Does Conservatism Need to be Modernized?

So my lefty, soul-searching pals at the Breakthrough Institute—the folks who hosted me at their “Modernizing Liberalism” conference back in June that I wrote about here at the time—invited me to write an essay for the second issue of their Breakthrough Journal on whether conservatism needs to be modernized along with, or somehow in different relation to, liberalism.  The essay came out yesterday.

A few excerpts:

Political and economic indicators bring more grim news. Thirty years after the arrival of the Reagan Revolution, government is bigger than ever. The Reagan years appear to have been little more than a mild speed bump in the progress of ever-larger government. The regulatory state advances relentlessly on every front. The soaring national debt threatens economic oblivion sooner or later. In short, the Reagan era, for all that was accomplished, was not an analogue to the New Deal era. In fact, the much-vaunted Reagan Revolution was not revolutionary and failed to alter the nation’s basic long-term political trajectory. . .

Conservatives have opposed, as a matter of deep principle, the expansion of government, and most especially any tax increases that are seen as enablers of government expansion. This position, coherent and sensible on its own terms, refuses to confront its obvious defect: it has not stopped the growth of government, even on the metric of government spending, let alone regulation. . .

A central point of the article is reviewing the sorry history of the “starve the beast” strategy, and whether conservatives ought to be open to higher taxes (though on everybody, not just “the rich”) as a more effective means of limited the relentless growth of government.  I’m skeptical, but this issue is hanging fire right now with the Superfriends Supercommittee, so this issue needs to be debated vigorously.

There’s lots more here, and there will be a symposium of sorts with replies from William Voegeli, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jim Manzi, and others, to which I’ll reply.  Which means this may go on for quite a while.  I’ll also be sharing some exclusive excerpts here on Power Line of sections that were cut from the much longer first draft.


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