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June 02, 2005

Andrew Samwick at the Crossroads

Andrew Samwick thinks about what the Republican Party is--or, rather, what it might become:

Vox Baby: The Conservative Movement at the Crossroads: PGL from AngryBear notes that Max (of the newly and impressively redesigned MaxSpeak) linked to the Washington Post story in which I am quoted as follows:

"I'm inclined to support the Republican Party, but the question becomes, how much other stuff do I have to put up with to maintain that identification?" asked Andrew A. Samwick, a Dartmouth College economics professor who until recently was chief economist of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.
I served on the staff at CEA from July 2003 through June 2004. The story quotes me later with:

Samwick said the disenchantment of small-government conservatives has been building since the passage of the USA Patriot Act, which some saw as infringing on individual liberties, and the Medicare drug benefit, which created future government liabilities that exceed the entire projected Social Security shortfall.

"Some of these outcomes are really starting to alienate people who might be Republican because they are for limited government," Samwick said.
The story quotes me accurately. The trigger for me has been the fiscal policy, and the unfunded expansion of Medicare in particular. I don't have big problems with the Patriot Act or the faith-based programs. However, the quotes should not be construed to suggest that I wouldn't support the President's Social Security plan relative to the status quo or that I was particularly impressed with the challengers that the Democrats managed to put on the ticket the last time around.

I was interviewed about this topic on the Arnie Arnesen radio show this afternoon. Like a lot of people, neither of the two political parties line up particularly well with all of my views. That's been true for a while with the Democrats for me. It's a newer phenomenon with the Republicans--as they have stood less and less for limited government, which best summarizes my general view.

I think this issue is well captured in Newt Gingrich's recent white paper, with the same title as this post. (The Speaker visited campus as a guest of the Rockefeller Center last month and presented these ideas in a Government course.) He's been out of elected office for long enough now that he can "campaign" as an outsider. Here's what he had to say in the paper's introduction:
For almost a half century, from the early effort of William Buckley and National Review and the publication of Conscience of a Conservativeby Barry Goldwater, the conservative movement has been a dynamic, defining force in American politics and government.

Now at the very moment that members of the movement are in control of the White House, the House and Senate, and many governorships and state legislatures, conservatives find themselves at a crossroads.

Elected officials find themselves caught between explaining and defending the institutions over which they preside and the impulse to continue to criticize and change those institutions. The longer people are in office the more likely they tend to defend the very bureaucracies and the very policies which they may once have campaigned against. The impulse to force a transformation of those institutions is gradually overwhelmed by an impulse to preside. Presiding over an existing bureaucracy is not the same as forcing the creation of a new form and style of government.

Should the conservative movement be:

1. A movement at the grassroots dedicated to insisting on transformation of government into an institution capable of meeting the challenges of a rapidly changing 21st century world within the values of smaller government, lower taxes, stronger national security, greater individual freedom and strengthening American civilization as a unique “Creator endowed” system of human liberty; or,

2. A national and state capital- focused system of defending whatever today’s compromises with the old order of liberal big government requires because after all the people presiding over the system are people we support.

To state it more directly, should we be comfortable with presiding over the bureaucracies, special interests, and spending of the liberal government we have inherited or must we insist on transforming that obsolete system into a new, more dynamic, and significantly different system of governing?
You can read more about Newt's ideas in his new book, Winning the Future.A lot of the book makes a lot of sense. He would prefer that the Republican Party focus on governmental transformation and reduced spending, but he makes an appeal to the religious constituency as well. However, we can also see dissension from those in the Republican Party who wouldn't necessarily agree with Newt's proposals any more than they would with the Administration's policies. Consider Christine Todd Whitman, and her new book, It's My Party, Too.She wants more fiscal balance and almost everything else on the party's current agenda except for the "social fundamentalist" issues.

So the question becomes, "What does the Republican Party look like when it emerges from this internal contest? Which of these politicians represents the core constituency's ideas in 2008--Bush, Gingrich, or Whitman?"

Posted by DeLong at June 2, 2005 11:04 AM