The Challenge Of Reform Conservatism, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 14 2014 @ 1:08pm

In response to me, Douthat expounds on the nature of and audience for reform conservatism. This is well said:

The reality is that, except in truly exceptional cases, our politics is better off in the long run when views held by large proportions of the public are represented in some form by one of our two parties. Right now (to run down a partial list of divisive cultural issues), a burke_1.jpgplurality of Americans want the immigration rate decreased; about half the country opposes affirmative action; more than half supports the death penalty; about half of Americans call themselves pro-life. Support for gay marriage and marijuana legalization has skyrocketed, but in both cases about 40 percent of the country is still opposed. Even independent of my own (yes, populist and socially conservative) views, I think these people, these opinions, deserve democratic representation: Representation that leads and channels and restrains, representation that recognizes trends and trajectories and political realities, but also representation that makes them feel well-served, spoken for, and (in the case of issues where they’re probably on the losing side) respected even in defeat.

Because without that representation, populism doesn’t go away; it festers. Just ask David Cameron, Sullivan’s example of a modernizing conservative, a politician whose agenda has had a number of admirable features … but whose style and approach also helped roll out the red carpet for UKIP and Nigel Farage. In the United States, a more populist and conservative and religious country than Britain, the Farage scenario would look wilder and stranger and much, much worse for conservatism and the country. And so Republican politicians interested in outreach and coalition-building and modernization have an obligation to make sure they don’t also create a pervasive sense of populist disenfranchisement along the way.

I take Ross’s other points as well – especially about social issues like marriage equality. The GOP will probably adjust soon enough to the radically new landscape, and I may even find them more sympathetic if they try simply to protect a dissenting religious minority, rather than over-reaching. I’m in favor of religious freedom over any attempt to ram a new gay orthodoxy on the entire country. I still don’t see a powerful theme or a leader who could turn this constructive caucus into an administration. But the future is wide open. Frum joins the conversation:

The reform conservatives seem more open to the new. This is progress. If the policy agenda that follows remains cautious, remember: These conservative reformers aren’t trying to change the world. They’re trying to change a political party.

You don’t change people’s minds by telling them they are wrong, even—or especially—if they are wrong. You change their minds first by establishing an emotional connection with them. Next you ratify their existing beliefs. When it comes time to introduce a new idea, you emphasize its consistency with things they already believe. This is what the reform conservatives are doing, or have begun to do. If they seem to be moving slowly, well, take it from me: It’s no good being even 10 minutes ahead of the times.

Kilgore criticizes Frum for setting the bar so low:

As I recall, it was Michael Gerson, not David Frum, who penned George W. Bush’s memorable line that accepting bad public schools for poor and minority students reflected “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” But it’s a not a bad description for Frum’s attitude towards the GOP, and thus towards the reformicons. He clearly thinks his party is so deep in ideological sin that it can tolerate only brief and veiled exposure to the light.

Well, yes. This won’t be easy, especially if the GOP doesn’t want to chip away at its base as it now exists. Bernstein adds:

Liberals shouldn’t expect to agree with the reformers, or to find their policies appealing. But they should expect the other party to have real policy preferences, and something resembling policy proposals, and for them to abide by the basic norms of the political system. By those standards, reform conservatives deserve an incomplete grade, but one that is more positive than negative.

Drum’s take:

Are [reform conservatives] trying to build credibility with conservatives so they can later nudge them in a new direction? Or are they mostly just trying to put a friendly veneer on an essentially tea partyish agenda? We don’t know yet, because so far they haven’t been willing to take many risks. And with good reason. As a friend emailed just a few minutes ago, “The reformers are one bad suggestion away from being fully Frumanized out of the party.” I wish the reformers luck. And I don’t really blame them for their timidity so far. Still, it’s far too early to tell how serious they are. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Frumanized? I think he means Frummed.