Postmodern Conservative

Self-Flattery is Killing Conservative Optimism

Rich Lowry wonders how the optimism of the Reagan Era has been replaced with the nihilistic rage of the Trump movement.  Part of my answer is that the optimism of the 1980s has degenerated into a politics of self-flattery for an elite segment of the population.

Take Paul Ryan.  He is one of the few politicians that I like and admire.  He has made solid efforts to reform health care and entitlement.  When people think of modern conservative optimism, Paul Ryan fits the bill as well as anybody.

And yet Ryan pairs this reformism with a politics of tax cuts for high-earners, and expanded low-skill immigration.  He doesn’t recognize that a politics that combines tax cuts for the rich with entitlement benefit cuts, and expanded low-skill immigration, is toxic.

Business owners, some middle-class professionals, and many Republican office holders think of the above politics as responsible and optimistic.  Tax cuts are about growth.  Expanded low-skill guest worker programs (like the one that the Congress passed last December) are all about opportunity for the job creators who built that.  Entitlement cuts are about responsibility.  Many other people see a Republican Party that is designing its agenda for the people who are doing well, and calling everyone else a bunch of miserable pessimists.

Ryan (and the alleged optimists who wrote the Republican National Committee’s autopsy) think they just need to find the right way to explain that tax cuts for the rich are all about expanding everybody’s economic pie.  They just need to hide their expansions of low-skill immigration into bills that pass just before Christmas.   

The worst part is that entitlement reform is very important.  If we don’t start on the process, we will either have a systemic crisis like Greece or our entitlements will be reformed along the left’s favored lines of universal government health care rationing, and confiscatory taxation.  The Washington Republican leadership’s obsession with pushing a Chamber of Commerce agenda and calling it responsible optimism is making it more likely that we will get a crisis, or a leftist victory, or both. 


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