In Defense of GOP Extremism…

…is William Voegeli’s lead article in the latest Claremont Review of Books.  He paints a formidable defense of GOP’s “extreme” tendencies of late:  Brought to the present by a recent history defined by two fundamentally unprincipled parties compromising on a fundamentally unprincipled post-New Deal agenda—typically with Republicans serving as tax collectors for the welfare state—it should surprise no one (and yet, it does) that “moderation” ran out of things to do.

Among other works, Voegeli devotes special attention to Geoffrey Kabaservice’s Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party.  Some key grafs:

To this day, 33 years after Nelson Rockefeller’s death, GOP moderates are still called “Rockefeller Republicans.” Yet Kabaservice shows that Rockefeller’s political career was the worst thing that ever happened to moderate Republicanism, since the New York governor who became Gerald Ford’s vice president believed: 1) achieving his personal ambition to be president was vital to the republic’s future; 2) more spending would solve any problem, political or governmental; and 3) not much else. . . .

. . . . We finish Rule and Ruin knowing a great deal about moderate Republicans, yet are left with no sure sense of the qualities that differentiate moderation from conservatism and liberalism. In the end, Kabaservice’s portrait of Republican moderates reinforces the judgment, made by Michael Barone in Our Country (1990), that their differences with Democrats were primarily sociological rather than political. The moderates who controlled the GOP before 1964 accepted that America would never again see government’s domestic powers confined within the limits that obtained before the Great Depression, or its international role to the one considered the norm before Pearl Harbor. But to entrust these new governmental responsibilities to the party that was a congenial home for Ku Klux Klan members in the South and corrupt machine bosses in the North was, in their view, unthinkable. Barone records Thomas Dewey arguing in the 1940s that “the Republican party is the best instrument for bringing sound government into the hands of competent men,” who would “prove that democracy can maintain itself as master of its own destiny, feed its hungry, house its homeless, and provide work for its idle without reliance on political racketeers.” Once Jim Crow and patronage-based urban machines had disappeared, the strongest rationale for moderates to continue to distinguish themselves from the Democrats did, too. Several politicians who started out as moderate Republicans, including former Senator Donald Riegle of Michigan and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, switched parties in the 1970s. Kabaservice reports that three fourths of the people who still cared enough by 2002 to attend the 40th anniversary reunion of the Ripon Society, moderate Republicanism’s most important organization, described themselves in an informal poll as Democrats or independents.

. . . .

In the absence of a satisfactory account of its essential principles, however, centrism stands revealed as an “-ism” without an -ism, the chief reason it ultimately became a -wasm. Lacking a telos, centrism’s logical fate is to collapse into split-the-difference-ism, rendering it not only incoherent in theory but counter-productive in practice. That is, insofar as centrism is a political force that matters, it ends up inciting rather than restraining extremists. If centrists can be relied upon to embrace the middle position between two extremes, the partisans of each extreme have every incentive to make their positions more extreme, not less, before the centrists calibrate and then endorse the half-a-loaf resolution. For all their hopes and exertions, moderates not only do not moderate the political process and policy outcomes, but actually intensify and polarize fights over the nation’s future course.

. . . .

. . . . If or to the extent they were conservatives, those Republicans embraced an utterly domesticated conservatism that prepared them, in Jonah Goldberg’s words, to “gladly serve as Sherpas to the great mountaineers of liberalism, pointing out occasional missteps, perhaps suggesting a slight course correction from time to time, but never losing sight of the need for upward ‘progress.'”

. . . .Those who were in any respect more bumptious were guilty of “revanchism.” . . . [According to New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus devoted a book, The Death of Conservatism (2009),] “Now it is time for conservatives to repudiate movement politics and recover their honorable intellectual and political tradition.” The most honorable part of that tradition was, apparently, its docility.

. . . .

. . . . Scott Walker sought to revise a legal regime that had been in existence barely more than 50 years, not, as Dionne implies, settled by the battle of Agincourt. No matter. Once history’s ratchet has clicked in the direction of progress, however recently, that step is irrevocable and all measures intended to reverse it, illegitimate.  . . .

. . . .

. . . . Eisenhower was right to say the government cannot avoid responsibilities the people firmly believe it should discharge. But it would be useful to know how firmly the people believe in the discharge of each of modern government’s many, many responsibilities. Firmly enough to demand it, or firmly enough to pay for it?

Kabaservice’s response deserves attention, but I’m not persuaded by his defense for a reinvigorated “moderate” GOP.  He contends that “the moderates were not quite as unprincipled and ineffective as you suggest,” citing to Eisenhower as the last president to balance the budget three timesand reduce the ratio of national debt to GNP.  But Eisenhower did not have to grapple with Medicare, which stands far and away as the most expensive and uncontrolled entitlement program.  In his reply, Voegeli prods for more specifics of what, exactly, more “moderation” in the GOP would look like:  Are we just turning down the volume, or changing the station altogether?

Two years ago Mitch Daniels, Republican governor of Indiana at the time, gave a widely noted speech where he endorsed a “more affirmative, ‘better angels’ approach to voters” since if Republicans hope to win their support “it would help if they liked us, just a bit.” It’s just about impossible to quarrel with that advice.

But after finishing charm school, what do Republicans do? Is Daniels the kind of politician the GOP needs more of? My sense is that he was a very conservative governor over his eight years in office. Upon being elected in 2004, he began his administration by proposing the kind of fiscal balance you recommend-specifically, spending cuts combined with an income tax surcharge on families with six-figure incomes. The tax proposal went nowhere, however, and Daniels dropped it. Everything else he pursued and, mostly, attained sounds like a to-do list from the Cato Institute: cutting spending, writing property tax limitations into the state constitution, privatizing infrastructure, making health savings accounts the centerpiece of the state’s Medicaid program, expanding school choice, and signing right-to-work legislation.

If moderation needs to be substantive rather than just tonal, Daniels’s approach should have failed. He won a 58-to-40% landslide reelection in 2008, however, even as Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Indiana since 1964. Daniels even tripled his portion of the black vote from 7% in 2004 to 20%.

Indiana’s example also exposes the falsity of the claim that increasing taxes is the only way to increase revenue, often recited to prove that the “extreme” GOP, who is unwilling to raise taxes on principle, is simply incapable of leading.  It is a truism that “tax revenue to the government equals, always and everywhere, the tax-rate structure multiplied by the tax base. Thus, expanding the tax base is an alternative to increasing tax rates.”

Tenor and volume may be legitimate grievances about extremism.  Extremists don’t make good statesmen.  But it’s quite possible that the extremists have a point, and if so, ignoring them is not the solution.

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at


  1. So, I’ve been thinking about this a lot since you emailed it to me the other day, in addition to doing research for my own post. I think this is something where we suffer from a severe poverty of language. I’ve long held the belief that there should be a definitional difference between “centrists” and “moderates,” that centrists are those whose ideology is literally “add up the positions of the extremists and divide by two,” while “moderates” are more properly viewed as those who just don’t fit neatly in either camp. As I’ve thought about this more in light of Voegeli’s piece and the developments that will hopefully be the subject of my forthcoming post, I’ve increasingly come to the conclusion that most – not all – “moderates” in the US are just a different variety of conservatism. The difference is that the values they seek to conserve are different – they’re basically traditional northern bourgeois values, which always have stood in tension with southern values; we also of course have midwestern and western values that stand in tension with these other regional values as well, but these tensions are more readily resolvable.

