Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam have an insightful article in The Weekly Standard that outlines an amazing number of programs that Republicans should consider advocating in order to build a truly unassailable majority. I don't agree with all their implementation details, but I think they identify a great many problems that (inevitably) big-government conservatives could address that would open the party's tent and expand the base.
How did things reach this pass? One difficulty, as a host of delighted Democrats have pointed out, is that a party ideologically committed to a small government may be ill-equipped to run a large one. Many honest small government conservatives aren't interested in overseeing programs that they would prefer to see slashed or abolished, so their place has been filled by an assortment of cynical operators, for whom the only guiding principle is to keep Republicans (and themselves) fat, happy, and securely in power.
But a larger problem is that even the more idealistic aspects of the GOP program--Bush's vision of an "ownership society," the pursuit of a politically risky Social Security privatization plan--have been ill-suited to the present political climate, and to the mood of the American people. It's not just that the American people have shown little appetite of late for dramatically shrinking the scope of the federal government, or taking more economic responsibility into their own hands--it's that there's shrinking support for such goals among reliable Republican voters.
I am a small-government Republican, but since it seems that most of the country wants a somewhat-large government it makes sense to think about how to make the best of that situation. Even though I don't think large government is the best tool to use, many people do, and the Republican party needs to offer up some solutions that appeal to the voters and that do the best that can be done with the smallest government people will accept.
Given that voters apparently want the government meddling in their lives, I think we Republicans can come up with some better policies than those from the left, and Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam take a good stab at it. Their conclusion is that Republicans should adopt the British Tories' theory of "And" conservatism:
So today's Republican party should be in favor of helping recent immigrants get ahead and slowing the flow of illegal labor--in favor of providing a helping hand to the hard working poor and cutting subsidies to the idle and shiftless--in favor of a tax policy that favors the working class and the productive rich. Above all, it should be in favor of limited government, and in favor of using government's considerable power to shore up the institution that makes a limited government possible--the beleaguered but resilient American family.
Critics will carp that such a party would be trying to be too many things to too many people. But there's a term for a party that attempts this feat and succeeds: a majority party.
Last time I checked the "And" theory isn't working very well for the Tories, but there's a lot in this essay that's worth considering.
(HT: Michael Barone.)