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Populism and Policy Innovation on the Right

Ross Douthat makes an obvious but important point about the shutdown:

Sure, the polling could be worse. Sure, assuming cooler heads ultimately prevail, it’s not likely to be an irrecoverable disaster. But something can be less than a disaster and still not make a lick of sense. And that’s what we have here: A case study, for the right’s populists, in how all the good ideas and sound impulses in the world don’t matter if you decide to fight on ground where you simply cannot win [bold mine-DL].

For that matter, it takes a special kind of populist incompetence to commit to a strategy that is overwhelmingly unpopular as well as being devoid of any achievable goals. It is the sort of strategy that one might recommend to populists on the right if one wished to make their ideas less appealing to politicians and policy wonks. The good news is that conservatives and libertarians interested in a more populist agenda are not required to endorse the self-defeating tactics we have seen displayed in the last few weeks. Populists do not always have workable plans for achieving their policy goals, and sometimes populists don’t even have well-defined goals, but it is a very poor sort of populist that finds a way to turn the public against him without having anything to show for it at the end. It has been said before, but whatever constructive and interesting policy innovation that is taking place on the right is being jeopardized by political actions that threaten to overshadow and swallow anything good that has come from Republican defeat in 2012.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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