Sunday, July 12, 2009

Book Review (#9 of 2009)

For Father's Day Joni got me Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. David Brooks said
"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."

The first half of the book is a history of American politics (including various critiques of previously written histories) from the New Deal to the Republican defeats in '06. They criticize conservatives who believe in a Reagan myth by showing he was no Goldwater small-government conservative, he believed in a powerful goverment that was helpful and not harmful. They explain why the middle class,"Sam's Club voters", keep swinging back and forth between parties in their voting patterns.

The authors identify some major demographic and economic problems that threaten the American way of life, including the growing divide between the upper class and the working class. They then propose a list of (mostly economist-produced) legislative solutions to win the Sam's Club voters and renew the Republican Party. Among them:

1. Expanded child tax credits and other subsidies for parents.
2. Embracing suburban expansion rather than urban renewal. Ideas include funding new interstate construction and implementing congestion pricing and such.
3. They propose Brad Delong's health care plan of requiring all workers to put 15% of income into an HSA, and allowing the gov't to pick up the tab once that money has been spent as a way to reduce health care costs.
4. Replacing the current income tax system with a consumption tax instead (Huckabee's Fair Tax).
5. Scrapping farm subsidies and replacing them with green technology subsidies or other subsidies to encourage business development in the farm states.
6. Providing college tuition credits to every high school graduate.
7. Replace wasteful subsidies with federal money to local gov'ts for the expansion of police forces. (This would create jobs for low-educated people as well as teach them discipline and curb the crime that is likely to appear...this makes sense as part of a stimulus package during a recession, IMO).
8. Smarter immigration reform by...well, this part wasn't quite clear.

Douthat and Reihan have undoubtedly discussed some of their ideas with economists like Tyler Cowen, but they really gloss over some of the weaknesses of their arguments. Some of their ideas make great sense but require more political will than currently found. What the book really lacks is a works cited, they give a whole bunch of facts, quotes, and figures with no citations.

I found much of the history to be informative, but seeing how the GOP has devolved since this book was written is rather depressing. I was hoping this book would inspire me and renew my faith in the GOP. It has given me some ideas but seems to do little to address the current pressing problems. If the GOP makes gains in Congress in 2010 then I'll be interested to see how many have read this work, if not the party is probably doomed. David Brooks also said:
"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. "

My favorite quote from the book (on the ever-increasing divide between the upper-class and the working-class):
"As the educated class became dismissive of religious faith, the religous traditions they had abandoned turned increasingly anti-intellectual, with Tim LaHaye and Jerry Falwell suceeding Reinhold Niebuhr and Thomas Merton; this, in turn, made America's meritocrats more contemptuous still toward organized religion. As highly educated consumers abandoned Newsweek and the networks in favor of the more highbrow pleasures afforded by cable television and NPR and HBO, the mass-market magazines and the networks turned to bread and circuses--game shows and blockbuster movie coners, reality TV and self-help columns--to keep their audiences hooked, which only encouraged further defections by their highbrow readers and further cultural polarization. The more that elites kept patriotism at arm's length and treated national pride with a sophisticate's tolerance, the more the breach was filled by Sean Hannity-styled jingoists. The mor the mass upper class seemed to look down on the rubes in "Red America," the more the rubes returned the favor, embracing a self-conscious anti-intellectualism that ran from George Wallace to Ross Perot and reached its apotheosis, perhaps, in the era of George W. Bush."

In all, I give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

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