Monday, November 07, 2005

Sam's Club Republicans, Unite!

In the current issue of The Weekly Standard, a beautiful collection of very centrist policy proposals from Reihan Salaam and Ross Douthat. If you don't read them already at The American Scene, you should (although Reihan's on some kind of love-induced sabbatical).

The piece is long, and as I've developed a reputation for handing out Proustian reading assignments, let me endeavor to summarize:

The GOP is currently tanking, in large part because the Bush Administration's policy efforts have been friendlier to the plutocratic elite than to their hardworking, Sam's-Club-shopping base:
In May, the Pew Research Center released the 2005 edition of its Political Typology, a survey that slices the American electorate into nine discrete groups. Unsurprisingly, the core of the GOP's support turns out to be drawn from "Enterprisers," affluent, optimistic, and staunchly conservative on economic and social issues alike. But the so-called Enterprisers represent just 11 percent of registered voters--and apart from them, the most reliable GOP voters are Social Conservatives (13 percent of registered voters) and Pro-Government Conservatives (10 percent of voters). Both groups are predominantly female (Enterprisers are overwhelmingly male); both are critical of big business; and both advocate more government involvement to alleviate the economic risks faced by a growing number of families. They tend to be hostile to expanding free trade, Social Security reform, and guest-worker proposals--which is to say the Bush second term agenda.
This rift, combined with the pressures of the Iraq adventure, have tanked the GOP's ratings. The tonic that Douthat and Salaam offer is remarkably radical-centrist in its orientation:

1) Recognizing that the GOP's true "base" is married couples with children, they suggest some remarkable subsidies for childraising. Quebec's Allowance for Newborn Children (ANC) would be a model - it provides parents with a tax rebate of $500 for a first child, $1000 for their second, and 20 quarterly payments of $400 for every child beyond that. They also recommend policies that would give mothers or potentially fathers subsidies, pension credits, or tuition credits for staying at home to raise the kids. (Side note: although Douthat and Salaam phrase this in a culturally conservative manner, it strikes me as remarkably progressive and even feminist. After all, the core criticism Betty Friedan and others laid out of "women's work" is that it is uncompensated!)

2) Salaam and Douthat also have a health care proposal: requiring all adult citizens to purchase their own coverage if they cannot get employer-based coverage. But they also recommend that the government take action to reduce the price of coverage - first by attacking the anticompetitive practices in the healthcare industry, then by subsidizing people who truly cannot afford it.

3) They also recommend replacing the current minimum wage laws with wage subsidies. This would be a very expensive program - at least $85 billion - but would ensure that every employed person could receive a living wage. Their other recommendation to improve the situation of low-wage earners is to sharply cut back on illegal immigration through tightening the border, while adopting President Bush's friendlier proposals for converting illegal immigrants into legal citizens.

4) Finally, they suggest tax reform: Dump the regular income tax, change the AMT to 25% for all wage earners receiving $50,000 (single)/$100,000 (joint) or more, and add a national consumption tax of 14%. This "back to the future" plan, created by Michael J Graetz of Yale Law School, would reduce the number of tax returns processed by the IRS to a mere 30 million per year. Douthat and Salaam go beyond Graetz' proposal by suggestion another series of deductions and subsidies directed towards working families: for mortgages, state and local taxes, employer health care, and charitable contributions.

I'm guessing at this point that Yellow Line readers will be pretty familiar with proposals of this sort - you may have encountered here or there, for instance. Which is, I think, the most interesting aspect of Salaam and Douthat's article. Despite taking several easy potshots at Democrats and liberals, they recommend policies that have been previously endorsed by moderates and centrists of both major parties. And this in the cover article of the very conservative Weekly Standard! Politicians and opinion leaders of the radical center may not be in the foreground yet, but our ideas are rapidly moving front . . . and center.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias identifies the missing link in Douthat and Salaam's plan. It's spelled m-o-n-e-y.


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