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“Ryan The Wonk Losing His Street Cred”: He’s Clearly Overdrawn At The Intellectual Credit Bank

In all the recent attention being paid to “Reform Conservatives” (some galvanized by Sam Tanenhaus’ lengthy profile in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine), a glaring absence has been noted in the sparse ranks of the reform movement’s political sponsors. Yes, one-time Super Wonk Paul Ryan, who until recently epitomized Big Brains in the GOP, is nowhere to be seen, and may actually be diverging from the reformers on key tax and budget issues.

Jonathan Chait argues that the cool pragmatism of the Reform Conservatives is at odds with the “apocalyptic” attitude towards Obama and liberalism that Ryan shares with the Tea Folk. But TNR’s Brian Beutler is more precise in noting that the reformicons’ antipathy to the tax agenda of the business community and support for “family-friendly” tax policies is at odds with where Ryan is likely to go as the next chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee:

In his most recent budget, Ryan emphasized his support for a tax reform package that would, among other things, reduce the current seven tax brackets to two, at 25 and 10 percent rates. The dual-bracket structure has long been the dream goal of conservative, supply-side tax reform. It would not just simplify the code, a goal even liberals share. It would also reduce rates on the wealthy. But such a plan could not be revenue-neutral without sharply increasing middle class taxes. It’s a mathematical certainty.

And such a plan is definitely at odds with the reformicons’ stated concern that the conservative movement’s fiscal policies are in danger of fatally alienating middle-class voters, and even the GOP’s critical white working class constituency.

It’s worth remembering, of course, that Ryan’s hardly the only ambitious GOP pol who’s likely to prefer praise from the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board than from the reformicon ranks. So it’s hardly a good betting proposition that the reformers’ fiscal priorities will find champions among the 2016 GOP presidential field, even if Marco Rubio regains his pre-immigration-reform standing.

But for the moment, it’s refreshing to see that Ryan looks more and more like a standard GOP business hack with an unhealthy addiction to Ayn Rand novels, and less and less like the Brains of the GOP. He’s certainly overdrawn at the intellectual credit bank.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Editor, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 8, 2014

July 9, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Paul Ryan | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They Have No Evidence”: How Climate Change Ate Conservatism’s Smartest Thinkers

Climate change remains perhaps the single largest policy weakness of the Republican Party, and that’s saying a lot. Thus, since the publication of the new “reform conservatism” book, the reformers have gotten a lot of flak for almost totally ignoring the subject.

Ross Douthat grappled yesterday with the issue, arguing that reform conservatives have been given short shrift to their attention on climate change, but that he’s basically okay with doing nothing about the problem. Here’s the conclusion:

These answers are obviously subject to revision — trends can change, risks can increase, cost-benefit calculations can be altered — but for now they’re what reform conservatism offers on this issue. We could be wrong; indeed, we could be badly wrong, in which case we’ll deserve to be judged harshly for misplacing priorities in the face of real perils, real threats. But on the evidence available [at] the moment, I’m willing to argue that we have our priorities in order, and the other side’s allegedly forward-looking agenda does not. [The New York Times]

There are two problems with this. Just like Clive Crook, Will Wilkinson, and Walter Russell Mead, Douthat doesn’t seriously engage with the evidence. Earlier in the article, he constructs a lengthy Rube Goldberg analogy to “insurance” salesmanship to cast doubt on every portion of the climate hawk case, but he doesn’t take the obvious next step of trying to work through what that means on a quantitative basis.

Douthat implies that based on his careful read of the evidence, world society can take more carbon dioxide than the greens say. But he doesn’t even gesture at how much more. Is the international agreement that warming should be limited to 2 degrees too low? If so, what’s a good limit? If climate sensitivity measurements are lower than we thought (and they almost certainly aren’t), how much lower should we assume?

Without numbers, Douthat’s case is nothing more than vague handwaving that reads very much like he has cherry-picked a bunch of disconnected fluff to justify doing nothing. Because even if we grant all his assumptions about climate sensitivity and probable dangers of warming, it changes little about the climate hawk case, which depends critically on how fast we’re emitting carbon dioxide. Saying we can chance 3 to 4 degrees of warming and that sensitivity is much lower than previously thought might give us enough space to push CO2 concentrations up to 5-600 ppm or so. But right now we’re barreling towards 1000 ppm and beyond.

This is the major problem with how the vast majority of reform conservatives think about climate change (with a few exceptions). They neither articulate a clear view of what kind of climate goals they would prefer nor demonstrate how their favorite policies would get us there. Instead, like Douthat, the few conservatives who even talk about climate (like Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru, who he mentions) are constantly saying whatever policy is on deck at the moment is no good. It’s too inefficient; it’s too expensive; it’s trampling on democracy; we should be doing technology instead, etc, etc.

These folks may well be arguing in good faith for their best policy. But because it has become nearly impossible to legislate anything through the sucking mire of United States institutions, consistent advocacy against every single climate policy amounts to little more than putting a patina of credibility on the denialist views of the Republican majority.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, June 27, 2014

June 28, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Science, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment


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