Over the last few days, the liberal commentariat has bemoaned the influence of the Tea Party movement which is, they assert, driving out Republican â€œmoderates,â€ a class of Republicans that the liberals have long claimed to like. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne has gone so far as to declare the â€œend of Moderate Republicanism.â€
Why are liberals so unhappy to see â€œmoderate Republicansâ€ drummed out of the party? Thatâ€™s simple: itâ€™s because liberals have out-maneuvered such Republicans for decades. Moderate Republicans â€œcompromiseâ€ in incremental steps toward liberal policies, while the liberals depict any â€œcompromiseâ€ as being akin to genocide. Faced with such charges, moderate Republicans quickly surrender. This is particularly true in environmental policy, which Iâ€™ll discuss shortly.
Over at the liberal Mother Jones, Nick Baumann admits this is why liberals love moderate Republicans:
While some liberals might like to root for Democrats exclusively, the continuing decline of the moderate Republican and rightward shift of the GOP is bad news for progressivesâ€”and the country. Republicans are going to run Congressâ€”and inhabit the White Houseâ€”around half of the time. It’s better for liberals if the people in the GOP are not radicals.
I call this the ratchet effect: while the Left claims to want bipartisanship and compromise, the incremental clicks of the ratchet only go in one directionâ€”toward European-style social democracy. Peggy Noonan expresses the ratchet effect in terms of a yardstick:
Imagine that over at the 36-inch end you’ve got pure liberal thinkingâ€”more and larger government programs, a bigger government that costs more in the many ways that cost can be calculated. Over at the other end you’ve got conservative thinkingâ€”a government that is growing smaller and less demanding and is less expensive. You assume that when the two major parties are negotiating bills in Washington, they sort of lay down the yardstick and begin negotiations at the 18-inch line. Each party pulls in the direction it wants, and the dominant party moves the government a few inches in their direction.
But if you look at the past half century or so you have to think: How come even when Republicans are in charge, even when they’re dominant, government has always gotten larger and more expensive? It’s always grown! It’s as if something inexorable in our political realityâ€”with those who think in liberal terms dominating the establishment, the media, the academyâ€”has always tilted the starting point in negotiations away from 18 inches, and always toward liberalism, toward the 36-inch point.
Democrats on the Hill or in the White House try to pull it up to 30, Republicans try to pull it back to 25. A deal is struck at 28. Washington Republicans call it victory: “Hey, it coulda been 29!”
In the field of energy policy, a solid conservative approach would be based on letting competitive markets work. That would mean stripping out subsidies to all forms of energy production, leveling the regulatory playing field among competing forms of energy, addressing true externalities with Pigovian taxes, and letting the market determine what the best form of energy is in any given place, at any given time, for any given use, at any given price. In Noonanâ€™s analogy, that would be the position down at the 1â€ line on the yardstick. Is that what â€œmoderate Republicansâ€ have pursued? Not even close.
…moderate Republicans have generally gone along with an incremental tightening of environmental regulations far beyond the level needed to protect the public health; gone far beyond the point at which the benefits of such policies exceed their costs; and profoundly compromised the quaint conservative notion that property rights are important. Again, if environmental policy that respects property rights, constrains regulation to the essentials, and demands that benefits exceed costs are down toward the 1â€ end of Noonanâ€™s yardstick, moderate Republicans arenâ€™t even close.
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