Look, I know critiquing a Friedman column is like shooting fish in a barrel, but this is what Friedman thinks a conservative party would look like. It would:
- Favor deficit reduction achieved by a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts.
- Favor immigration reform that provided a path to citizenship for those here illegally and that opened the “front door” wider for skilled immigrants to come legally.
- Favor tackling climate change by putting a price on carbon to account for negative externalities, and then let the market work its magic to reduce emissions.
- Favor improving education by toughening teacher evaluation, doing an end-run around union rules through school choice and charters, and promoting common core standards for instruction.
Every single item on that list is Obama Administration policy, from Cap-and-Trade to Race-to-the-Top.
Beyond Friedman’s deadly familiar wish-list, the Obama Administration has been a quintessentially small-”c” conservative one, in that it has tried its best to preserve the status quo in just about every area. Its health care plan aimed to achieve universality with minimal disruption to existing insurance arrangements (which is why it was a good deal for insurance companies). Its response to the financial crisis was centered on securing the financial position of the large banks. Its response to the recession centered on the combination of tax cuts and aid to the states to prevent precipitate layoffs, and it quickly pivoted from talking about stimulus to talking about reducing the long-term deficit. Its approach to foreign policy has been to try to preserve American hegemony at minimal cost.
Moreover, the Obama Administration has not tried to rein in the Executive branch’s authority (far from it), nor has it rolled back the Bush Administration’s compromises of civil liberties. It has not pushed the Fed to adopt an inflationary monetary policy – indeed, President Obama reappointed Bush’s Fed Chair, Ben Bernanke. It has not aggressively used the FHA or any other levers available to it to address household mortgage debt directly. In the core areas of policy, the goal of the Obama Administration has been the preservation of the status quo, and where the Obama Administration has sought to move longstanding Democratic priorities, it has generally done so with an eye to minimally disturbing existing economic and political arrangements.
Obviously, we can all come up with exceptions to the above, and what I perceive as a relatively modest change may be perceived by others as monumental (that’s certainly what I observed with respect to the ACA’s mandate/tax). But it would be helpful if commentators like Friedman would acknowledge not only that the Republican Party has become a right-wing populist party rather than a conservative one, but that the Obama Administration is the sensible, centrist conservative Administration they claim to want – and either declare their support (rather than wishing for a better opposition) or, if they don’t like the results, reconsider their centrist policy preferences.