Daily Revolt

January 18, 2008

Republicans in Democrats’ Clothing

It's good to see an article in the Times, albeit an opinion piece, exposing the truth about the lack of difference between the two parties:
Nothing is more self-defeating in presidential politics than a candidate trying to be something he or she is not. Sometimes the incongruity is visual — Mike Dukakis photographed riding atop a tank — but more often it concerns a policy stand or a position that seems opportunistic and inauthentic. In such instances, the departure from form may produce some short-term political gain, but in the long run, it leaves voters confused and alienated.

Take Mike Huckabee’s television ads on economic policy that strike populist tones about the loss of manufacturing jobs and his stand as the guy who reminds voters “of the guy they work with — not the guy who laid them off.” Or Mitt Romney, who won the Michigan primary with the promise of a $20 billion plan of government support for the auto industry, and is now campaigning in South Carolina on pledges to combat job loss in the furniture and textile industries, “where Washington watched” and failed to act. These are the leading Republican candidates for president? These are the conservatives?

If you want to know where this epiphany of government economic intervention comes from, read Erik Eckholm’s article in Wednesday’s Times. Mr. Eckholm’s piece relates the heart-wrenching tale of middle-aged workers whose economic future has been turned upside down by changes in the manufacturing economy.

Still don’t see the connection between the economic trend captured in Mr. Eckholm’s article and the political trend of a G.O.P. reversal on economic issues? Then take a look at Mr. Eckholm’s dateline: Jackson, Ohio. That’s right, Ohio, as in “the battleground of all battlegrounds” in the 2008 general election. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio, and no Republican could feel very good about the party’s economic positioning in Ohio after reading Mr. Eckholm’s article.

With this as a backdrop, it is no surprise that some Republicans are finding a new perspective on government intervention in economic policy. Earlier this week on this blog, David Brooks compared Mr. Romney’s newly activist approach to “how the British Tory party used to speak in the 1970s.” It isn’t a hopeful metaphor, since the Tories were out of power for nine of the decade’s 10 years. More important, the biggest problem for the new Republican economic activists isn’t that they are mimicking a playbook that failed in Britain, but rather that their message is little more than a pale knock-off — a bad impression — of Democrats here in America. I’m not sure if the Republicans can formulate a winning economic message in 2008, but I’m absolutely certain they won’t win with an inauthentic effort to sound like Democrats.

A recent column by Mr. Brooks elaborating these new “Republican” ideas was telling. The column included a list of “new” Republican economic policy proposals that were taken straight out of every Democratic campaign of the last two decades: wage assistance for laid-off workers, job training and government-financed 401(k)’s. It even cited a plan for a “$1,000 at birth savings account” that is shockingly similar to the “baby bonds” plan set forth by Hillary Clinton last September to Republican ridicule. What a difference a date with the voters makes.

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