    Take a look at the membership of the group formerly known as the Republican Main Street Partnership, and you quickly notice that not a single member during the last Congress hailed from the Confederacy, and only a handful of its past members did, one of whom was Joseph Cao, and others of whom are from South Florida, which is culturally far more like the Northern melting pots than it is like the Deep South. What’s more, the vast majority hailed from the Northeast and Rust Belt states. Importantly, many, if not most of this last group held seats that had been Republican for nearly all of the party’s existence.

    Such “moderates” are not “RINO’s” – to the contrary, they are the very legacy of traditional Republicanism and Whiggery.

    I strongly believe that what we term ideology is frequently (though by no means always) just a way of providing moral authority to unite a group into a more powerful voting block. I also believe that in reality all or nearly all free-thinking people have at least a handful of broad, perhaps ill-defined, common values, but have extraodinarily strong disagreements about how to prioritize those values when they conflict (as they must) – we might term these values “pluralism,” “egalitarianism,” “individual liberty,” and “stability,” and maybe one or two others. It is our other values, combined with self-interest, that help us resolve these conflicts, and it is my belief that these other values are largely a matter of geography and community.

    That said, if we must insist that success in politics requires a belief in some particular political, universalizable philosophy, then I think it is accurate to characterize most “moderates,” whether Democrats or Republicans, as effectively “classical conservatives.” Indeed, I’d go so far as to argue that political moderation is almost tautologically the same as “classical conservatism,” and that the very phrases “radical conservative” and “extreme conservative” are properly viewed as oxymorons and synonyms for reactionarianism.

    This “moderation,” or “bourgeois conservatism,” or whatever you want to call it, has some very clear values and priorities – essentially, “preserve the system and maintain its stability and predictability, but tolerate gradual change within that system, and once those changes have been made, accept them as part of the system.”

    This contrasts significantly with modern movement conservatism, which is essentially backward looking (though the period to which it looks back seems to vary greatly), seeking to return to some idealized Golden Age. This is not meant to be demeaning – reactionarianism is necessary to undo ill-advised change. Indeed, this was literally the definition of modern conservatism I learned back in the late ’90s, a time when I very much was a movement conservative myself (I interned for someone who, at the time, was far and away the most right-wing Congressman to ever get elected in New Jersey, which was still considered something of a bellwether state at the time), from a course I took on modern conservatism taught by a man who considered Newt Gingrich to be a left-winger.

    One last thing, and this is a point I’ve been making for years, though mostly before you would have come into contact with me – movement conservatism is in many respects now a victim of its own success; it has almost completely defeated radical Leftism in this country, as witnessed by the fact that movement conservatives outnumber self-described liberals (few of whom are remotely as left-wing as liberals of the ’60s) several times over. If moderates are increasingly identifying as Democrats (and there is no dispute that they are), it is because the excesses of early and mid-20th century liberalism have largely been undone.

    • One thing I forgot to include in the section on the Republican Main Street Partnership – looking at where those Reps came from, it quickly becomes clear that in the Northeast, Rust Belt, Pacific Northwest, and even perhaps some of the Midwest, these “moderates,” near-extinct though they may be nationally, are still the majority of Republican Congresscritters from their respective states. In other words, these folks aren’t just tolerated by the GOP in these states – they effectively are the GOP in a good chunk of the country. Abandoning them thus not only ends the GOP’s already tough road to victory in statewide elections in places like MA and CT, it also amounts to permanently writing off PA, OH, MI, NH, as well as ending the GOP’s ability to compete at all in Northern Virginia (which it needs to do to win the state), and in the long run may even cause them problems in WV (though WV is something of a unique case).

      One thing I misspoke on – there is one current Main Street Republican from the Confederacy, Frank Wolf from Northern Virginia. Much of his district, of course, is culturally Northern, though.

    • [I]n reality all or nearly all free-thinking people have at least a handful of broad, perhaps ill-defined, common values, but have extraodinarily strong disagreements about how to prioritize those values when they conflict (as they must) – we might term these values “pluralism,” “egalitarianism,” “individual liberty,” and “stability,” and maybe one or two others. It is our other values, combined with self-interest, that help us resolve these conflicts, and it is my belief that these other values are largely a matter of geography and community.

      Interesting. Hard to deny that’s true to some extent. I’ll have to think more on it.

      As I mentioned before, I’m not fluent in what values are associated with particular geographical regions, i.e., as opposed to economic factors, urban density factors, etc. Certain social issues I can understand. But the thrust of conservative “extremism,” as I understand it (bearing in mind that my understanding is defined by my self-selected information sources), is concerned with cronyism and the cui bono? angle, and the debt/deficit. Does that upset “traditional northern bourgeois values”? Sure, to the extent those values are wrapped up in projects like maintaining Social Security and Medicare as the “earned benefit” programs they’ve come to welcome as givens of American life – these things are threatened by Republicans who approach the debt/deficit with a level of concern otherwise atypical of centrist Republicans. (I’ll try to respect your distinction between moderates and centrists, though I’m not sure if or how moderates are different in this particular case.) I’d guess the “traditional northern bourgeois values” centrists are also concerned about the debt/deficit, probably more than the typical Democrat. But is the fact that they are less concerned than the “extremists” a difference of actual values? Or is it a difference in temperament?

      I tend to think it’s temperament. Even when looking at other values – about being able to send kids to college, retire, engage in community and leisure activities, etc. – it seems that we’d have to agree that “extremists” care about that stuff, too. They just have different time horizons: Centrists and/or moderates believe we can preserve all those values with not more than little nibbles around the edges; “extremists” believe those values face an existential threat unless we take some bigger bites out of them in the short term. Fundamentally, they don’t have different values, just different levels of concern about the extent to which they’re threatened and the best way to preserve them.

      So, when you say that moderate conservatism has “very clear values and priorities – essentially, ‘preserve the system and maintain its stability and predictability, but tolerate gradual change within that system, and once those changes have been made, accept them as part of the system,’” I think I’d challenge the framing a bit. Those aren’t values, exactly. I’d say it’s more of a temperament, a disposition, a mood. I think this conflation of values and temperament is also a result of our poverty of language, as you alluded to, especially as it regards “conservatism.” Voegeli’s colleague, Charles Kesler, mentioned this in his new book, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, discussing how the term originated with FDR:

      Within Progressive ranks, “liberalism” suggested laissez-faire, a bête noire to the reformers. Herbert Croly and his colleagues at the New Republic were perhaps the first to adopt the term as something positive, beginning around 1915 to identify themselves with “the cause of liberalism.” . . . When all is said and done, however, it was still FDR who firmly, enduringly applied the liberal label to his cause and to his party.

