Show of hands: who is sick of Tom Friedman using his column to call for a moderate third party whose purpose is primarily oriented around catering to wealthy people who are exactly like Tom Friedman or alternatively, doing exactly what Obama already does? Well good, because you’re in luck, since his most recent column is calling for a conservative party wherein Jeb Bush is in charge of education policy and deficit reduction is headed up by Tom Coburn. Also, let’s see what Rupert Murdoch has to say about immigration! We have one great issue facing America, he says, and it is made up of three subparts, and we also have four challenges that are really important, and if only we had real conservatives in charge of the GOP platform, then maybe the next four years can really amount to something! (Yes, this is a pretty accurate summary of his entire column.)
The bar for this campaign is so low that we celebrate the fact that it might include a serious debate about one of the four great issues of the day, though even that is not clear yet. And even if Ryan’s entry does spark a meaningful debate about one of the great issues facing America — the nexus of debt, taxes and entitlements — there is little sign that we’ll seriously debate our other three major challenges: how to generate growth and upgrade the skills of every American in an age when the merger of globalization and the information technology revolution means every good job requires more education; how to meet our energy and climate challenges; and how to create an immigration policy that will treat those who are here illegally humanely, while opening America to the world’s most talented immigrants, whom we need to remain the world’s most innovative economy.
We need deals on all four issues as soon as this election is over, and I just don’t see that happening unless “conservatives” retake the Republican Party from the “radicals” — that is, the Tea Party base. America today desperately needs a serious, thoughtful, credible 21st-century “conservative” opposition to President Obama, and we don’t have that, even though the voices are out there.
Who are these voices? Maybe Olympia Snowe, the soon-to-be-retired senator from Maine? Or how about David Stockman, former budget director for President Reagan? Or maybe Buddy Roemer, the former Louisiana governor who has expressed concern about Citizens United and recently endorsed Gary Johnson for president? No, wrong, none of these people need bigger voices in the Republican party. You know who does, is Tom Coburn, a Tenther from Oklahoma.
Imagine if the G.O.P.’s position on debt was set by Senator Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who has challenged the no-tax lunacy of Grover Norquist and served on the Simpson-Bowles commission and voted for its final plan (unlike Ryan). That plan included both increased tax revenues and spending cuts as the only way to fix our long-term fiscal imbalances. Give me a Republican Party that says we have to put real tax revenues and spending cuts on the table to solve this problem, and you’ll get a deal with Obama, who has already offered both, although not at the scale we need.
Oooh wouldn’t it be WONDERFUL if Tom Coburn set the GOP position on debt? He thinks the Department of Education is unconstitutional along with Pell Grants and student loan assistance, and opposes raising taxes on the wealthy, so yeah, let’s put him in charge, because these positions really set him apart from the radical Tea Party fringe elements of the GOP.
Imagine if G.O.P. education policy was set by former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, without having to cater to radicals, who call for eliminating the Department of Education and view common core standards as some kind of communist conspiracy. Mr. Bush has argued that a conservative approach to education for 21st-century jobs would embrace more effective teacher evaluation and common core standards, but add a bigger element of choice in the form of charter schools and vouchers, the removal of union rules that limit new technology — and combine it all with greater autonomy and accountability for individual principals. When parents can choose and school leaders can innovate, good things happen.
It would be fascinating to see how Jeb and Tom would get along, given that Tom Coburn wants to balance the budget by eliminating education subsidies as well as the entire Department of Education. Also, Jeb Bush seems to think that actually GOING to school is entirely optional, so yes, that sounds very “conservative” and not “radical” at all. And if you have any doubt about the value of charter schools, vouchers, and technology, just look to the progress being made on all these fronts in the Great State of Louisiana.
Imagine if the G.O.P.’s position on immigration followed the lead of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of the News Corporation. Bloomberg and Murdoch recently took to the road to make the economic case for immigration reform. “I think we are in a crisis in this country,” The Times quoted the Australian-born Murdoch, who’s now a naturalized American, as saying last week. “Right now, if we get qualified people in, there shouldn’t be any nonsense about it.” Regarding the “so-called illegal Mexicans,” Murdoch added, “give them a path to citizenship. They pay taxes; they are hard-working people. Why Mitt Romney doesn’t do it, I have no idea, because they are natural Republicans.”
Indeed, we were just thinking this morning that Rupert Murdoch doesn’t have a big enough voice in American politics, particularly insofar as “illegal Mexicans” are concerned. Also, we’re not clear on why this is a “conservative” position on immigration, especially since it’s essentially the position that Obama has taken and Friedman says in the last paragraph that Obama has taken a “center left” position on everything, including immigration.
We are not going to make any progress on our biggest problems without a compromise between the center-right and center-left. But, for that, we need the center-right conservatives, not the radicals, to be running the G.O.P., as well as the center-left in the Democratic Party. Over the course of his presidency, Obama has proposed center-left solutions to all four of these challenges. I wish he had pushed some in a bigger, consistent, more daring and more forceful manner — and made them the centerpiece of his campaign. Nevertheless, if the G.O.P. were in a different place, either a second-term Obama or a first-term Romney would have a real chance at making progress on all four. As things stand now, though, there is little hope this campaign will give the winner any basis for governing. Too bad — a presidential campaign is a terrible thing to waste.
Yes, if only Jeb Bush and Rupert Murdoch and Tom Coburn were given bigger voices in today’s Republican party, Obama might be able to get something done next term!