Yglesias Award Nominee

Apr 10 2014 @ 11:50am

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“I would argue that conservatism and the cause of limited government are undermined by loose talk and an excessive animus toward the federal government. These days, in fact, conservatives would be well served to focus a good deal more attention on the purposes of government, not simply its size. I say that because during the Obama era the right has been very clear about what government should not be doing, or should be doing much less of, and for understandable reasons. But it has not had nearly enough to say about just what government should do. That needs to be corrected — and in the process conservatives need to be careful to speak with care and precision about our Constitution and the role of the federal government in our history,” – Pete Wehner, Commentary.

This was in response to Jim DeMint’s surreal attempt to force American history into his rigid ideology. Somehow, in DeMint’s imagination, the civil war was won without “big government.” But the federal government is never “bigger” than in wartime, its powers never so expansive. When that federal government is sending troops to conquer half the country, how much “bigger” can it get? You can totally see why Chait pounces thus:

Everybody knows the slaves were freed by Ronald Reagan, and he did it by cutting taxes.

Kilgore goes deeper:

[DeMint’s ]rap is based on a series of palpable falsehoods that are extraordinarily common in the exotic world of “constitutional conservatism:” the deliberate conflation of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution (this is how they sneak God and “natural rights”—meaning property and fetal rights—into the latter); the idea that the Civil War was about everything other than slavery; and the claim of Lincoln’s legacy, even though the Great Emancipator was in almost every respect a “big government liberal” as compared to the states rights Democrats—DeMint’s ideological and geographical forebears who touted the Constitution even more regularly (and certainly more consistently) than today’s states rights Republicans.

But this is more than a debate. DeMint now runs the Heritage Foundation, and has run it into the ground with know-nothingism and partisanship.

What was once a right-of-center oasis in rigorous social science, economics, social policy, science proper and other academic disciplines, is now a purely political operation, run by ideologues. And the consequences of replacing solid research with ever-more abstract ideological posturing are dire. A major political party is flying blind a lot of the time.

Look at the response to the ACA. Heritage once innovated several features of Obamacare; now the GOP scrambles to produce anything as a real alternative that can grapple with some of the same issues. Paul Ryan issues a report on poverty that rests on fatal misunderstandings of social science. Another potential candidate, Ben Carson, rightwing “intellectual”, Allen West, puts out a book with fake quotes pulled off the Internet. And the seriously smart ones – Ted Cruz, par exemple – specialize and revel in demagoguery they must know is irrelevant to governing.

This is the mark of a party more interested in selling books to a devoted audience, not a party capable of actually running a government. Which is why, in my view, the GOP is increasingly conceding the full responsibility of running a country in favor of a constant stream of oppositional pirouettes and rhetorical excesses. That may win a few midterms; but it will never win a general. Nor should it.

(Photo: Jim DeMint by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)