      Why did he make the change? Certainly he wanted to put some daylight between himself and the “Progressivism” of a failed third party. 14 Plus he liked to discomfit his enemies. One advantage of the maneuver was to deprive his opponents of a home, rhetorically speaking. It left them protesting— see Hoover, above— that they’d been robbed. Having lost their good name, “the immediate jewel of their souls,” what were they supposed to call themselves? FDR suggested, helpfully, that they ought to call themselves conservatives, a designation they were loath to accept because it sounded reactive, empty (conserve what, exactly?), and vaguely un-American, that is, Tory. It took a long time for conservatives to warm to the term; Robert Taft, “Mr. Conservative,” was still insisting he was a liberal in 1946. Barry Goldwater, in 1963, told young Republicans to beware “of the phoniness that has been going on under the false guise of liberalism for the last thirty years.” 15 Yet the greatest advantage FDR reaped from the new nomenclature was that it made it easier to connect to America’s past and particularly to America’s Founders.

      But in our discussion, I think we actually are experiencing a conflict of conservatism in the literal sense: Which of our shared values do we conserve, and how?

      • Cronyism and cui bono? is more pronounced in places where conservatism flourishes, not less.
        When entire government agencies are subverted, and toothless tigers… And where standing up to power is a good way to get killed or run out of town.

        Thing is? When there’s only one boss in town, you don’t ever hear about anything he don’t want you to hear about… As true in Alabama as in West Virginia.

      • But the thrust of conservative “extremism,” as I understand it (bearing in mind that my understanding is defined by my self-selected information sources), is concerned with cronyism and the cui bono? angle, and the debt/deficit. Does that upset “traditional northern bourgeois values”? ….I’d guess the “traditional northern bourgeois values” centrists are also concerned about the debt/deficit, probably more than the typical Democrat. But is the fact that they are less concerned than the “extremists” a difference of actual values?

        I’m not sure I’d agree with you assumptions here – to the extent concern about cronyism is a core element of conservative “extremism,” then it is an element of at least equal, if not greater concern, to our supposed “moderates,” regardless of whether they have an (R) or a (D) after their name – indeed, two of the most widely celebrated current “moderates,” Cory Booker and Chris Christie each largely made their initial burst onto the state scene by focusing heavily on cronyism. Now they’ve certainly been subject to attacks about their own cronyism, which of course they’d deny, but it’s generally a different type of cronyism than they ran against; this is no less true of conservative “extremists.” On the issue of the debt/deficit, I’d again argue that the “moderates” have as good or better a record at deficit reduction than the “extremists” – indeed, back in the late ’90s, when I again was very much a movement conservative-type, I vividly remember listening to Rush Limbaugh arguing time and again that the surplus we had back then was effectively an embarassment and that it absolutely should not have been used to pay down the debt. Similarly, Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” statement wasn’t in reference to spending increases, but was instead an argument in favor of the Bush tax cuts. To the extent the “extremists” do, in fact, care as much or more about the deficit as the “moderates,” the difference is that the “extremist” camp is insistent that only certain tools be used to cut it- tax increases are off the table completely, as are – for the most part – cuts to defense. Culture and self-interest here play an especially important role, I think, in determining what a particular group is and is not willing to cut or what taxes they are and are not willing to raise. In effect, the “moderates” want to use a scalpel on everything because they don’t want to completely destroy anything that has stood the test of time, while the “extremists” want to use a hammer, but only on some things they don’t especially like.

        I’m not sure if or how moderates are different in this particular case.

        One major difference between what I’d call an unprincipled “centrist” and a principled “moderate/bourgeois conservative” on not only this, but most issues, would be proactivity – the “centrist” does not seek to define a problem or propose outside the box solutions, but instead lets the “extremists” define the problem and then split the difference on their proposed solutions, while our “moderate/bourgeois conservative” will see a problem and try to fix it even if the “extremists” do not. I’d go so far as to say that this is especially true on this particular issue, where a “moderate” like a Pete Domenici built an entire career out of being a deficit scold well before 2008; similarly, Christie had no one with any power to the Right of him in NJ to force him to try to prioritize the state deficit, yet his initial Youtube fame was premised on speeches where he was doing exactly that. A squishy centrist would, in effect, just try to reduce new Dem spending proposals by 50%.

        But is the fact that they are less concerned than the “extremists” a difference of actual values? Or is it a difference in temperament?

        As noted above, I strongly disagree that the “moderates” are less concerned about the deficit. However, I wanted to respond separately to this because I think it’s easy to underestimate how temperament is, while perhaps not a value itself, certainly a function of our values, and, for that matter, vice versa. This is another topic altogether, though.

        So, when you say that moderate conservatism has “very clear values and priorities – essentially, ‘preserve the system and maintain its stability and predictability, but tolerate gradual change within that system, and once those changes have been made, accept them as part of the system,’” I think I’d challenge the framing a bit. Those aren’t values, exactly.

        While I wasn’t thrilled with the way that I worded that sentence, what I’m getting at is just that what we are calling “moderates” here essentially just have the same political philosophy as Edmund Burke and, to a certain, perhaps lesser extent, FA Hayek.

    • I liked this comment, alot.

      (The alot seems to be still forming his opinion)

    • Hey, Mark. You know what you just reminded me of? Your conversation with Erik.

      I’m not a fan of moderation/centrism and I’ll say again what I said then: “When one’s political philosophy is predicated upon the answer to the question “Before I answer your question, what is everybody else saying?”, one can reasonably be expected to have nothing useful to say.”

      • Sure – but that’s always been the whole point of my distinction between the “moderate” and the “centrist.” There is no value in centrism, and I’ve always been pretty explicit about that. I also really, really hate the word “moderate,” but use it because that’s just the popular vernacular; and while there is no value in “centrism,” I think there very much is value in those who we describe as “moderates.” It is my position that these “moderates” just have different priorities and methods than “conservatives,” who in turn have different priorities and methods than “liberals” when it comes to resolving value conflicts. And the reality is that only the pure anarchist has a worldview where political value conflicts are nonexistent or even rare. And I’m not even sure about that much.

        I thought you missed my point in that original thread, and I think you’re still missing it now.

        • Hey, there are a lot of issues out there that aren’t exactly matters of morality. There are a lot of issues such as, oh, zoning, where perfectly reasonable people can disagree. Heck, there are a lot of really thorny issues (abortion) where every single viewpoint you can reach leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

          But what’s a moderate position on, say, slavery? What’s a moderate position on the vaccination of children?

          There are plenty of places out there where it’s more than reasonable to have a bunch of priorities including priorities that will have conflict with each other. That’s totally cool.

          I’ve found that a lot of people find it difficult to articulate their priorities and that their priorities may be in conflict… this tends to make me suspect that their positions are not their own as much as the positions they’ve inherited. Again, there are a lot of places out there where we’re not dealing with matters of morality *OR* where no matter where you end up, you’ll end up someplace crappy. Moderation is a perfect place to be in those cases… or, at least, understandable.

          One should take care lest it become a habit, though.

          • “But what’s a moderate position on, say, slavery? What’s a moderate position on the vaccination of children?”

            I believe that you’re thinking in the wrong terms.

            The difference between most moderates and extremists I know isn’t that where they line up on some artificial line; indeed, the line itself is an illusion. No, the difference is this:

            Moderates are those who are:

            1. willing to consider both evidence and solutions that are not endorsed by their political philosophy

            2. are open to accept that the history of their political philosophy has led to some very dark places, and wish to avoid that happening again, and

            3. are empathetic enough that they understand where the other side is coming from, even when they do not agree.

