I bring good news this new year! Conservatives have a jobs agenda, one that isn’t built around merely cutting taxes and regulations and getting the government out of the way so the free market can strut its stuff.
No—this includes… are you ready?… infrastructure investment, and a monetary policy less obsessed with keeping inflation under 2 percent. It’s new, it’s exhilarating, it’s brilliant! And it’s the same stuff that Barack Obama and most liberal Democrats have favored for years.
When David Frum, whom I respect a great deal, tweets that a new article should be thought of as “a ‘95 theses’ moment for the reformist right,” he gets my attention. So I clicked immediately and read through “A Jobs Agenda for the Right,” by Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute, from the new issue of National Affairs. I liked the essay and even agreed with a respectable percentage of what Strain had to say. But reading it was far more infuriating than reading something by a conservative and disagreeing with every syllable, because articles like Strain’s refuse to acknowledge, let alone try to grapple with, the central and indisputable fact that the contemporary Republican Party—his presumed vehicle for all this pro-jobs reform—has opposed many of these initiatives tooth and nail.
The first big measure Strain touts in his essay is infrastructure. “Anyone who has driven on a highway in Missouri or has taken an escalator in a Washington, D.C., Metro station knows that the United States could use some infrastructure investment,” he writes. He doesn’t lay out a specific program, but clearly he favors fairly broad public investment.
Um, OK. There are people who’ve been trying to do just that. And not only Barack Obama. John Kerry led this effort in the Senate, and he was joined by Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison (who’s since retired). Their attempts to fund a modest infrastructure bank were supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But it could never get anywhere because of rock-solid GOP opposition. Does Strain not even know this? Or is he pretending it never existed so he doesn’t have to deal with the political reality of Republican obduracy?
I think, of course, it’s the latter, and there’s further evidence for my guess in the way Strain talks about recent history. The 2009 stimulus was not a failure in infrastructure terms at all (has he read Michael Grunwald?). But even if you believe it was an infrastructure failure, or have to say so for political reasons, should you not acknowledge in fairness that it was Democrats and liberals who wanted it to have more infrastructure spending, and that nearly 40 percent of bill took the form of tax cuts because that’s what Republicans demanded (before they decided en masse to vote against it anyway)?
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