I was thinking the other day about something that I think has pretty important implications, and so I am going to write it down. There were many reasons why I voted for Obama in 2008, but one of them was particularly relevant for conservatives. I've always considered myself slightly right of center, but I had grown to be so disgusted with the Republican party that I considered electing Obama to be an important repudiation of those policies. I mean here we have the "party of small government and fiscal conservatism" turning a surplus into a deficit, expanding unfunded entitlements, engaging in reckless and often aimless foreign policy...it was precisely the opposite of what "conservative" means to me. And so I told many of my friends and family in 2008, especially conservatives - vote for Obama to show the GOP how disgusted you are with them.
The problem is that over the last two years the GOP hasn't learned the lessons that I wanted them to learn. They've simply gone after the easy solutions and talking points and avoided the tough questions. The real issue Republicans should be grappling with is how we can efficiently reform our health care system...how can we reform medicare, can we privatize or reform social security? How can we moderate our foreign policy aims? These are all very, very tough questions. These questions would require very intelligent people to grapple with in an effective way. But instead of doing that, who do we have? Well, most prominently we have Sarah Palin.
She is a know-nothing, and she is a perfect metaphor for the entire GOP "revival" in the last two years. The new batch of tea-party Republicans know how to get votes by appealing to religion and xenophobia, but they have no real ideas. They've retrenched into the worst excesses of the Bush era but have learned none of the lessons of Bush's mistakes. They are going to waltz into power November 2nd, and suddenly realize how none of them has the intelligence or the political courage to even begin to come close to grappling with some of our serious problems. The most they will do is cut taxes for the wealthy and defund Obamacare - both of which will actually worsen our deficit woes. No doubt, it IS a big step backward. And this is NOT what I had in mind when I wanted to vote for Obama to teach the Republicans a lesson. They've learned all the wrong lessons.
Anyway, the main point of this article is this insight I had. I was thinking about how Mitch Daniels basically got the smack-down by the conservative establishment for proposing a value-added tax. A VAT or consumption tax would actually be a pretty effective tax because it would provide lots of revenue, could be manipulated to be progressive, but wouldn't penalize investment and saving. But anything with the word "tax" is anathema to today's conservatives, so Daniels got put in his place.
I was thinking to myself how sad it is that an entire political movement could have become so close minded and outright committed to group-think. But you know what? That is the exact same thing I thought about Democrats in 2005. I used to HATE reading progressive blogs because I found them nauseating. Anyone who so much as lifted a toe out of the accepted "party line" was immediately put back into place. I used to think that was such a great sign of intellectual weakness.
I suppose I haven't been alive long enough to really draw a correlation here, but maybe that is what parties who are out of power do. They retract into a shell, where they coalesce around their more radical ideas and shun anyone who speaks of compromise. Even when they are out of power, they become more ridiculous, more insular, and more radical. Which, intuitively, would make them STAY out of power if everyone voted like me. But I guess what they are doing is waiting until the party that is IN power screws up badly enough that they win it back by default. I guess thats the state of our political system.
This insight was oddly comforting.