The GOP presidential candidates this year, notes Harold Meyerson in today’s Washington Post, adhere to the fundamental Republican laws handed down by Goldwater and Reagan: All government interventions on behalf of the people are inherently wrong. They erode freedom. The market can do a better job of whatever it is that needs doing.
What the Republican field fails to realize is that the America that Goldwater and Reagan defended against the presumed predations of government no longer exists. When Barry and Ronnie walked the earth, most Americans had enduring relations with their employers (ensured, in many cases, by a union contract), and their employers often provided them with health benefits and a pension. Most banks and corporations had not yet traded in their American citizenship for a new global identity that places millions of Americans’ jobs and pay levels in competition with those of billions of workers in distant climes.
Clearly, the private sector that Barry and Ron extolled while denouncing government ain’t what it used to be, and Americans know it.
By the evidence of all polls, Americans are now looking more to government to provide, at least in health care, some of the security that employers used to offer. A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll even showed that 59 percent of Republicans believe that foreign trade is bad for the U.S. economy, vs. just 32 percent who think it’s good.
Somehow, news of this transformation has not reached the Republican candidates, who still rail against government assistance to help Americans pay for college and health care and offer glowing affirmations of free trade. Nor has it reached the Republican Party or the conservative movement more generally. The serious postmortems for President Bush’s ultra-Reaganite and uber-Goldwateristic plan to privatize Social Security — the questioning of the sanity of such a proposal at a time when employer-provided pension plans were dropping like flies — have yet to be conducted in conservative circles. Indeed, Fred Thompson is still mumbling about cutting Social Security. Ol’ Fred may have slept through 2005 — the year of privatization’s protracted stillbirth — but did the entire party?
The Republicans’ problem isn’t just the silence of their candidates. It’s the silence of their ideology, which has neglected to notice that the world has changed.