There is a lot of back and forth chatter going on right now in the DC-NYC corridor about conservative reform. This is problematic because the people talking about reform are in Washington and New York, the two places least likely to lead any version of conservative reform.
One example of why is Josh Barro.
Josh Barro is a late twenty-something gay male who hates conservatives, champions Obamacare, attacks Republicans for wanting to oppose it, supports the tax hikes that come with Obamacare, wants to rid the GOP of social conservatives, and gets fawning pieces of prattle composed by liberals who want everyone to know that their friend Josh Barro is a conservative reformer who wants less conservatism. Barro has never had a job in responsible policymaking or politics of any kind. He has worked no campaigns. He has answered to no constituency. He has enacted no ideas into policy, ever. He is a wholly inexperienced nitpicker and scold of the sort that Theodore Roosevelt admonished us -- rightly -- to ignore as pitiable and irrelevant. And the sad part is that he's just the latest in a long line of 'those cold and timid souls. He left the conservative Manhattan Institute after it became clear he was not a conservative through his support of Obamacare, but uses that connection and being kin to his famous father to segue into not very interesting, slightly shallow "deep think" pieces on conservative reform about which he knows nothing and advocates no such thing. His liberal friends call him conservative because of his prior employer and father and use him as a useful idiot to claim if only Republicans were like him they'd start winning.
About the only consequence of Josh Barro is that I wrote the last two paragraphs and referred to him as John Barro until a friend realized it was Josh. According to wikipedia, "Barro describes himself as a Republican, but has expressed opposition to the policies of the Republican party.
" Notice he describes himself as a Republican, not a conservative. But liberals want to take Barro seriously as a conservative reformer because he wants to "reform" by moving in their direction on both fiscal and social issues. (And unlike David Frum, he doesn't even try to cover this by being a national security hawk). Because liberals take him seriously, the media takes him seriously, and the rest of us are forced to deal with vapid analysis like giant platinum coins to get to the heart of real conversation on reform. But if he dropped the R, nobody would even read him.
The real conservative reformers have to fight it out in the already crowded space for reform with the poseurs. But once we get to them, we are presented with the original problem mentioned above. They are in New York and Washington.
Those of us outside Washington and New York should not think ourselves superior to them because of geography or biography. But we should all recognize that the DC-NY corridor of conservative thinkers have a steep hill to climb these days. The public, regardless of party, loathes Washington and the elites. Merely by virtue of geography, many of them are tainted. Thus they must try harder to connect to the real world.
Maybe it is because the conversations have not evolved to the point or maybe it is because they cannot connect, but I think a lot of the conservative reformers are sounding much more like Republicans than conservatives. There is, in fact, a difference. More so, while there is nothing wrong with it, it seems a number of the conservative reformers have never worked in the world beyond academia and punditry. They have difficulty connecting their ideas to the real world. Having never met a payroll or balanced a budget or fired or hired, etc. (let alone walked a precinct recruiting voters who have) their ideas remain largely academic.
In fact, I dare say this is a problem both parties have these days — the up and coming intellectual voices are voices that have worked little outside think tanks and ideological publications. The saving grace for the conservatives on this front is that they, by virtue of being conservative, at least have an understanding into how human nature actually operates.
Conservatism wins when it is populist and middle class. It does not win when it is academic or technocratic. Those discussing conservative reform in Washington and New York are offering up some intriguing ideas worth considering. And I hate it for them that they, real conservative policy thinkers, have to overcome both the poseurs and the anti-beltway bias, but I would also urge them to consider that the public deeply, deeply distrusts Washington. It is therefore probably not a great sales pitch to figure out how conservatives in Washington can make the case for Washington improving the lives of people who feel Washington and those, regardless of party or ideology, in Washington have helped create an American aristocracy.
Ronald Reagan took the academic ideas of conservatism and tied them to a mid-western understanding of human nature and a life spent touring factories and talking to people within 100 miles of a major American river valley, not just 25 miles of a coast. Conservative reform is going to come from the 50 laboratories of democracy and will be tied to a face and voice that ground them in the real world of Main Street, USA.