfortunately, the extreme views of today’s party will alienate many of the more moderate Republican ideas –or, worse, cause them to have to get extreme or risk getting excommunicated.
One hopes that, by bravely speaking out on these issues, David Frum will galvanize what might be called the Great Silent Majority of Republicans to take back their party. Because the sooner America returns to having two reasonable alternatives, the better.
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