Back to the Future

Jonathan Martin has an article up on Politico outlining the vision prominent (and younger) Republicans have for their party. Most of those interviewed were not, at any point, loudly in the Palin tent, and it’s telling how much even these Republicans — most of which would fall between the moderates and the far right — struggle to define the future of conservatism.

“We have to have actual ideas,” said Pawlenty, 47. “The Republican idea factory has dried up. And we’ve got to catch up on the key issues of our times — health care, renewable energy and education.”

“We need real solutions,” adds Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, 37. “It’s not enough to be just against single-payer health care, for example. We’ve got to discuss how we promote private coverage, to apply our principles to the issues that affect people’s lives.”

And they’re right: as inequality grows traditional Republican ideas are increasingly discordant with the needs of most Americans, and what’s more, the challenges facing the country aren’t well suited for a hands-off approach. To wit, profit incentive doesn’t currently exist to invest heavily in sustainable infrastructure and the private insurance market is inimically opposed to providing broad and inexpensive coverage. I’ll grant that education might be the one area in which conservative ideas could be helpful, but the immediacy of the issue pales in comparison to threats of global warming and ballooning health care costs. And as Jeb Bush warns, the political consequences of continued inaction on these salient issues will be dire.

“I would suggest that conservatives need to do the math of the new demographics of the United States,” said Jeb Bush. “We can’t be anti-Hispanic, anti-young person, anti-many things and be surprised when we don’t win elections.”

But Republicans can’t afford to simply pay lip service to these ideas; they need to craft a policy agenda that actually suits America’s increasingly urban, diverse, and tolerant electorate. Fortunately for liberals, it seems they’re not quite ready to adapt.

“We shouldn’t be talking about lower taxes because supply-side economics is better for Americans but because it puts more money in people’s pockets,” said [Rep. Eric] Cantor. “Where we have to focus is on reconnecting with people across this country where they live.”

Granted Eric Cantor is most closely aligned with the Palin tent of conservatives interviewed, but Cantor’s blind support for supply-side economics after it’s demonstrable popular failure demonstrates the need for a serious reconsideration of the emphasis placed on so-called conservative “principles.” Cantor and other conservatives can’t seem to countenance that adapting to a morphed electorate will require the abandonment of the treasured relics of the conservative past in favor of policies that will tangibly benefit the majority of non-rich Americans. Until Republicans are willing to think beyond the policies of Reagan — and understand that the tools of Reaganism aren’t germane to today’s problems — they will continue to represent a dwindling minority of Americans.

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