Paul, that Ponnuru column makes more sense as the expression of a party line than as serious analysis. Wage stagnation is a long-term problem, but there’s little evidence that it contributed to the GOP’s defeat in 2006; certainly Ponnuru provides none. It sounds like a device to minimize the role foreign policy played in the GOP’s descent. The Ponnuru line is that Republicans should do more of what he likes — bribing the middle class with dubious social programs like Medicare Part D or mandatory retirement savings programs (a great handout to Wall Street) — while ignoring the uncomfortable truth that a war Ponnuru supported cost his party dearly. It’s interesting, by the way, that he attributes 2010 Republican Senate losses in Nevada and Colorado to small-government types but says nothing about the much more catastrophic nomination of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. The Colorado candidate, Ken Buck, came within 2 percentage points of winning. Ponnuru would like his readers to believe that if only small-government conservatives would shut up, “values” would suffice to elect more Republicans. O’Donnell was a Tea Party favorite herself, but she complicates that picture.
It certainly is a myth that Republicans lost in 2006 or 2008 because they were too big government, but small-government ideology, which was neither preached nor practiced then, can hardly be blamed either. Lest Ponnuru forget, the doomed Republican Congress in 2006 staked its re-election on a bundle of legislative nonsense called the “American Values Agenda,” which included attacks on online gambling and homeowners’ associations that limited displays of American flags. The GOP wanted a replay of 2004 — dupe the evangelicals and values voters into supporting the party of war and Wall Street.
The truth that hardly gets spoken is that certain Republican pundits who consider themselves social conservatives have a vision for this country that amounts to a hybrid of European-style Christian Democracy and Chilean semi-privatization of the welfare state, along with a values-hyping foreign policy delegated to outright neoconservatives and a managerial-therapeutic approach to the poor. The Bush administration, especially in its first term, was the closest these pundits ever came to getting what they want. And it was a strategic, fiscal, and moral disaster for the country.