The Corner

Re: Careful What You Wish For

From a reader:

Hi Jonah,

As a progressive democrat, I have to say that the picture you paint

doesn’t really seem to be all that threatening to me. You are right that

if Pat Buchanan and Mike Huckabee are the GOP’s standard bearers the

Republican party’s politics will become much worse. It will also appeal to

a much smaller slice of the electorate than its previous incarnation.

Bluntly, I think Buchanan and Huckabee are unelectable. If that’s the

direction they go – much farther to the right on social issues a la

Huckabee and adopting an increasingly nativist tone a la Buchanan – then

the GOP will be in the wilderness for a while yet.

I will also say that your characterization of the people like Meyerson –

and even Kos (he doesn’t care about the state of the conservative movement

or its ideas, he only cares about the state of the conservative party) –

as programatically and rabidly anti-capitalist is a distortion. Meyerson’s

argument is not that the financial crisis spells the end of capitalism per

se. Rather, it marks a shift away from purely and programatically

free-market capitalism to a more regulated capitalism. We can argue about

whether deregulation and an over-reliance on market forces to regulate

itself was the cause of the crisis until we’re blue in the face – I doubt

we’ll convince each other one way or another – but the large shift to

Obama tends to suggest that the electorate holds that ideology responsible

(polling backs this up as well). Ultimately, characterizing the split

between progressives like myself and the NRO as a dichotomous contrast

between capitalism and socialism is, frankly, beneath you. It’s a

dishonest and purely rhetorical over-reach.

Me: I appreciate the civil, if scolding, tone. But I don’t buy any of this.

First, I didn’t use the word socialist. I think Meyerson is basically a social democrat and unwitting corporatist. I think Kos cares about winning. Meyerson is the one prone to making strawman arguments about conservatives and the free market. Conservatives don’t believe in “unregulated capitalism” — certainly not in the way Meyerson frames it.  Indeed, most serious libertarians don’t either. Who was the last conservative Republican official to call for abolishing the SEC or the FDIC or anything like that? If they exist, I don’t know who they are. I’m sure, I’ll get email about this, but I don’t think even Friedrich Hayek (praised be his name) believed in “unregulated capitalism.” Free markets require the rule of law, transparency, legally binding contracts, etc.

But we can debate economic philosophy another time.

Where I think the reader’s complaint really falls apart is in his political analysis. Assuming that Myerson’s dream of banning the “unregulated capitalists” from the table (maybe Cato’s HQ could become ACORN new DC office!), the  GOP would become a mixture of Jim Webb, Pat Buchanan and Mike Huckabee style populists. This  would surely peel off huge numbers of white working class voters. Without those voters,  the Democratic Party would find it very difficult not to become even more of a McGovernite party of Jesse Jackson-style minority or “Rainbow” populists,  ardent feminists, government unions and Hollywood cultural liberalism. I doubt the Democrats would fluorish under those conditions. I also doubt the country would fluorish in the inevitable race to the bottom we would soon see as both parties fought over who the government should “help” next.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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