Jennifer Rubin argues that Ronald Reagan’s mythical status “has become a burden for the modern GOP.” “The old guard,” she says, “has become convinced that Reagan’s solutions to the problems of his time were the essence of conservatism — not simply conservative ideas appropriate for that era.” As a result, Republicans have lost their ability to connect with average Americans at an emotional level.
Rubin is sore that, for the most part, today’s conservatives oppose gay marriage, amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, and all tax increases. Republicans who steadfastly oppose these liberal agenda items have made the Party “reactionary,” according to Rubin.
There are interesting debates to be had about each of these three issues, and many others, about which conservatives disagree. But Rubin doesn’t talk about the merits. Instead, she bypasses debate and proceeds directly to name-calling (e.g., “reactionary” “old guard,” and “those who would pull [conservatives] back into the older, white, conservative enclaves that don’t care much for modernity”).
Hoping to make these names stick, she claims that those who oppose her agenda items are clinging to the fading memory of Reagan. But Reagan has little to do with it. Gay marriage was not an issue during his presidency. Reagan supported amnesty for illegal immigrants. And, although he did much to cut taxes, Reagan was not always a tax-cutter. Those who disagree with Rubin do so on the merits, not out of some blind adherence to Reaganism.
Rubin also claims that the positions she hopes Republicans will abandon aren’t “necessarily conservative.” She’s right in the sense that you can be a conservative and hold one or more of the “dissenting positions.” But I think Rubin is actually suggesting that the positions from which she dissents aren’t truly conservative, and is using “necessarily” as a weasel word.
In any event, each of the positions Rubin wants Republicans to ditch is a fundamentally conservative position. Preserving the definition of marriage that has prevailed everywhere in all times, rather than replacing it with one whose consequences are unknown, is a quintessentially conservative approach.
So too is opposing a bill that would (1) reward those who thumbed their nose at American law and (2) eventually transform our country by converting 10 to 30 million Mexican citizens into American citizens. If anything, this brand of immigration “reform” entails more social experimentation, with more experience-based cause for apprehension, than the legalization of gay marriage does.
No discussion should be required to show that opposing tax increases is a conservative position. At the same time, there is no conservative position as to what the precise tax rates and exemptions should be (except perhaps no federal income tax at all). Thus, given the size of our debt, calls for some flexibility make sense, as Rubin says.
Rubin’s overheated attack on conservatives with whom she disagrees looks like the product of two consecutive defeats in presidential elections. If so, it’s an overreaction. The 2008 defeat stemmed from Bush fatigue (especially the Iraq War) and the financial crisis of 2008.
Romney’s loss, to be sure, had much to do with his inability to connect with average Americans. But, as Rubin suggests (through a quote from Reince Priebus), this inability occurred at an emotional level more than at a policy level. It should also be noted that Rubin plugged Romney relentlessly during the 2008 primary season.
Rubin and many others are right to say that the 2012 election should give rise to new thinking. But a relatively narrow defeat shouldn’t give rise to revision of conservative positions on a major scale, any more than the Democrats’ comparable defeat in 2004 to a vulnerable incumbent required a revision of liberalism.
The Democrats stuck with liberal positions they considered meritorious; their only concession was to call these positions “progressive.” Republicans should follow the same approach, minus the rebranding (the word “conservative” remains popular enough).
Efforts to demonize fellow Party members are antithetical to consideration of the merits. Thus, we should avoid what Rubin calls “search-and-destroy missions” against those in the Party with whom we disagree. Unfortunately, Rubin’s confused denunciation of those who don’t fall in line with her vision for a revived Republican Party represents her own, latest search-and-destroy mission.