Sunday, December 01, 2019


The Washington Post's Henry Olsen appears to believe that there'll be a battle for the soul of the Republican in the post-Trump era.
American conservatives are finally debating how to respond to the challenge President Trump’s ascendancy poses for their future. The blowback over Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) recent speech at Catholic University shows that debate is going to be bitter and fierce.

Rubio’s talk explored what he called “common-good capitalism.” He argued that the modern American economy falls short because it has fallen prey to the shareholder theory of value. That theory holds that a corporation has only one obligation: return money to its owners, the shareholders. Rubio contends that this ignores the corporation’s obligations to share a fair return to its workers and to reinvest in its business for the future. The result, he contends, is the de-investment in the United States that occurs when U.S. business invests overseas — and the wage stagnation and community decline that often follows.
Usually we hear about this sort of thinking when an establishmentarian right-wing pundit reads a "reform conservative" essay or book and declares it to be a vital and provocative challenge to right-wing orthodoxy. We're told that the reformicon movement is Having a Moment. We're told that several "scholars" who lean toward right-wing reform are now among the most important thinkers in contemporary conservatism.

And then nothing happens. Conservatism remains exactly the way it's been for years. The same will be true after this Rubio speech. But go on, Mr. Olsen.
Many conservatives rightly saw these words as a challenge to the reigning neo-libertarian economic orthodoxy. And so they struck back — hard.... National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson ... minced no words. He denounced Rubio’s “shallow moralizing” and said the senator’s philosophy was similar to the “familiar moral basis of fascist economic thinking.”
Just so we're clear, when Williamson says capitalism with a modicum of decency is fascist, he doesn't mean it as a compliment.
Other critics avoided Williamson’s over-the-top comparison but basically agreed. Their basic contention is that the government can’t do anything right and has no moral basis to interfere in private economic activity.
Is that what Republicans believe? It's certainly what they say whenever even a modest curtailment of capitalist rapaciousness is proposed. (In fact, they believe that government has a moral basis to interfere in private economic activity on behalf of the winners, to help them win more and ensure that they never stop winning.)

Olsen believes that rank-and-file non-wealthy Republicans actually do want government to intervene on their behalf.
President Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 Republican primaries should be the clearest proof imaginable that even GOP voters reject the clerics’ nonsense. The vast majority of Republicans want liberty and security, opportunity and redistribution. They want to get the balance right and reject the idea that any attempt to find that balance is “fascism.”
This is a familiar argument: that Trump succeeded where John McCain and Mitt Romney failed because he promised not to touch Social Security and Medicare, and because he said once or twice that he'd tax the rich more. There may be some truth to this. But while Social Security and Medicare are essentially untouched for now, Trump has done nothing to curb capitalist excess -- just the opposite, in fact -- and the base still loves him.

Olsen seriously believes -- or hopes -- that the battle has been joined:
This is the crux of the GOP’s debate. Libertarians ... have insinuated themselves into the conservative intellectual infrastructure over the past three decades. As a result, Republican intellectual orthodoxy now says that taxes can never be raised; that any government program is bound to fail and, hence, should be opposed; and that the only direction government spending should move is backward....

Most Republican politicians ... politely sidestep the libertarian high priesthood’s demands.
They do? You could have fooled me.
But they remain enthralled to their liturgy and hence never truly break free from their influence. This cripples their ability to persuade Americans that they believe in the balance most Americans want....

Rubio’s speech is a worthy attempt to write a new liturgy that explains in theory what most Republicans believe in fact. That threatens the priesthood’s power, and so they will fight back with all their strength. But most Americans believe their libertarian dogma would turn our country into a den of thieves. Time now for Rubio and others to cast them out and restore conservatism to its rightful place in the Republican temple.
It's true that resistance to government social programs means that Republican politicians run on an economic philosophy that's counter to what most Americans want, including their own voters. But their voters don't mind, because GOP pols distract them with talk about how much Democrats like open borders and Drag Queen Story Hour and gun confiscation. That plus gerrymandering and Democratic vote suppression is still working for Republicans, and may work again in 2020.

Rubio is only 48, and he surely believes that Republicans will need a message more positive than "Suck it, libtards!" one of these days -- though that moment of reckoning never seems to come.

And I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but as a senator, Rubio has never seriously challenged capitalist amorality, so this all just empty talk. But he likes to think he's a good man doing the Lord's work -- or at least he's trying to position himself as a good man, because he believes that's a promising market niche in politics.

There's no battle for the soul of the Republican Party. The Republican Party is corporatist and will continue to be corporatist, which is a more accurate term than "libertarian." The party consists of corporatists who are unabashed about it and corporatists who occasionally pretend that's not what they are. The only question is whether increasing numbers of Republican politicians in the foreseeable future will be pretenders. Trump was one in 2016, and it worked, because he still sounded like a liberal-hating tough guy. Rubio is one now, and it probably won't be to his benefit, because he sounds almost like a liberal. GOP voters want the economy to work better for them, but they want liberal tears more.

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