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Grand New Party

How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream
  • and Ross Douthat, senior editor, Atlantic Monthly
Published:   June 2008
ISBN: 0385519435 | 256 pages
In a provocative challenge to Republican conventional wisdom, two of the Right's rising young thinkers call upon the GOP to focus on the interests and needs of working-class voters.

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Grand New Party lays bare the failures of the conservative revolution and presents a detailed blueprint for building the next Republican majority. Blending history, analysis, and fresh, often controversial recommendations, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam argue that it is time to move beyond the Reagan legacy and the mind-set of the current Republican power structure.

In a concise examination of recent political trends, the authors show that the Democrats' cultural liberalism makes their party inherently hostile to the interests and values of the working class. But on a host of issues, today's Republican Party lacks a message that speaks to their economic aspirations. Grand New Party offers a new direction -- a conservative vision of a limited-but-active government that tackles the threats to working-class prosperity and to the broader American Dream.

With specific proposals covering such hot-button topics as immigration, health care, and taxes, Grand New Party will shake up the Right, challenge the Left, and force both sides to confront and adapt to the changing political landscape.

An excerpt of this book is available in The Wall Street Journal.

Publishers Weekly

Monday, May 12, 2008
Coauthored by Atlantic Monthly writers Douthat and Salam, this book (like David Frum's Comeback) is part of a movement to reconstruct the Republican Party's core principles and reinvigorate the conservative electorate. The authors' strategy is to win back the working class through a combination of prudent government intervention and entrepreneurship. Relying on a bevy of sociological analysis, class scrutiny and historicism -- a style resembling New York Times columnist David Brooks's, but stripped of his literary flair -- Douthat and Salam take a nuts-and-bolts approach, perhaps because their book is prescriptive rather than observational, policy advocacy not entertainment. Whether or not readers will agree with the tenor of their arguments, rarely have moderate conservative ideas been so intelligently streamlined and so self-consciously pruned of conservatism's hairier iterations. The real holes in the text are the lack of cogent discussions on immigration and the war against radical Islam -- the very issues currently shaping working-class politics in America. Nevertheless, this book is stuffed with fresh and brilliant ideas and presents a solid domestic conservative agenda to win over blue-collar workers.

In These Times

Friday, May 30, 2008
On a recent episode of the NBC comedy “30 Rock,” the cutthroat corporate executive Jack Donaghy, played by Alec Baldwin, needed some “cool Republican celebrities” to headline his John McCain fundraising dinner. To his dismay, Democrats had cornered the hip, star market, so Donaghy was forced to turn to the fictional Dennis Duffy, an obnoxious beeper salesman who had recently stepped in front of a subway train to save a fallen stranger. To be certain he had the right man, Donaghy asked Duffy to describe his politics. “Social conservative, fiscal liberal,” the subway hero deadpanned.

The Atlantic Monthly’s Ross Douthat, a senior editor, and Reihan Salam, an associate editor, would likely disavow that label, but the platform they advocate in their thoughtful book, Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (Doubleday, 2008), would likely earn Duffy’s vote.

By urging the GOP to address the economic needs of its working-class base -- whom the authors call the party’s “Sam’s Club voters” -- Douthat and Salam propose a forward-thinking domestic strategy that could revive a party ailing under the leadership of supply-side ideologues. And while many ideas in Grand New Party deserve serious scrutiny, progressives who are interested in building and sustaining a governing majority should consider the authors’ argument.

Part political history, part domestic policy paper, Grand New Party centers on a simple premise: Working-class Americans are struggling and need government to work for them. Like populists on the left, Douthat and Salam understand growing insecurity -- inadequate healthcare, evaporating pensions, income volatility -- and a hardening of the country’s socioeconomic classes to be the “greatest domestic danger facing American society.” Their political solution, however, gives as much (if not more) consideration to culture -- specifically, the decline of traditional nuclear families -- as it does to economics.

The last enduring political majority -- President Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition -- is, ironically, the standard-bearer for these conservatives’ vision of government. Rather than champion the New Dealers’ public works programs, Douthat and Salam find value in the reformers’ emphasis on dignity, ownership and independence among American families, promoted through the family wage and the 1935 Social Security Act, among other legislation.