            My experience is that extremists do none of these things, though they incorrectly believe that they know the mind of their opponents better than anyone.

          • Oops, forgot to close out the thought:

            So asking what the “moderate” position to slavery is a semantic red herring; the moderate position is that it is inherently wrong and intolerable.

          • Using those terms, moderates are empirically minded (SCIENCE!) rather than leashed to any given ideology, they’re self-reflective enough to want to avoid the bad outcomes that their side may have caused in the past, and capable of seeing the other side even when they’ve reached a different conclusion.

            I mean, it seems that the way “moderate” is defined here has near 100% overlap with how I would use the word “thoughtful”.

          • I think this is right, Tod. For the hypothetical moderate, the question would not have been “is slavery a moral wrong that should not be tolerated?” but instead something to the effect of “what is the least destabilizing way to end slavery while preventing/limiting it’s further spread in the interim?”

          • One answer being “Forbid its expansion beyond that states it already infests, and let it die a natural death”, which was Lincoln’s stance. It caused a war only because the other side were extremists.

          • I would say that’s close but not quite right, Jay. While it shares a common denominator with the scientific method, I’d say that moderates are willing to consider that they might be wrong. Which is different from saying that they will always (or even often) change their mind.

            When the policy your side backed goes sideways, a moderate is willing to look at various alternatives where things went wrong. An extremist will generally only entertain answers to the question, in what way were we not pure enough?

            A moderate leftist can look at the history of Eastern Europe and say, “SO that whole Communism thing might not have worked out so well;” a moderate conservative will look at the last election and say, “maybe we need a different message if we’re going to grow the tend and win in the future.” The extreme versions of those same positions point out that since Marx said everything would be perfect those countries by definition weren’t really communist, and that if we only made out tent just a wee bit smaller by kicking out the doubters and unbelievers we’ll be running the show in no time.

          • So a moderate might say “A Civil War is too high of a cost to pay to eradicate slavery right now this moment. It would be better to avoid war and and try to find a non-military solution to this problem given that 600,000 dead is a toll that no one should be willing to pay, or ask another to pay” or something similar?

            When it comes to such issues as women’s suffrage or gay marriage or the war on drugs or what have you, a moderate might say that, hey, there are some (many!) things that are inherently wrong and intolerable… but all of the proposed solutions have a cost that is much too high to purchase what we’re hoping to get, given the political realities on the ground as well as the willingness of those who support inherently wrong and intolerable policies to fight tooth and nail to keep them?

            Is it uncharitable of me to suspect that the above are accurate representations of a thoughtful moderate position or am I mixing up “moderate” and “centrist” again?

          • @Tod:
            Try this on for a “moderate position to slavery” . . .

            I had always thought that slavery was abolished in the wrong way, that it should have been phased out gradually rather than abruptly; first denying any slaves to be imported, then a matter of automatic freedom for 7 years of service (or something similar), with retirement provisions for the elderly.
            But then, (of all things) from reading of the history of jazz (which is all about the migration from New Orleans to Chicago), such measures result in a more striated society.
            In La., they still distinguish the octoroons; not so much in other places.

            So, there is such a thing as a moderate position on slavery.
            Also, it turns out sometimes that the moderate position (much like extreme ones) can bring unintended consequences.

          • Jay –

            No. You’re still thinking of it in terms of “splitting the difference,” or as something that is a substitute for principles. I don’t know any moderates in my life that are squishy on SSM, for example. I don’t know of any that are for the subjugation of women.

            Again, a moderate isn’t someone that believes the average of two extremists.

          • I suppose the strongest counter-argument might be “how many slaveries do we really have, though? How many more problems do we have instead that are on the level of zoning matters of taste rather than things such as slavery that are, indeed, intolerable?”

            Which, I suppose, is a fair point.

            I wish we had fewer things like the War on Drugs and all its assorted pathologies.

          • Will –

            That’s an interesting thought. I have always thought that those that retroactively argued for a non-military response in the 1860s didn’t do so because they were any more or less OK with slavery, so much as felt a particular way about war.

          • You’re still thinking of it in terms of “splitting the difference,” or as something that is a substitute for principles.

            I’m trying to not do that.

            Is it possible to have a moderate calculate that the price to eradicate an intolerable policy is, itself, an even more intolerable price?

            For example, when it comes to the subjugation of women, what is the moderate position on changing the culture of other countries?

          • I’m not sure that there *is* a moderate position on such a thing. I suspect that there are a variety of conflicting opinions on the matter, all of them based on values and principles.

            I do, however, suspect that there is less of a level of comfort with those opinions than there are with extremists – even those extremists that have identical opinions.

          • Or to put it another way, Jay, I think you can be an extreme neocon *or* a moderate and decide that you need to invade Iraq for their part in 9/11 and fear of a potential WMD on the horizon. I don’t think being a moderate eliminates that potential mistake.

            I *would* argue, however, that a group of moderates might well have taken the time to ask themselves, “But what if we’re not welcomed by everyone as liberators? What then?”

          • On second thought, it’s really not a position on slavery per se, but rather on abolition.

          • This goes back to why I think the very term “moderate” is unhelpful and just confuses the issue more- while many “moderates” would likely fit within my notion of “bourgeois or Northern conservatism,” some surely would not – so there is no one “moderate” answer to a given question. But if we’re talking about my notion of northern GOP “moderates” just being a separate and distinctive variety of conservatism, then framing the question as one of “do something” or “do nothing” depending on a cost-benefit analysis misses the point entirely. The question is not whether to do something about a problem once that problem is acknowledged; instead, the question is HOW to solve that problem without blowing up the whole system. Faith in the broader system is critical, because in this view it is the system’s stability that allows political problems to be resolved at all. Solving problems in this manner also emphasizes the cultural value of prudence and humility, as Tod suggests- if solutions are implemented gradually and within the existing system, then solutions that cause more problems than they solve can be reversed before the damage is irreparable.

        • (not sure which nesting I should put this)

          What about strong but heterodox views?

          Yay Gays, Yay Guns, Yay Safety Net, Boo Taxes, Boo High Military Spending, Boo Regulatory State, etc

          (‘no sir, they’re not saying “BOOOOOOO!” they’re saying ‘BLOOOOOOMberg.'”)

    • Sorry to be so late to this discussion. I’ve been catching up and enjoying it. I do have to take some issue with something you said in this comment, Mark:

      Such “moderates” are not “RINO’s” – to the contrary, they are the very legacy of traditional Republicanism and Whiggery.

      Being as I like to say a chastened moderate Republican, I think that is true to a point, but not all the way true. As much as I dislike Voegeli , I think he has a point that what has become to be known as moderate Republicanism differed with Democrats only in sociological and not ideological terms. Liberal Republican icon Jacob Javits describes in his book Order of Battle, why be became a Republican and it had a lot to do with the machine politics in New York. As the Democrats started dismantling the machines in the North and embraced civil rights, there really was very little reason for moderates to stay in the GOP and so many drifted to the Democrats.

