In case you need any more evidence that the Republican Party’s reaction to its 2006 and 2008 defeats has been to grasp more firmly than ever the mast of conservative ideological orthodoxy, check out this op-ed today from Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, who was unanimously voted to the number three spot in the House Republican leadership recently. Much of it is the usual stuff about America being a center-right nation and the GOP losing because it’s abandoned its conservative principles. But Pence’s definition of a positive GOP agenda for this stricken nation is especially revealing:
We must develop new strategies for strengthening our armed forces and homeland security, and be willing to oppose any effort to use our military for nation-building or progressive social experimentation. We must again be the party of economic growth. The American people know we cannot borrow, spend and bail our way back to a growing economy. Republicans must offer alternatives for restoring growth through tax relief, expanded trade, spending discipline and no more government bailouts. We must detail our alternatives to Democratic plans to raise taxes and expand the federal government in education, health care and entitlements. Ideas like a balanced budget amendment, school-choice vouchers, health savings accounts and welfare reform should take center stage in the Republican agenda. And we must have a vision for defending the cherished values of life and marriage whenever they come under attack from the courts, the new administration or congressional liberals.
It’s hard to imagine measures more out of step with public opinion right now than a balanced-budget amendment, categorical opposition to any sort of “bailouts” (presumably including “bailouts” of middle-class voters in extreme economic distress, and, given all of Pence’s talk about spending discipline, probably any economic stimulus package), the hoary conservative pet rock of health savings accounts (at a time when millions of Americans are losing or will soon lose health insurance), and “welfare reform.” Is there really an outcry right now for private-school vouchers or for expanded trade?
There’s a lot of talk right now about Barack Obama trying to “rebrand” progressive policy goals as “the center.” If so, he’ll be pushing an empty door, because today’s GOP seems determined to avoid any confusion between the two parties by abandoning anything that might look like “the center.”