But in the 1960s, the authors argue, rising crime, family breakdown, educational and economic stratification, and, to a lesser extent, the shifting racial platforms of the two major parties subverted the “cultural solidarity” so central to the New Deal. With this electoral coalition weakened, conservatives had a chance to cement their legacy by implementing, in the words of then-Nixon adviser Kevin Phillips, “policies able to resurrect the vitality and commitment of Middle America.”

Yet despite significant electoral successes, Republicans failed to consolidate a Roosevelt-like majority, precisely because they embraced a vision of small government at odds with the interests of working-class voters.

After Goldwater Republicans derailed President Nixon’s platform of “ideological conservatism and operational liberalism,” Tricky Dick forged an unsustainable majority built on working-class resentments of the ’60s counterculture, not creative public policy. Stagnating wages persisted and crime rose throughout the Reagan years, proving tax cuts alone weren’t a sufficient buffer against the destabilizing effects of globalization. The Newt Gingrich revolutionaries made pragmatic gains in President Clinton’s first term, but the Right’s irrational hatred of the Democrat ultimately ended their uneasy partnership. And on the stump, George W. Bush articulated a vision of working-class conservatism but abandoned it in favor of corporate welfare and war-making.

So, where are increasingly insecure Sam’s Club voters to turn?

Douthat and Salam hope they will flock to a rejuvenated Republican Party, one that seeks to alleviate the economic burdens of the working class through culturally conservative policy prescriptions. From family-friendly tax reforms to government-subsidized childcare to comprehensive immigration and education reform, Grand New Party outlines a pro-family economic agenda that attempts to foster upward mobility among working families through directed government expenditures, a plan that admonishes the Republican domestic-spending status quo.

The authors should be applauded for tackling the topic of Sam’s Club insecurity, something legislators on both sides of the aisle have ignored for too long. Politically, it’s a smart argument for Republicans, as well. It hits the Democrats where they are weakest (their perceived lack of “moral values”) and could redirect voters’ focus away from cultural issues -- same-sex marriage, stem cell research, evolution -- that the conservative establishment has pushed for decades, thereby increasingly alienating moderate voters.

A platform like this couldn’t come soon enough for the Right, either. Republicans are rapidly ceding ground to Democrats among Latinos, independents and young people, suggesting they may need white, working-class supermajorities to survive...

... Republicans should take to heart Grand New Party’s sharp advice. But those on the left needn’t worry. To judge from the medley of Sen. John McCain’s economic proposals -- extending the Bush tax cuts, a one-year freeze in discretionary spending -- working-class conservatism doesn’t look to be coming any time soon. -- Adam Doster

The Wall Street Journal

Saturday, Jun. 21, 2008
[I]n "Grand New Party," two young writers for The Atlantic, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, advance their own scheme for Republican revival. It is a simple and sensible plan and, though not always convincing, the most relevant to Republican troubles in 2008.

Messrs. Douthat and Salam have a theory that purports to explain almost everything: Republican success depends on attracting the votes of the working class, the predominantly white group of non-college graduates that are roughly half the electorate. These voters are a familiar bloc, having been dubbed the "silent majority" (by Richard Nixon) in the 1970s, "Reagan Democrats" in the 1980s and "angry white men" in the 1990s, when they delivered control of Congress to Republicans. Today Messrs. Douthat and Salam call them "Sam's Club Republicans," a term coined by Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. They are the most powerful bloc of voters unmoored to either party.

For Republicans, they are like a problem child. Sometimes they behave, sometimes they don't. Nixon and Reagan won solid majorities of working-class voters, but they slipped away from the GOP coalition to vote for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. They bolted again in 2006, disastrously for Republicans, after Bush had won their allegiance in 2004.

The long-term result: Republicans failed where Democrats once succeeded. Led by Franklin Roosevelt, Democrats made working-class voters the linchpin of a majority coalition that lasted a half-century. In the conservative era since 1968, however, wavering appeal to working-class voters has limited Republicans to what Messrs. Douthat and Salam refer to as an "unfinished realignment."