      At the same time, I don’t think moderates in the GOP really thought about what it is they really believe and how it is different from southern conservatism or from liberalism. I think there was a Whiggish tradition in the GOP, and I think moderates came from this tradition. But I think something started to change maybe at mid-century where moderates came to accept the modern welfare state and accept their role of tinkering at the edges instead of thinking new thoughts or new ideas. That weakened their resolve and their power in the GOP and allowed for the Goldwater and Southern Conservatives (who did know what they believed and were willing to express it) the room to manuever and take the lead in the GOP from the 70s onward.

      As I stated in the comments below, any revival of moderate Republicanism has to be as much about principle as it is about pragmatism. It has to offer, to use a term I’ve grown weary of, a third way between the dominant GOP ideology and liberalism. It needs to re-familiarize itself with its Whiggish roots and interpret them for a new day.

      Just a note on calling myself a “chastened moderate Republican.” Over the years, I’ve associated myself with fellow moderates who over time seem to leave the party and then either become “independents” or full-fledged Democrats. After seeing that over and over, I started to wonder if there was something to the derision that moderates get from conservatives and I’ve come to the conclusion that they are partly correct. That doesn’t mean I always agree with the conservatives in the party when it comes to governing, but they do make a point that we moderates are a bit squishy and in our current state won’t really do much better in the leading the party than they have.

      • Dennis, very much like beachcomb it. I was going to respond to your previous comment. Add but I think you get pretty close to what I was going to say when you said this: “any revival of moderate Republicanism has to be as much about principle as it is about pragmatism.” If this is what you mean by “chastened moderate Republicanism,” then I just may sign up. Indianbow, I think what we’re really just getting at is a definition of conservative statesmanship.

        • …very much like “this comment,” it should have said. And “Although,” not “Indianbow. The voice recognition on my phone works well, but apparently not that well. Where it comes up with some of these words is beyond me. (My autocorrect frequently mistakes “people” and “peurile.” Reading this stuff becomes a real-world game of MadLibs.)

      • Just because the democrats have been recently successful at winning over the Moderate Republicans, doesn’t mean that they aren’t their own faction.

      • The Javits book appears to be out of print. Is it worth tracking down? And to everyone: Do you have any other book recommendations on the subject?

  2. The real “success” of movement conservatism has been to completely divorce spending from revenue on the federal level by insisting on tax cuts under any circumstances. The Bush tax cuts were a perfect example: their first justification was to avoid running a surplus. Then, as the depth of the early 2000’s slowdown became apparent, it was to avoid a recession, and then to stimulate the economy out of recession. It became very clear that the goal was cutting taxes, period. The two Bush wars were never accompanied by any plan to pay for them. They weren’t even budgeted, always being funded by special resolutions, with little or no attempt even to keep them from being loaded with unrelated high-ticket items. After 30 years, can we finally concluded that “starve the beast” (never part of the original plan, but a rationalization of Reagan’s inability to get spending under control) is a complete failure? (By the way, it should be clear that the debt limit brinksmanship is yet another variant of starve the beast, yet again indicating an unwillingness to do the hard work of creating a sensible plan to control spending.)

    • Starve the beast was a failure, yes. Bruce Bartlett made this case in his book, The New American Economy. (I had some comments on that book here: Today’s conservative “extremists” blame the GOP moderation of the past and would like to take another crack at it. That proposal would deserve a decision on the merits, it seems to me — it would not be fair to dismiss it on the basis that it didn’t work before when Republicans with an indisputably different approach (we are all calling the new class “extremists,” after all) tried it.

      • Indeed. Can we take the words of a stalwart Republican as the starting point? “Economic terrorists” might be a bit inflammatory, but it’s also accurate.

        • Peter G. Peterson made the case for economic warfare, and of Ike using it against the Brits to prevent outbreak of hostilities with Egypt.

          • It’s a bit different to use it against your own country. That’s not Ike, that’s Jay Gould.

  3. I don’t think you’ll get any argument from liberals that conservatives can gut state budgets quite easily by acting sensible and moderate about it, since the business community and corporate-owned newspapers will back said conservative/neoliberal ideals to the hilt. 🙂

    But to Daniel’s specifically, he won reelection because he was an incumbent, he wasn’t blamed for the downturn in the economy, Indiana’s a conservative leaning state, he’s a good state-level politician and the Democrat’s didn’t run a good candidate.

    Four years later, despite a weaker Democratic Party statewide, Republican Mike Pence won office with less than 50% of the vote. Why? Because Daniels did things in his second term that were more ‘visibly’ conservative (right-to-work/conservative education reform as opposed to privatizing various things that only political dorks like us realize), Pence isn’t a good politician as Daniels, and the Democrat’s nominated a better candidate.

    • Pence is an outright dunce.
      I remember this interview very well.
      It was when I became convinced that Mike Pence was too stupid to breathe, and should never be entrusted with any measure of responsibility greater than where to wipe his own boogers.

  4. “But it’s quite possible that the extremists have a point, and if so, ignoring them is not the solution.”

    This misunderstands the problem, I think. The problem with extremists isn’t that they are never correct; indeed they often are. The problem is that they are not *always* correct, but regardless of the evidence at hand cannot and/or will not concede when their reasoning is proven flawed.

    Being willing to look at the evidence at hand and judging accordingly is not, no matter how many times people on the far right or left claim, tantamount to “just splitting the difference.”

    • Fair enough, Tod. But this problem still remains: When moderation and “looking at the evidence” is held to be the very standard of sensible governance, how is it ever possible for centrists to know they’re the ones who are incorrect other than by losing political contests?

      This is why I’m leery of signing on to the evidence-centric approach in broad terms. On some issues, it works fine. But evidence isn’t the issue when it comes to values and principles — like self-government, representative democracy, the rule of law, due process, separation of powers, enumerated powers and limited government, checks and balances, federalism, accountability and non-delegation, bicameralism and presentment, the judicial protection of individual rights, equal protection of the law, and institutional ethics such as preventing conflicts of interest. Sure, extremists might tend to make every fight primarily one about values and principles. But I think it’s fair to say that centrists might tend just the opposite direction — to turn every issue into a cost-benefit analysis.

      • “Sure, extremists might tend to make every fight primarily one about values and principles”
        I think this is the problem right here. It seems to like every issue the right pushes is about values and principles. V and P’s are great, or so i’ve heard, but it leads every discussion down away from any evidence and always into philosophy.

      • My problem with this approach is that is very reminiscent of my conversations with libertarians who retroactively verbally back-step into any situation where the government has worked or the market has not with a “well, except that of course” while trying to convince me of the flawless nature of their philosophy.

        I mean, yeah, if you define right wing extremism as anything that sounds good and pure, then it sure is better than moderation or alternate points of view. But I think it’s a very skewed and intellectually dishonest placeholder. I’m tempted to make a post on all of the things that “principled” conservatives argued for in my lifetime (and now seem to have forgotten they were ever for), using this exact same staring point that you’re using here.

        • What I’m saying, Tod, is that it is true that not every question is properly framed in terms of values/principles — you’re right, the “extremists” are not always correct. I’m just asking that we wear the same lenses when we look at so-called moderates, who might tend to look at no question (or, perhaps, a very different slate of questions) as values/principles and instead reduce them to contingent propositions, to a cost-benefit analysis.

