‘Reform, Restore, Modernize’

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Time has gotten its hands on a manifesto put together by a group of conservatives on Thursday. The manifesto is being presented as another shot in the tea party vs. establishment wars, this time fired by the former. Representatives of the latter camp have responded according to script, by complaining about the manifesto’s supposed obsession with unwinnable social issues. I got a rather different impression from reading it. A few points:

1) It is not a crusading social-issues document. All it says on marriage is that “married moms and dads are best at raising kids,” the rights of opponents of same-sex marriage should be protected, and states should be allowed to maintain the traditional definition of marriage. There’s no call, even, for the Federal Marriage Amendment that George W. Bush advocated. The document takes up an incrementalist strategy on abortion, urging the adoption of laws with solid public support — a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and on taxpayer funding.

2) Unless I missed something, and contrary to the impression I had from some of the coverage, all the document says about immigration is that the border should be secured. Perhaps it refrained from saying more because the conservatives involved in its writing were divided on the issue.

3) The manifesto advocates the reform, not just the elimination, of government programs. “It’s time to fix dysfunctional government programs,” it says, mentioning “failed job training and education programs.”

4) A lot of what the manifesto calls “specifics” are in fact pretty vague. The health-care section does not rise much above the level of conservative platitude. (“Replace Obamacare to fix heath care problems without raising costs or shrinking the workforce.”)

5) It is, perhaps surprisingly, weak on spending. Its section on it calls for zeroing out the Export-Import Bank — hear, hear — but a document search for “Medicare” or “Social Security” turned up nothing. Manifestos can’t mention everything, of course, but that seems like a pretty big omission (as does that of judges and courts).

I agreed with most of the manifesto, and I think the same would be true of most conservatives and Republicans, whether or not they see themselves as at war with the party establishment. In that sense it seems like a unifying document. Republicans do need to start filling in some of the blanks, though.


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