Postmodern Conservative

We Could Use a Reagan, but Which Reagan?

David Frum argues that the GOP needs a Tony Blair to stand up to the party’s extremist elements. Maybe we will need a Tony Blair when a contest for the Republican presidential nomination comes down to Cliven Bundy representing the militant Right and Ron Paul representing the center. On the planet we actually live on, the last Republican nominee was Mitt Romney and the Republican congressional leaders are the kinds of right-of-center-but opportunistic professional pols that have generally led the GOP House and Senate caucuses since at least 1960 (Newt Gingrich and Bill Frist were exceptions).

Ross Douthat argues that the constructive conservatism of Reagan is a better model. I agree as long as we stipulate that we are talking about Reagan’s virtues — especially Reagan’s determination to understand the worldviews and priorities of persuadable voters and his engagement with thoughtful and innovative conservative thinkers like Milton Friedman. Look at Reagan’s answer to Carter’s accusation that Reagan’s tax-cut proposal would increase inflation:

I would like to ask the president why is it inflationary to let the people keep more of their money and spend it the way that they like, and it isn’t inflationary to let him take that money and spend it the way he wants? 

We can only hope for a presidential candidate that is as effective at explaining James Capretta’s views on health care as Reagan was in explaining the Milton Friedman view on inflation.

The danger is succumbing to the various forms of Reagan nostalgia that involve pretending that all we need is an eloquent “real conservative” or that Republicans should just keep proposing some variation of the Kemp-Roth tax cut in every election until the crack of doom.

I think there are things American conservatives can learn from Stephen Harper. One of those lessons is that a party leader has a better chance of steering his party in the direction of prudence if he doesn’t come across like he thinks that his party’s voters are bunch of vicious morons. Also, given the different contexts, an American Stephen Harper would be well to the right of the Canadian Stephen Harper on economic and social policy.

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