          Moreover, asserting values and principles is not (or should not be) used as a discussion-ender. Their proper purpose is to establish presumptions and priorities. The “evidence-based,” cost-benefit approaches that are supposed to stand athwart values and principles, but there’s always a set of values and principles driving the evidence-based argument, even it is proponent isn’t willing to make a full-throated defense of them. As James Ceaser put it, “Pragmatism is the magic word to describe what liberals want, but do not want to argue for.”

          • I realize I said “moderates” when I probably meant “centrists,” and then went on to talk about “liberals.” I think the point still comes across, despite the butchered terminology.

      • A few things here:
        1. While I can accept some of these things as being principles in and of themselves, I think many of these are more properly characterized as necessary tools for the achievement and protection of values and principles rather than as values and principles unto themselves.

        2. That aside, while these are all extremely important and valuable tools and/or principles, I think you underestimate the extent to which they are valued no less by liberals and our “moderates.” I know no shortage of liberals and “moderates” who made precisely these objections against various conservative-supported actions over the last 40 years, with the response from conservatives being pretty much the same as liberals now respond to conservative claims about alleged liberal breaches of these items.

        3. To the extent we can even properly consider most/all of these to be actual principles, I think you underestimate the extent to which they readily come in conflict with each other. For instance, let’s take a look at various New Deal Era cases that conservatives (rightly, IMHO) believe were wrongly decided and that surely violate several of the items on your list. Well, that was 80 years ago now, and an entire government and economy has been built in reliance on the continued validity of those cases. At this point, it is difficult to conceive how these cases could be overturned without causing massive damage to the rule of law principle. So, how do we resolve this conflict in values? The reactionary “extremist” will seek to revoke this jurisprudence to the fullest extent possible as part of his pursuit of the lost Golden Age, while the “moderate” will accept it as having become essential to application of the Rule of Law, but may seek to prevent or limit attempts to further expand this jurisprudence. And finally, the liberal will seek to further expand it in pursuit of the liberal’s prioritization of equal protection and due process.

        • Mark,

          On #2, I think it very much depends on what flavor of liberals we’re talking about. If it’s “progressives,” I’d strongly disagree. Moving rightward along the spectrum, I disagree less.

          On #3, we can still abide by these values, but it takes judgment and proper ordering. Do we turn the whole thing upside down to reverse the New Deal? (And get back to what, exactly? There never was a Golden Age, of course. We began miring ourselves in political capitalism beginning with the first great centralist economic progressive, Teddy Roosevelt.) Among our values are order, predictability. We cannot allow our “extremism” to destroy some sacred values and principles in the pursuit of others. But how do we decide which values need to compromise, to what extent, for how long? This is the task for statesmen. And that’s probably a different discussion entirely.

          • On 2, we’ll have to agree to disagree since I expect you will have a vastly different opinion of John Yoo than liberals and certain factions of “moderates.”. But to the extent liberal volume on their objections when conservatives seem to break procedural principles is lower, that is in no small part because they are a drastically smaller group than conservatives. I will, however, stipulate that the unprincipled centrist never met a procedural violation they couldn’t just ignore.

            On 3, my point is that how you resolve those conflicts -which really are more frequent than the extremist cares to admit, even as the extremist resolves them nonetheless- will differ significantly depending on your own individual values- a northern “moderate” will resolve them much differently from a Southern Tea Partier. I make no claims as to which will resolve that conflict in the better fashion – nor would such a claim be possible since there isn’t a “right” answer- just that they will resolve them differently because of their different priorities.

  5. If I may bring this back to one of Voegeli’s objections to the moderate Republicanism treated in Kabaservice’s book:

    “We finish Rule and Ruin knowing a great deal about moderate Republicans, yet are left with no sure sense of the qualities that differentiate moderation from conservatism and liberalism.”

    I’m enjoying this conversation very much, but I still don’t think we’ve made the leap from biography to philosophy. We’re still talking about what a moderate Republican is like, or how he thinks, and not what he believes. One cannot deny the merits of being willing to consider evidence, questioning one’s own philosophy, or being empathetic. But they don’t tell us what moderates are about. They only tell us that, whatever it is, they’d be willing to reconsider. What did that get us? The go-along spirit of moderate Republicans gave us Nixon, for one, whose moderation resulted in a lost opportunity for conservatism, according to Douthat and Salam in Grand New Party:

    Rather than build a new partisan majority on policy substance, Nixon built a personal majority on deep-seated working-class resentments. This made him the object of liberal hatred, in spite of his relatively liberal record, and conservative distrust, in spite of his conservative rhetoric. And it cost the Republican Party a chance to consolidate the majority that Phillips outlined and establish itself as the heir to the Roosevelt coalition. The GOP eventually outflanked the Democrats on a variety of other issues—taxes and welfare and crime, moral values at home and Cold War idealism abroad. But the problem of working-class insecurity, which Nixon identified and failed to address, lingers to the present day, persistently undercutting the GOP’s attempts to consolidate the majority that he won for it.

    Fast forwarding to the previous Congress, I’ll stipulate that moderate Republicans thought well of the Office of Congressional Ethics and the de-larding in 2011. But before the “extremists” got the run of the place in the 2010 elections, no one thought moderates, even with all their empathy, philosophical reflection, and careful examination of the evidence, intended to do anything about it.

    Here’s the same question posed by Voegeli:

    As for moderates’ substantive commitments, Kabaservice writes that they include standing up for “good government,” especially “fiscal responsibility” and “effectiveness and efficiency.” Moderates believe in “disinterested consideration of the issues,” working “with Democrats to solve problems,” and maintaining “a level of balance and civility in politics.” Finally, “because they were not beholden to the Democrats’ coalition of special-interest constituencies, [moderates] could take a broader and longer-term viewpoint and uphold values such as civil liberties and meritocracy.”
    It’s impossible to argue with any of those ideals. No movement or journal exists to promote irresponsible and inefficient government, of course, or biased and boorish politics. But that’s the problem. If the moderate agenda contains no item that any decent and reasonable person could oppose, then it also contains no principle that any American could fight for as though the fate of the republic depended on the outcome. Rule and Ruin never assails moderate Republicans, but unintentionally makes clear that their slight, bromidic raison d’être is not one to which the author failed to do justice, but one his subjects failed to think through rigorously. There was never enough there there for moderate Republicanism’s demise to be a regrettable loss or an important story, as opposed to a merely (albeit thoroughly) interesting one.

    That’s where, it seems to me, “extreme” conservatism filled a void: The philosophy advanced by both Democrats and moderate Republicans was leading to some dark places, and missing was anyone to activate that moderate spirit to bring them to examine it. But by then, it was too late: moderate Republicanism had become about empathy toward establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans — the known -isms — not “extremists.” The universe of legitimate policy has already been mapped out, the difference between moderate Republicans and Democrats too subtle to notice, and that between moderates and centrists subtler still. Not to belittle subtlety and nuance. But you don’t form a movement or philosophy around those things. No one takes a stand for subtlety. People don’t line up to vote for nuance. A legitimate opposition to extremism cannot be based on lack of subtlety and nuance; it is based on its disservice – because of its lack of subtlety and nuance – to principles the objector holds dear. But rather than make a defense of those principles and thus establish the need for subtlety and nuance in the first event, the moderate simply asserts subtlety and nuance as principles in themselves. This, to me, is the fundamental criticism of moderation, of pragmatism as a (misguided) governing philosophy. It is the magic word to describe what liberals want –moderates too, it seems – but do not want to argue for.

