Friday, November 7, 2008

Senator McCain Goes 'Round and Around

Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal Online (paid access) argues that John McCain followed a traditional Republican course of emphasizing tax cuts. She argues that if only McCain had "transcended the Republican brand" then McCain's fortunes would have improved, but in "the areas where Sen. McCain had staked out his independence, he and his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, agreed".

I disagree.

There was little conservative about the McCain campaign, nor more generally about post Y2K Republicans, at least in the Jacksonian sense.

There are two economic and political strands of Republicanism: the Progressive and the small government. The small government Republicans are the ones who descend from Andrew Jackson and the late nineteenth century hard money advocates. The Progressives descend from Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln and the socialist Theodore Roosevelt. Progressive Republicans have mostly dominated 20th century national Republican politics. Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge were not small government men, nor was Ronald Reagan, really, although he borrowed the small government rhetoric. As for the Democrats, the Jackson Democrats had become a small minority by 1932. In the late nineteenth century they had become the Bourbon Democrats led by Grover Cleveland. After William Jennings Bryan identified the Democrats with inflation, the Republicans became the Jacksonian, laissez-faire party.

About 25% of the American electorate favors less government. If the Republicans capture this vote they can win. Small government people are in both parties, but they are mostly in the Republican Party. These voters stayed away from Senator McCain.

By 2005, the Bush administration had jettisoned any pretense of small government rhetoric in favor of special interest pandering. This has included the recent, disgraceful Wall Street bailout. The bailouts are Progressivism at a socialist level not seen since Theodore Roosevelt ran under the Progressive banner in 1912.

Big government Progressives dominate the Republican Party because they reflect corporate interests and have the most resources. They speak the language of efficiency and low taxes, but ultimately they are interested in policies that benefit themselves, which means subsidies, coddling and special breaks. Although they have the most resources, they don't have that many votes outside New York. They are comfortable with government bloat because budget deficits facilitate borrowing, which in turn facilitates monetary expansion. Monetary expansion boosts the stock market, and the music goes 'round and 'round. Indeed, I did not hear any evidence that John McCain would have been but another President Bloat, in the same tradition as Roosevelt, Hoover, Harding, Nixon and Bush. I leave out Taft, Coolidge and Reagan, although they should probably be included in the "Progressive" category as well, although they put a lid on it. Bush didn't know how to put a lid on it, and McCain didn't know it was an issue.

Thus, the Republican Party is inherently in conflict. If the Party can resolve the conflict it can win. This includes the specious resolution at which Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich succeeded. However, in the end, it is difficult to reconcile two fundamental antagonists: people who believe in fairness, laissez faire, limited government and low taxes; and people who believe in subsidies to big business at the expense of high taxes, and inflation in the name of growth.

By 2005 the Republicans had jettisoned their small government wing. The aim seems to have been to strike an alliance between big government Progressives and social conservatives. But enough social conservatives were disloyal to the Progressives because they were disgusted at the income inequality that Federal Reserve bank policy generates (most did not know this was the reason), the pandering to special interests, and Republican corruption.

The Republicans have failed the true conservative base, the remnant of the Jacksonian and late nineteenth century advocates of limited government, hard money and fiscal discipline. If Barack Obama reduces government and sheds his radical affiliations, the Progressive-social conservative alliance will never work again in my lifetime.

PS--this version isn't as good musically, but it is funny:

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