Republicans Are Fighting the Wrong Fight Against Obama

They still think we live in an ideological country. They're wrong.


By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

This, from Lindsay Graham in today's New York Times, leapt out at me:

After a $787 billion economic stimulus package and a $410 billion appropriations measure for the current year, "Republicans feel like they can oppose this spending spree and this shifting of power from Main Street to Washington enthusiastically," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina to whom the administration has looked for bipartisanship. "It means the year could be an ideological struggle instead of a problem-solving year."

I'm not sure he meant it this way, but it strikes me as a great summation of the differences between the approaches of Democrats and Republicans at the moment: problem-solving versus pushing ideology.

That sounds more partisan than I intend it.

I have been struck for months that a problem many Republicans have, and especially conservatives, is that they are still dogged by the increasingly stale conventional wisdom that the United States is an essentially center-right country. As an electorate we want conservative policies, the thinking goes, giving the GOP a natural political advantage.

But that formulation assumes that as an electorate we have a coherent ideology at all. America strikes me as being more plausibly described as non-ideological or post-ideological. There are distinctly conservative areas in the country and also distinctly liberal areas. But more than fidelity to a specific ideology, the bulk of voters want effectiveness. Does it work?

Conservatism has been tried and found wanting. And before conservative readers respond that George W. Bush was no conservative—that's frankly beside the point. He is widely perceived as being conservative as are his policies. (If Obama is a failure, progressives will argue that he or his policies were insufficiently liberal—tough. Your side gets a crack and if they flub it you spend time in the wilderness, regardless of whether the game plan was sufficiently ideologically pure.)

But conservatives are still behaving as if this is a conservative country upon which liberal policies are being secretly foisted. They think that if they can make this year about an ideological struggle— We're being turned in socialists! Obama's a liberal!—they will triumph. But this isn't an ideological year.

Obama and the Democrats have aggressively assumed the role of problem-solvers, which is the high ground in times of crisis. People are less interested in ideology now than: Does it work? This is not to suggest that Democrats are non-ideological or post-ideological, but they're not framing the fight as an ideological one.

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