Monday, May 21, 2007

THE LOST CAUSE. David Brooks (TimesSelect, sorry*) has an plan to revive the Republican Party: "A Human Capital Agenda." The basic idea: imitate George Bush back before everyone hated him:
In fact, it was Bush in 1999 who single-handedly (though temporarily) rescued the Republican Party. He did it not by courting Republican interest groups, but by coming up with something new. On July 22, he delivered a speech in Indianapolis in which he explicitly distanced himself from Washington Republicans and laid the groundwork for compassionate conservatism.
After brushing off the "substantive problems" with the old comp-con agenda, Brooks proposes a new round of social program perscriptions that he believes will fire the imaginations of voters:
It means increasing child tax credits to reduce economic stress on young families. It means encouraging marriage, the best educational institution we have. It means a national service program, so young people can experience the world.
None of these ideas are new. In fact, versions of them -- permanent child tax credits, $1.5 billion for staying-married lessons, and the USA Freedom Corps -- have been tested, and found wanting, at least as political firestarters.

The real problem is that, when Bush pulled the compassionate conservative dodge, he was working to negate the natural Democratic advantage in social issues. Today, thanks to the gross incompetence of the Bush Administration, no one believes that Republicans, at the Federal level at least, can be of any assistance at all in such matters, except perhaps to help us drown faster during national emergencies.

Our current crop of Republicans candidates recognize this, and only briefly allude to the sort of social programs that define compassionate conservatism, instead using their bully pulpits for actual bullying: endorsing torture, threatening double-Gitmos, pledging to protect us from Mexicans, etc. I doubt that most voters think these candidates can achieve much in those areas, either, but their battle-cries may invigorate a certain class of Republicans that turns out for fundraisers, rallies, and primaries.

Under such circumstances, I doubt any candidate will dare a shift toward a Brooksian Human Capital Agenda. In fact, I expect they will go further in the other direction. Witness the most credible unannounced candidate, Fred Thompson (R-TV), who ladles boob bait even more generously than the others in "viral" videos such as this one, in which he flourishes a big cigar and appears to threaten Michael Moore with incarceration in a mental institution.

I fully expect that, when the next debate rolls around, the standing candidates will bring their own stogies, or suspenders, or golf clubs, and lean into the cameras to promise rough justice to Jimmy Carter, Barbra Streisand, et alia, leaving social uplift to the Democrats, who do it much better.

*UPDATE. Thanks to Stephanie who points out that you can get Brooks' column here for just the price of your attention. Which is still too much, but that's the world we live in.

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