Rightbloggers Talk Conservative "Reform," But Who's Listening?

As to education, RTG co-author Frederick M. Hess said the federal government "can play a crucial role in making it easier for local families, educators, officials, and entrepreneurs to [reform schools]." If you guessed that means vouchers, give yourself a gold star -- though be aware they're now calling it "'course choice' programs": "The state contributes a portion of per pupil funding to an individual account," proposed Hess, "enabling families to decide how to allocate those dollars among approved educational expenditures... it allows parents to use a proportional fraction of school funding to access specialized providers in lieu of the usual offerings."

Again, the money would come from the government, further enabling the bathtub-drowning of same on which modern conservatism relies, while creating money-making markets for such entrepreneurs/con-artists as Michelle Rhee. (Also, Hess warned, "school choice can create some losers as well as some winners.")

The guy from Duck Dynasty was at the Republican Leadership Conference. But does he have a manifesto? (A&E photo by Karolina Wojtasik)
As with any conservative scheme, there was room in Reform for the Family Values people. RTG co-author Carrie Lukas denounced liberal "government-administered paid leave program[s]" because they would "disrupt the employment contracts of the majority of working Americans who currently have leave benefits" and, as a result of this contract-disruption, "companies and employees would also be less likely to seek mutually beneficial arrangements, such as part-time and work-from-home options, during periods of leave." Asking for things just makes employers angry, ladies.

In fact, this might get so bad that "given that women, particularly of child-bearing age, are more likely to take extended medical leave," added Lukas, "employers may be reluctant to consider them for senior positions with significant responsibilities." Wow, a conservative admitting there's such a thing as workplace discrimination against women -- they must want reform really bad.

Lukas further denounced liberal programs "increasing funding for Head Start and Early Start, and bolstering other government support for child-care centers" because "as the price of institutional child care goes down for the user, the value of the service provided by the stay-at-home parent or grandparent also goes down" -- and how's a kid going to get to know his parents and grandparents unless poverty forces him to?

Co-author W. Bradford Wilcox wept over "the retreat from marriage in Middle America" and, after several pages of marriage-makes-you-rich talk, proposed an end to the "marriage penalty" -- not just in tax policy, but also in "means-tested public benefits" such as Medicaid and food stamps, which he claimed "end up penalizing marriage, albeit often unintentionally" by perversely rewarding the unmarried with enough to eat. To fix this, Wilcox proposed that wedded couples on public assistance "receive a refundable tax credit for the amount of money that they lose by marrying." However, as we are not made of money, "this credit could be limited to the first five years of marriage to reduce its public cost."

Also Wilcox proposed ending the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, "which serves families where both parents work outside of the home, thereby discriminating against families with a stay-at-home parent," and transferring that credit to parents who are raising their children the way W. Bradford Wilcox would prefer.

In the closing, Ramesh Ponnuru furthered the cause by praising the Tea Party because it had "resisted the modern tendency to treat the rights protections spelled out in the Constitution's amendments" -- for example, the ones that gave women the vote and black people freedom -- "rather than the structural provisions in its main body, as the most important element of our constitutional system." But, he italicized, "This constitutionalism should be political rather than legal" -- which we take to mean, after parsing paragraphs of his yak, that we can't yet count on SCOTUS to advance the full conservative agenda and must do so by passing as much legislation as possible that "involves a less restrictive form of reasoning than legal constitutionalism does" -- that is, has the smell of Washington gift-shop fake parchment and protects the rich, as the Founders intended.

While Ponnuru did mention the Second Amendment, briefly, neither he nor anyone else in Room to Grow directly addressed race, climate change, abortion, or the VA.

Reaction among the brethren has been mixed. Libertarian Arnold Kling thought that the platform might lead to mere "legislative gesturing. A member of the House or Senate can introduce one of these proposals in isolation, issue a press release, and say 'Look at me. I'm offering a solution for X.'" Kling seemed to think this was unintentional.

At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti said that while under the platform "both the GOP and the country would enjoy a better future," he found some things missing. For example, "it is the issue of immigration that presents the greatest challenge to the prospects of reform conservatism" -- which rather leaves Room to Grow out, as it contains no mention of immigration (and Wehner and Garson's manifesto mentions it only briefly, saying the nation's "immigration system" was "badly misaligned with obvious economic needs and desires").

Also, Continetti said, "I do not think you can have a winning pro-middle-class conservatism that runs away from the hot-button social issues of abortion, marriage, guns, welfare, and affirmative action" -- and, as we have seen, though the reformers tackle welfare from an oblique "reform" angle, they're avoiding those "hot-button" issues like the plague, probably because they don't want to spook the sheeple.

It's a quandary, but the reformers can count on a couple of factors to keep their cause afloat: First, they have copy-hungry conservative columnists, who will happily fill their off-season pages with their guff (as the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin did with three count 'em three columns featuring Wehner, Ponnuru, and Yuval Levin on the subject). Secondly, there are liberal columnists who will attack the reformers and thus provoke a defensive reaction that keeps the dream alive.

For instance, NewsBusters' Tom Johnson complained that Dionne's piece "denounced the GOP's current message discipline in the service of its supposedly extremist agenda," and that "Jonathan Chait of New York magazine wished reform conservatives lots of luck and suggested that they'll need it." The nerve!

When Salon's Matt Bruenig understandably declared the whole thing bullshit ("Meet the new conservatives, same as the old conservatives"), and cited as an example a tax cut proposed by Tea Party Senator Mike Lee that seemed designed to help the well-off rather than the working poor, the American Enterprise Institute's James Pethokoukis tsked, "Why don't progressives want to cut taxes for middle-class families?" then called in RTG co-author Bob Stein to call Bruenig's argument "idiotic" and to add, "Yes, middle-class workers making $70,000 per year who have twins would get a huge tax cut (under Lee's bill)... But a worker making $10,000 to 15,000 that has twins would still be covered by the EIC, which is even more generous than the new child credit." That's reform, baby! "It really seems like the idea of helping middle-class parents by letting them keep more of their own money is abhorrent to Bruenig," harrumphed Pethokoukis.

From his National Review perch, reformer Reihan Salam Scott Winship complained about Michael Hiltzik's "unhinged critique" in the Los Angeles Times that Winship had mischaracterized SSI as a scam gamed by crafty Poors. Winship rejoined that SSI children's claims had gone up after a court ruling broadened their eligibility for it, and while the research Hitltzik cited points to "the high denial rate of child applications nationally as evidence that few children are on SSI illegitimately," Winship said, "...That is a weak argument for the obvious reason that it says nothing about how many should have been denied, which might be a higher number still." The column also contained several sneers against "feeling good about one's pure-heartedness," being "assured of your own righteousness, like Hiltzik," etc.

See? Discourse! And so, in a tiny corner of the public conversation, the manifestos fly, and word gets around that conservatives are serious and Republicans are The Party of Ideas. Meanwhile actual election campaigns are underway, and generating headlines such as "Nasty Senate race digs deeper in the mud" (referring to the Mississippi contest in which a blogger was jailed for surveilling Thad Cochran's wife), "Green billionaire prepares to attack 'anti-science' Republicans," "Republican Chairman Uses Photo Of Dem Governor For Twitter Campaign," "GOP sues feds for right to raise unlimited campaign cash," etc. And we haven't even seen our first demon sheep ad yet. Well, possibly reform will be somebody's October Surprise. We'd be surprised, certainly.

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