This year, the working class has emerged in the Democratic presidential primaries as the bloc of voters most resistant to the candidacy of Barack Obama. They overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton, and, depending on the state, one-third to one-half of them have told pollsters that they won't vote for Mr. Obama this fall. Now they're the pivotal swing voters in the general election.

Republicans have a shot at winning them back. But not, the authors argue, if the party emphasizes its small-government agenda. Reagan's smashing success in bonding with working-class voters "was inversely proportional to how fiercely he preached the old-time Goldwater antigovernment religion," Messrs. Douthat and Salam claim. Working-class voters tend to be social conservatives -- this was the part of Reagan's message they responded to, along with his muscular foreign policy. But they are pro-government on domestic matters like education and health care and don't mind government spending in general.

The reasons for their eagerness for government help are analyzed persuasively in "Grand New Party." Working-class families and communities have suffered egregiously from the legacy of the 1960s. "The crime wave and the Sexual Revolution pushed working-class life into a vicious cycle," Messrs. Douthat and Salam write, "in which family breakdown fed crime and disorder, and disorder fed family breakdown, and both trends led to economic difficulties for people without significant reserves of capital to fall back on."

For working-class Americans, the 1960s were a "slow-motion disaster." The bulwark of their social stability, the two-parent family, collapsed as their economic insecurity deepened, and their embrace of social conservatism followed naturally. For the working class, a conservative social outlook was not a form of "ancestral prejudice" but a "rational response to lives lived without the security provided by education and wealth."

The working class has been left behind by another trend as well: the growth of a mass upper class in America, composed of those with college degrees. Messrs. Douthat and Salam call this stratification "the dark side of meritocracy." An educated elite, they note, increasingly "perpetuated itself, passing on social capital, great expectations, and SAT prep classes to its offspring, and creating a cycle of privilege nearly as powerful as the old WASP episcopacy it replaced." Meanwhile, the working class faced the loss of lifetime jobs, along with health-care and retirement security.

In addition to an income divide, the authors claim, there is a "cultural chasm." It first showed up in a rising rate of illegitimacy, divorce and fatherless homes among working-class Americans, and it continues to be expressed in their intense feelings about cultural controversies. "Social issues, from abortion and marriage law to the death penalty and immigration, aren't just red herrings distracting the working class from their economic struggles," Messrs. Douthat and Salam write, countering a thesis advanced by Thomas Frank in "What's the Matter With Kansas?" (2004). "Rather, they're at the root of working-class insecurity."

Whether on cultural matters or on economic ones, working-class voters are thus inclined to dismiss what the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has to offer. More affirmative-action decrees, more benefits for illegal aliens (on top of possible amnesty), more "environmental regulations that kill jobs" -- these are not the political ideas that they want to hear. Indeed, such ideas, Messrs. Douthat and Salam say, often seem "designed to take money out of the pocket of the average Sam's Club voter."

For a while, George W. Bush took advantage of this disaffection with liberal nostrums. He even built "a conservatism attuned to the needs of working-class voters," based partly on religious faith, partly on government activism. For instance, he publicly identified with evangelical Christianity, proposed faith-based social programs and declared that "when people are hurting, the government's got to move." He also departed sharply from the traditional Republican lust for spending cuts. But, as Messrs. Douthat and Salam note, he "failed to follow through." His majority crumbled, partly for lack of attention after 9/11, partly because he stressed anti-working-class issues like Social Security reform and immigration...

Messrs. Douthat and Salam don't pretend that all their ideas are realistic. The ones that are -- like the higher child tax credit -- don't seem powerful enough to lure back a crucial voting bloc and finish the "unfinished realignment," ensuring that working-class voters turn solidly and reliably Republican. But "Grand New Party" does make one thing clear: What is required, for a GOP that wants to govern, is not the rebirth of austerity and dramatically scaled-back aspirations for government. What is needed, rather, is a willingness to use government as the means to achieve generally conservative ends.
-- Fred Barnes

The New York Times

Friday, Jun 27, 2008
Among the many dark tidings for American conservatism, there is one genuine bright spot. Over the past five years, a group of young and unpredictable rightward-leaning writers has emerged on the scene.