    • So I’ve written and rewritten a response to this about ten different times, and I keep not liking it. The reason is that, as I allude to elsewhere, I basically reject the notion that most (not all) political “principles” are much more than attempts to provide moral justification for what are ultimately just positions taken to advance cultural and self-interests. To the extent they are in fact sincerely held, they are compromised no less frequently by “extremists” as by “moderates.” Indeed, it is my firm belief that “extremists” compromise their stated principles more often than moderates, if only because they turn every issue into a matter of a different purported principle even while failing to recognize how their positions on other issues breach those purported principles.

      This isn’t to say that political principles are irrelevant and don’t exist – they do, and they are indeed very important. But have too many of them, and you soon have none; no less bad, you will have accomplished nothing other than pissing off people who may fundamentally agree with you on a given issue. Well, that, and winning an appearance on the Daily Show for mockery as a massive hypocrite:,0,1484021.story

      Have but a handful that you are able to keep in mind on every issue, and care passionately about, and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find common ground to enact those principles with someone who has a different but not irreconcilable set of principles. “The deficit must be minimized” may be an achievable goal to hold. “The deficit must be minimized, taxes must be cut, defense spending must be protected, Medicare must be protected, and Constitutional procedures maintained”? Not so much. I have a lot more I’d like to add here, but I’m running out of time. But before I finish, let me at least address this specific point:

      But by then, it was too late: moderate Republicanism had become about empathy toward establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans — the known -isms — not “extremists.” The universe of legitimate policy has already been mapped out, the difference between moderate Republicans and Democrats too subtle to notice, and that between moderates and centrists subtler still. Not to belittle subtlety and nuance. But you don’t form a movement or philosophy around those things. No one takes a stand for subtlety. People don’t line up to vote for nuance. A legitimate opposition to extremism cannot be based on lack of subtlety and nuance; it is based on its disservice – because of its lack of subtlety and nuance – to principles the objector holds dear.

      I do not claim that people vote for subtlety and nuance. Instead, my claim would be that people don’t vote for political principles, either – they vote for applications of those political principles. You vote for “principled” candidates not because they are principled, but because you believe application of those principles will create right and just results (which, most frequently, winds up being roughly synonymous with “results that benefit your persoonal and cultural interests”). “Empathy” is necessary to determine whether the results will in fact be right and just.

      The “principles” of the Northern Republican are not “subtlety and nuance,” though those may or may not necessarily be a side effect of their principles (I think not, actually, but that is another subject entirely). Instead, their principles are (very) roughly “stability, order, and predictability above all else.” They lose when their results are not right and just by the yardstick of their constituents.

      • Re principles and values, it’s a defensible position. The word is thrown around too much in my opinion, but it truly is an epistemological problem: we cannot possibly know the motives of anyone other than ourselves. As to others, it’s mostly conjecture and subject to disagreement. But I do think it is important to generally assume good faith on the part of others, because, if we can’t assume that, things are pretty much lost anyway. If we’re not going to assume the preconditions upon which the good is at least possible, then we’ve rendered the whole project a failure almost by definition. At any rate, if they don’t take the logical conclusions of their stated principles seriously (I agree they often don’t, whether they ever intended to or not), they ought to be held to account. This is why I’ve never understood why the slippery slope is so unjustly maligned – it neuters the self-corrective mechanism of having principles and leaves us no way to test whether a person is serious about his stated principles until he tramples them at some time in the future. People distrust principled arguments if there’s no way to interrogate them to see if they’re serious, and slippery slope arguments are a good way to do that. Eliminating that tool debases the value of principles.

        Regarding the Jon Stewart link, yes, Sandy is a big problem. Obviously, I have sympathy for certain elements of “extremism.” But I certainly don’t think it makes a good governing principle. Mostly, I think it, like most populism at its most productive, is a useful correctional tool. So here, we find Congress arguably including pork in the relief bill. (I understand the claim is disputed, but come on, no one is actively ginning up bad faith excuses to screw Sandy victims – they may be tone-deaf ideologues, but they’re not monsters. If it’s not pork (EPA water funding has an arguable nexus), it’s an honest mistake (e.g., I don’t see the nexus between Sandy and Alaska fisheries).) One would like to have seen more of our responsible Congress members tackle the pork problem in less urgent circumstances, but instead, they seem to roll right along with it. If anyone is going to do anything about it, it’s going to be “extremists.” But extremists, tend to be tone deaf and ham-handed. So there you have it: a problem begging for populists to jump on, and, at the worst time possible, they did.

        As I have no further insight on Northern Republicans and their priorities, I’ll leave it at that and look forward to your piece!

        • I think we’re maybe not actually that far apart, or at least not if I could ever get all of my thoughts on this arranged in a coherent and easily digestible fashion. This has been a really helpful exchange towards that end, though.

          Though a tangent here, one thing that I just want to say quickly about the Sandy package is that there are three or four items typically cited as “pork” in there – you mentioned two of them; the big one is the $22 billion block grants for “community development.” The others amount to far less than a billion of the 60 billion. But the so-called “community development” grants aren’t pork at all- they’re arguably the most important part of the package, as they’re for unmet housing repair and infrastructure repair costs:

          Mulshine- who is neither a liberal nor a moderate, expalains in his follow up column how the 22 billion claim got spread by Fox News.

  6. The GOP has always wrestled with two incompatible factions within its own ranks: xenophobic populists and free-trade elitists. Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with either philosophy, these adjectives serve only as the arrow points on separate vectors, but they’ve never worked well together. They are ancient divisions, going back to the rise of the party from the wreckage of the Whig Party.

    When these two factions get along, we call them Moderates. The best spokesman the GOP ever had was William F. Buckley, whose charm bamboozled both sides, squared the circle with his clever rhetoric. The rubes were left in gap-toothed astonishment, the rest of us merely grinned in awe. He really was a fine orator. But with WFB’s passing, the GOP re-divided and has never really found any common ground since. The sum of vectors is almost nil: the populists move on a whim and the elitists don’t move at all. Seen from the outside, the wrinkly trunk of the populists wriggles around and loudly trumpets about Mexicans, all the while the elitists are hell bent on sending the populists’ jobs to China and India.

    The populist faction, cases in point, Michelle Bachman and the Tea Partiers, can be safely ignored for the most part. They’re a symptom, not a cause. But the elitist faction — maybe I shouldn’t call them elitist, by this I only mean the Chosen Ones — people such as Lindsey Graham and John Boehner, the elitists just can’t get any traction. The populists in the GOP ranks just won’t play ball. They don’t understand the rules, the necessity of compromise whereby we shall all be fed with half a loaf.

    There is some validity for a defence of “extremism”. Nobody from any party should run for office as a Moderate: such a stance only doubles your number of enemies as you stand in the No-Man’s-Land of politics. But what does the GOP represent any more? And more painfully, to whom are they loyal? The nation has changed and the GOP still flails about, rudderless and leaderless. Without a solid goal, deprived of a vision, lacking orators and thinkers, they are left with the tactics of umbrage, ever the cheap whiskey of rhetoric, culminating in the wretched flip-flopping of Romney. The GOP have systematically alienated those they most need to win election: black people, women, Hispanics and more damaging than any other constituency, young people.

