Brief Thought on Tom Friedman’s Imaginary GOP

by Reihan Salam

Recently, Tom Friedman published a column in which he expressed the wish that the Republican position on taxes were that of Sen. Tom Coburn, its immigration stance were that of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch, its climate policy position were that of former Rep. Bob Inglis, and its education policy were that of former Gov. Jeb Bush. I happen to have a great deal of sympathy for the positions taken by Coburn and Bush, but of course I think that Bush’s views on education policy are very much in the GOP mainstream and I think that Coburn’s views on spending discipline help justify his stance on taxes. Inglis and Bloomberg and Murdoch also have their virtues, but national carbon pricing and amnesty both strike me as pretty unwise. 

It occurred to me that one could write an alternate-universe column in which one expressed the wish that Democrats embraced Jerry Brown’s call for a flat income tax and a VAT from his 1992 presidential campaign, that it would rally around the restrictionist stance of former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, that it would stand with the 26 Senate Democrats who voted against cloture on cap-and-trade legislation, that its education policy were set by Michelle Rhee, and, to add a couple of other issues to the mix, that Sen. Bob Casey set the party’s tone on abortion and Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo managed to persuade the party to reform defined benefit pensions for public employees. Though I tend to disagree with Lamm on immigration, the Democratic party that would emerge from this transformation would be far more to my liking. The trouble, of course, is that tens of millions of American voters would suddenly find themselves without a vehicle for their egalitarian and environmentalist and socially liberal political ideals.  

Given that Tom Friedman’s GOP would be abandoning relatively popular positions on immigration and climate policy, and Reihan Salam’s Democratic party would be abandoning relatively popular positions on progressive taxation and the terms public sector employment, one assumes that new political movements would arise that reflected the interests of various orphaned constituencies. Which is to say the “radicals” that Friedman wants to drive out of American politics (like me, apparently) would eventually find their way back in.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.