Joel Kotkin on the GOP Future

by Reihan Salam

Joel Kotkin gets a lot things right in his new column on where Republicans go wrong, e.g., 

(1) he emphasizes the central importance of appealing to aspirational voters in middle-income suburbs;

(2) and he argues that rather than attack President Obama and his allies as socialists, Republicans should identify the current Democratic party as a defender of powerful economic incumbents with interests that clash against those of middle-income workers and consumers.

But he also suggests that the GOP

(3) jettison its allies in the financial sector, which is a more complicated proposition — while I certainly think that Republicans should embrace pro-market financial reform, like the proposals advanced by Hart and Zingales and Garett Jones, I don’t think the party should turn against the financial sector as such. Hedge funds, for example, have the distinction of being small enough to fail, which is a nontrivial virtue. I’m very much in the camp that conservatives ought to call for a financial system overhaul that will create new space for entrepreneurs, etc. Clayton Christensen’s critique of the “Doctrine of the New Finance” is a good place to start. But there is a middle ground between claiming that all is well or was well before Dodd-Frank and waging a cultural war on finance capital 

(4) And his domestic policy agenda raises questions:

To reclaim its Lincolnesque transformation, the GOP needs to fundamentally pivot on the role of government. Laissez-faire ideology has its merits, but cannot compete successfully with a population weaned on the welfare state, whose members are keenly attuned to their vulnerability in our volatile era.

By admitting that government is sometimes a necessary partner in nurturing and sometimes financing infrastructure critical for economic expansion, Republicans can offer their own vision of what growth-inducing services such as new roads—as opposed to the increased regulation and transfer payments and pension bloat peddled by Democrats—government can and should provide. This could appeal to Hispanics, Asians, and younger people who would be the prime beneficiaries of tangible investments. 

This is so broad that an agenda that would, for example, reduce federal infrastructure spending while creating new opportunities for private investment and road pricing would fit under its rubric. Yet this approach is broadly in tune with laissez-faire ideology. Another way of putting this might be that Republicans need to be shrewder about their rhetoric — i.e., avoid apocalyptic talk of battles between tyranny and freedom — while expanding the role of private initiative in achieving public purposes.

The Agenda

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