    Old Barry Goldwater once said extremism in defence of liberty is no vice. If only the GOP had a definition of freedom which appealed to more than gouty old White People, they might have an issue worth defending. They do not. The GOP has been led about by the nose by petty and short-sighted people who neither understand the art of politics or the wisdom of compromise in pursuit of greater goals. They lack such vision because they do not have greater goals to pursue.

  7. Speaking as a chastened moderate Republican, I think you made some great points in this post. I think that moderates can have a place in the modern GOP, but I think too often it has been more about moderating the excesses of the welfare state that rose from the New Deal than it was representing a kind of Whig/Hamiltonian conservatism. I think what became the moderate Republican did start out in that tradition, but somehow it devolved into a kind of split the difference that in the end makes them look like they have no principles at all.

    Like Kabaservice, I worry about the “extremists” who place principle above pragmatism, but making pragmatism the central value will not lead to a winning political party.

    If there is to be some kind of “moderate” revival let it not be some kind of revivification of the “Rockefeller Republican.” What we need is a revival of the Hamiltonian conservatism that David Brooks has described in the past.

    • Ideally speaking, Moderate Republicanism draws as much from Hoover, from Eisenhower, from Lincoln, as from anything else.
      Old School Republicans were from the Midwest and the Northeast. Truthtellers and skeptics both, and good with the numbers too.

    • I think I agree with this comment, and your comment higher up in the thread, more than you might expect. I think a lot of what you reference as being “moderate” Republicans from the 1970s would more appropriately be considered “liberal” Republicans, and that far too often, the “moderate” wing of the party has ventured into split-the-difference-ism. As I acknowledge upthread, I think there was a time and a role for conservative “extremism.” I just think that time has passed.

      By that same token, then, I think a lot of those considered to be “moderate” today would have been considered “conservative” by most standards just a decade and a half ago – in this respect, it is not overly surprising that Mitch Daniels would both have an agenda with a basis in conservative think-tank wonkery and be considered a “moderate.” Indeed, I’m hardly the first to point out that Ronald Reagan himself would be viewed as a RINO and/or a “moderate” in the modern GOP. What has happened is that the old moderates – the “liberal Republicans” – have mostly ceased to be Republicans at all.

      The problem for me, then, is not so much “moderation” vs. “extremism,” as it is “conservatism” vs. “reactionarianism,” an insistence on enacting an affirmative policy agenda within the existing system that, successful or not, acknowledges and is intended to solve real problems faced by real people , versus a near-complete rejection of the existing system and a general apathy towards how that system might be used to address real world problems (and, for that matter, a general apathy towards the existence of real world problems ).

      • The most plausible explanation to me is that the number of people upset over the usual suspects — over-regulation, over-taxation, growing deficits and debts, picking winners and losers, etc. — finally hit a critical mass. And those people tend to be in GOP constituencies, meaning GOP leaders have had to scramble to change their messaging and their leadership priorities. Can they preserve the “system” — which stands for a lot of the things that set their constituencies into a rage in the first place — and still get re-elected? I have a lot of sympathy for GOP leaders.

        So whose fault is all this? Are these constituencies just raving lunatics? That’s the ready answer from the left, but I obviously think it’s very unfair. (And to be consistent, I don’t think sympathizers of Occupy are raving lunatics — there is meaningful overlap there with the Tea Party.) These are legitimate grievances, and leadership has been on notice of that brewing discontent for a long time. But they’ve done largely nothing about it in the interest of being moderate, preserving the “existing system.” But that turned out to be kind of like preserving a gangrenous limb: A critical organ got infected, and now we’ve got a real crisis of leadership because you’ve got still a large group who wants to keep the “existing system,” but a critical mass who sincerely and aggressively believes the “existing system’s” days are numbered and big changes are needed now. In fact, both groups want to preserve the existing system, it’s just that the latter group believes we have to cut off the limb or else lose the body, while the former wants to keep the limb, believing the body can still repel the infection on its own.

        Are there those who want a “near-complete rejection of the existing system,” rather than just “cut off the limb,” as I’ve suggested? Sure. But I think those people are only given voice because, within the critical mass of populism, they represent a much larger share than they did within much larger quiescent GOP constituency. When populism reaches a critical mass, it’s often captured by the loudmouths, even though at its root there are often genuine concerns. If leadership on both sides had paid a bit more attention to values of limited government and fiscal responsibility, the extremist/reactionary movement wouldn’t have sparked.

        That’s not to say I disagree with you. It just occurred to me that there may be a fallacy in comparing different generations or iterations of a political party. It’s not that people changed their minds, it’s that circumstances changed and made formerly abstract grievances into more concrete and urgent ones.

        • I have more than a little sympathy for this line of argument, actually- if you take a look at some of my posts on the Tea Party circa 2009 and early 2010, I think you’ll find me making fairly similar points, even while criticizing it for lack of coherency. I should also mention at this point that I basically blame the GOP’s then-prominent moderates and think tanks, in addition to GWB, for creating this state of affairs (also the subject of one of my better posts from 2009).

          That said, I am HIGHLY suspicious of the motives underlying many Tea Partiers’ critique of the system, especially to the extent the, uhh, neo-Confederate contingent plays a prominent role. I also think that they ignore the development of a new crop of moderates (or, as I am calling them, conservatives) who have basically taken the core Tea Party critique to heart even s they reject it’s reactionarianism. More later, hopefully- the Four Year Old wishes to play Checkers.

          • The big point for now, of course, though, is that this form of conservatism really does have a significant constituency, and is in fact distinguishable from the reactionary, talk radio form of conservatism.

      • I think you hit as some good points here, Mark. The term “moderate” always seems to be shifting. Today’s moderate might well be someone like a Mitch Daniels. I don’t know if Reagan would be considered a RINO in today’s GOP. I’m always a bit wary of how both liberals and conservatives deal with Reagan. Since it’s been over 30 years since Reagan became President, I think we are far enough down the road where the man and the myth are kind of merging. It may well be that Reagan would be on the outs with the modern GOP, or he could be directing the party to his views or something else entirely.

        That said, I think the reactionaries you are talking about are somewhat stuck in Reagan’s time. He was dealing with a nation that was slowly moving from a highly regulated economy and was just a few years from a Republican president that ordered wage and price controls as well as a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent.

        Partially because of Reagan (though degregulation of various industries started under Carter) we have lower taxes and for better or worse, a less regulated economy. Conservatives basically shot their load, but they still believe that they are still going up against the Dems circa 1981.

        What Reagan was able to do is move the GOP somewhat forward, basically telling them that the days of being the “accountants for the welfare state” was over and a new day was dawning. He could articulate what that new day was and he was able to draw people to join his campaign. But we are now a generation or two beyond that. The Reagan Revolution is over, but there is no one that saying what is the new day dawning. So you get folks like some in the Tea Party who act like they are from another era.

        There is a need for a new conservative “extremism” but the problem is no one knows what that is and no one is really giving it much thought. The conservative infrastructure that brought Reagan to the White House is also stuck in another time and very few are giving much thought to what comes next.

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