Reform Conservatism vs. Wall Street Journal-ism

by Ramesh Ponnuru

It had to happen eventually: the publicity surrounding Room to Grow could not stay totally helpful forever, couldn’t consist entirely of conservative praise, easily refuted liberal criticism, and mild criticisms batted back and forth. Someone had to step forward to make the case that anyone who produces a new conservative idea is a big-government squish who is betraying the memory of Ronald Reagan, even if it took a lot of distortion. Kimberley Strassel has now stepped up to the plate, writing in the Wall Street Journal (sub. req’d.) that Eric Cantor’s loss didn’t have much to do with immigration and was instead because he was trying too hard to help the middle class.

It’s certainly a counterintuitive take! I have a response up at Bloomberg:

Brat’s victory suggests that a lot of Republicans dislike a party elite they see as too tied to big business and too little concerned about Main Street. The public at large also dislikes these traits in Republicans. The conjunction of these facts suggests a political opportunity for the party in demonstrating that conservatism can directly benefit most Americans, not just those in boardrooms.

“Room to Grow” presents many ideas on how to do that. A prerequisite, though, is not taking direction from Wall Street — or, in this case, the Wall Street Journal.

More at the link. Pete Wehner and James Pethokoukis have responses, too; Wehner’s is especially good at exposing how Strassel misrepresents Room to Grow.

I will meet Strassel halfway on one point, though. She sneers that people like me have “humbly” put ourselves forward as “reform conservatives.” That’s not quite true: It’s more a case of our accepting a label put on us.

But I’ll cop to having never really liked it myself. Presumably conservatives with very different ideas than Reihan Salam or I also want “reforms.” And the phrase makes it sound as though we are primarily interested in reforming conservatism, when what we’re really after is a reform of a government that is simultaneously bloated, intrusive, and ineffective. The label also risks conveying the impression that we are a faction competing with other groups, such as libertarian conservatives or tea partiers, which is not at all how I view us.

But since people find labels helpful, and it’s true that we think that “reform” is a theme that conservatives ought to make more of, I don’t see a lot of point in fighting it. “Reformicons” is even worse, making us sound as though we were extra characters cut from the script of The Transformers.

Whatever we’re called, I don’t think that the approach Strassel takes — let’s keep talking about cutting the corporate tax rate, but louder! — is one that holds great promise for bringing about the kind of conservative renewal the country needs.