Sam's Club Republicans

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I mentioned in passing the piece by Ross Douthat and Reigan Salam in this week's Weekly Standard on Sam's Club Republicans. It's a very thoughtful and creative attempt to sketch out, or at least give direction to, a new conservative Republican agenda. Bush Republicans, Douthat and Salam argue, have delivered rather little to the modest-income, culturally conservative voters who have provided absolutely indispensable votes for their agenda. Moreover, the Bush agenda, announced and campaigned on in 2000 and again in 2004, has mostly been either (a) accomplished or (b) effectively stymied. The agenda cupboard is bare. These two 20-somethings suggest some items for filling it up again. They haven't put their proposals through a think-tank analysis—they're two young guys who work for the Atlantic and the New York Times—but others can do that. What they have supplied is a political direction. Public-policy agendas for political parties should be good policy and good politics. The Bush 2000 agenda was. Now something new is needed. The Weekly Standard should make sure numerous copies get over to the White House.

I have been thinking of this article especially as I have been pondering the California election returns and the defeat of Arnold Schwarzenegger's four ballot proposals. There was little in them for the Sam's Club Republicans, and the margins favoring them in the Inland Empire and the Central Valley were tepid—far lower than the percentages there for the recall of Gray Davis two years ago. I was out in California before that election and interviewed voters. In Bellflower, once a white working-class suburb near Long Beach and now heavily Latino, I interviewed downscale voters and found half of them ready to recall Davis. They especially opposed Davis's car-tax increase. I recall especially one Latino guy who was furious about the tax increase: He had to pay it on his three motorcycles. Republicans were giving him something to vote for in 2003. They weren't in 2005. Douthat and Salam suggest they had better do so in the future if they want to win elections in 2006 and 2008 as they did in 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Republicans' stand for cutting taxes on high-income earners has a lot to say for it as economic policy: The 2003 federal tax cut has been followed by economic growth that helps everyone. Tax cuts for lower-income earners do less to stimulate the economy. But they can be structured to give a boost up to people trying to work their way up the ladder, and those people in turn may be ready to vote for candidates who support them. In contrast, tax cuts for high earners do little for Republicans in states like California, where rich liberal voters in the San Francisco Bay area and the West Side of Los Angeles don't care about tax cuts (they have their accountants handle these things and always have plenty of money to spend) and are much more interested in 13-year-olds' being able to get partial-birth abortions without their parents' consent. They didn't vote for recall in 2003 or for Bush in 2004, and they didn't vote for Schwarzenegger's propositions this time. Neiman Marcus isn't where the available votes are; Sam's Club is.