In today's column, Ross Douthat invokes Bolingbroke's notion of politics being divided into a "court party" (which governs in the interest of the elites) and an opposition "country party." Douthat tells us about the exciting new strain of Republican thinking that's struggling to be born:
... it's [Bolingbroke's] civic republican ideas, repurposed for a new era, that you hear in the rhetoric of new-guard Republican politicians like Rand Paul and Mike Lee, in right-wing critiques of our incestuous "ruling class," and from pundits touting a "libertarian populism" instead.Douthat says that elitists run everything for themselves, old-guard Republicans and Democrats endorse this state of affairs -- and nouveau Republicans are the ones who think the whole system is rotten to the core and who'd like to change it for the benefit of the average Joe.
That last bit is where he loses me.
Douthat puzzles over the fact that the nouveau Republicans can't quite translate their pro-regular-folks agenda into action, with the result that voters reject the GOP (at least in presidential elections):
The problem for conservatives isn't their critique of this court party and its works. Rather, it's their failure to understand why many Americans can agree with this critique but still reject the Republican alternative.It never seems to occur to Douthat that maybe this isn't a failure to translate populist ideas into a workable approach to governance, despite the best of intentions -- the far more likely explanation is that the libertarian-populist rhetoric is utterly phony, a cheap cover story meant solely to get voter consent for the real GOP agenda, which is the tossing of a few crumbs to rural whites and the rest of the boodle to the rich. (And yes, this is as true of the Paulistas as it is of the rest of the GOP -- they're more than happy to see heroic capitalists hoard all the wealth while the unworthy suffer.)
... while Republicans claim to oppose the ruling class on behalf of the country as a whole, they often seem to be representing an equally narrow set of interest groups -- mostly elderly, rural (the G.O.P. is a "country party" in a far too literal sense) and well-off. A party that cuts food stamps while voting for farm subsidies or fixates on upper-bracket tax cuts while wages are stagnating isn't actually offering a libertarian populist alternative to the court party's corrupt bargains. It's just offering a different, more Republican-friendly set of buy-offs.
It also never occurs to Douthat that cooking up elaborate pseudo-intellectual justifications for shoveling all the money and poser to the already rich and powerful is what Republicans do, and have done for forty years, ever since the first flowering of right-wing think tanks forty years ago, and especially in the Fox News/talk radio era.
Sorry, Ross -- you and your fellow "libertarian-populist" pundits may think this is an intellectual flowering, but it's just old bunkum in new bottles, with the formula slightly tweaked.