These writers came of age as official conservatism slipped into decrepitude. Most of them were dismayed by what the Republican Party had become under Tom DeLay and seemed put off by the shock-jock rhetorical style of Ann Coulter. As a result, most have the conviction -- which was rare in earlier generations -- that something is fundamentally wrong with the right, and it needs to be fixed.

Moreover, most of these writers did not rise through the official channels of the conservative or libertarian establishments. By and large, they didn’t do the internships or take part in the young leader programs that were designed to replenish “the movement.” Instead, they found their voices while blogging. The new technology allowed them to create a new sort of career path and test out opinions without much adult supervision.

As a consequence, they are heterodox and hard to label. These writers grew up reading conservative classics -- Burke, Hayek, Smith, C.S. Lewis -- but have now splayed off in all sorts of quirky ideological directions.

There are dozens of writers I could put in this group, but I’d certainly mention Yuval Levin, Daniel Larison, Will Wilkinson, Julian Sanchez, James Poulos, Megan McArdle, Matt Continetti and, though he’s a tad older, Ramesh Ponnuru.

Ross Douthat and my former assistant, Reihan Salam, are two of the most promising. This pair has just come out with a book called “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.”

There have been other outstanding books on how the G.O.P. can rediscover its soul (like “Comeback” by David Frum), but if I could put one book on the desk of every Republican officeholder, “Grand New Party” would be it. You can discount my praise because of my friendship with the authors, but this is the best single roadmap of where the party should and is likely to head.

Several years ago, Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor, said the Republicans should be the party of Sam’s Club, not the country club. This line is the animating spirit of “Grand New Party.” Douthat and Salam argue that the Republicans rode to the majority because of support from the Reagan Democrats, and if the party has a future, it will be because it understands the dreams and tribulations of working-class Americans.

They open the book with a working-class view of recent American history. Douthat and Salam write admiringly about the New Deal. They mention Roosevelt’s economic policies, but they also emphasize the New Deal’s intense social conservatism. Self-conscious maternalists like Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins ensured that New Deal programs were biased in favor of traditional two-parent families.

Liberals write about economic inequality and conservatives about social disruption, but Douthat and Salam write about the interplay between values and economics and the way virtue and economic security can reinforce each other.

In the 1950s, divorce rates were low and jobs were plentiful, but over the next few decades that broke down. The social revolutions of the 1960s and the economic revolution of the information age have emancipated the well-educated but left the Sam’s Club voters feeling insecure.

Gaps are opening between the educated and less educated. Working-class divorce rates remain high, while the mostly upper-middle-class parents of Ivy Leaguers have divorce rates of only 10 percent. Working-class kids are unlikely to complete college, affluent kids usually do.

Liberals have a way to address these inequalities -- the creation of a Denmark-style welfare state. Conservatives have offered almost nothing. The G.O.P. has lost contact with its own working-class base. This is the intellectual vacuum that “Grand New Party” seeks to fill.

The heart of the book is the last third, where Douthat and Salam lay out a series of policy ideas to help working-class families cope with economic, health care, neighborhood and family insecurity.

“What all these ideas, from the sober to the speculative, have in common is a vision of working-class independence -- from bosses, from bureaucracy, from entrenched interests of all kinds,” Douthat and Salam write. This is not compassionate conservatism (which flattered the mind of the compassionate donor), it’s hard-work conservatism, which uses government to increase the odds that self-discipline and effort will pay off.

I’m not sure how quickly the G.O.P. can swing behind this working-class focus and this vision of government-enhanced social mobility. But the McCain campaign really needs to. So far, McCain’s platform is like an omnibus spending bill -- lots of decent ideas thrown together with no larger social vision.

It may take a few defeats for the G.O.P. to embrace a Sam’s Club agenda, but sooner or later, it will happen. Trust me. -- David Brooks

Additional praise for Grand New Party

“Memo to John McCain: Please, please read this book. It can help you win the election and guide Republicans in shaping the political future.
Memo to Democrats: Don’t read this book. It's going to be The Political Book of 2008. Republicans will be better off if you choose to ignore it.”
-- William Kristol, editor, The Weekly Standard

"Several Republicans have written books to figure a way their party can get out of its mess. McCain should take the time to read the best of them: Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam's forthcoming Grand New Party."
-- Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor, National Review

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