Conservative Socialism: On Julius Krein (Pt. I of II)

There are two articles which are worthy of mention here. Even though The Fourth Estate is strongly in favor of promoting a political discourse that is neither Left nor Right nor even Center, that does not mean the Blog should avoid looking for mutual points of agreement. Certain topics from the Left, Right, and Center do resonate with the Blog’s analysis, and they should always be recognized. One of the more notable instances include two articles penned by Julius Krein, the editor of the quarterly journal, American Affairs. One article is related to the question of American Conservatism after the Trump presidency, the other pondering about whether economic planning can be formulated in an all-American context. For the sake of brevity, the former will be discussed in greater detail here.

In an op-ed piece entitled “Can Conservatism Be More Than a Grudge?”, Krein sought to ascertain whether American Conservatism is still capable of undergoing any meaningful changes away from its pre-Trump, Reagan-era incarnation. The old Reagan-era Conservatism of Libertarians, Neoconservatives, and Neoliberals poised to promote the Jeffersonian Empire of Liberty through the Republican Party has already been discredited. They had lost their political legitimacy during the Bush 43 presidency back in the 2000s, creating room for a potential Populist faction that could deviate the Republican Party away from Liberal Capitalism. When that opportunity came in the form of Donald Trump, Krein thought that the Trump presidency was capable of having an intellectual edge once in office, and it became part of his initial efforts in 2017. After it became apparent that neither Trump nor his followers were willing to lead the Republican Party away from Liberal Capitalism, Krein distanced himself and his journal from them.

If the Trump presidency serves as a sign that the Republicans are ‘out of ideas’, then Krein insisted that the Republicans are also incapable of proposing any agenda, Liberal Capitalist or otherwise. This problem cannot be exclusively blamed on Trump, however. The Republican Party establishment, unlike their Democratic Party equivalent, is at best a Parliamentarian opposition party that touted protest against the Democrats for the sake of protest against the Democrats. Beyond the constant fixation at being disruptive, there was very little that the Republicans are willing to propose in terms of domestic or foreign policy. Such behaviors account for why the Republicans are consistent in their determination to be incompetent once in power and refusing to compromise with the Democrats at the same time.

Krein argued that these tendencies in the decision-making of the Republican Party are political and economic in nature. The Republicans lack the sort of political organization that exists among the Democrats, including the fact that the Democrats have senior membership with the know-how and experience in running the Federal government. Instead of having expertise and experience, the Republicans have only inexperience and ignorance to offer. And while it is true that the Democrats’ political organization allows them to avoid the problems of Populism, as Bernie Sanders’ two presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020 can both attest, such organization also ensures the Democrats the ability to form a big-tent coalition of various constituencies. The racial heterogeneity of the Democrat constituencies is in final analysis tempered by the financial homogeneity of other constituencies that are also aligned with the Democrats. Under such a relationship, the Democrats can claim themselves to be the false guarantor of prosperity for the American people, when in reality they are just rewarding the constituencies who support them the most between elections in this Parliamentary Democracy:

“For instance, parts of President Biden’s Covid relief and infrastructure plans (as of this writing) simply correct for decades of underinvestment and should be embraced by both parties. But other elements are essentially giveaways to key Democratic constituencies, including what are effectively bailouts of financially precarious ‘blue cities’ and, by extension, their public-employee unions. The same might be said of the administration’s proposal for billions in spending on ‘green’ projects without taking any steps to streamline the environmental regulations that contribute to the high cost of infrastructure in the United States. Private sector unions have been getting less and less from Democrats on issues affecting Big Tech and its gig workers, but a Biden proposal throws them a sop in the form of ending ‘right to work’ laws. Or consider other proposals like student loan forgiveness, which would do nothing to address the underlying structural problems facing U.S. higher education, but would benefit core Democratic constituencies in and around universities as well as Democratic-leaning professionals with student debt. Yet perhaps the most egregious case is congressional Democrats’ enthusiasm for repealing limitations on state and local tax deductibility. Effectively a tax cut for the wealthiest residents of America’s wealthiest communities, such a move flies in the face of the party’s professed ideological commitments, drawing some criticism from the Left. But it does serve an important and growing Democratic constituency: upper-middle-class (and above) professionals in major cities.”

Nowhere is the correlation between the Democrats’ determination to promote false diversity the strongest than within Corporate America. Even the American Left, as Krein noted, knows that the increased diversity in corporate boardrooms is only an attempt at fostering mass appeal.

Although the Democrats tend to be generous toward their constituents, the same cannot be said for the Republicans. The Republicans, once in power, do not use the powers of the Federal government to reward their constituents, let alone fully understand why the Federal government exists to begin with. Krein cited the well-known example of agricultural subsidies from the US Department of Agriculture, recognizing their importance to the livelihoods of American farmers in the Midwestern States, who tend to be targeted by Republicans determined to sacrifice their subsidies for the free market. It does not matter if cutting the subsidies will harm American farmers, not to mention those who vote Republican between elections; the mere existence of subsidies is enough to warrant their elimination. The failure to realize this on the part of the Republicans has led to the Democrats finding new supporters who would otherwise been aligned with the Republicans. The result is the economic problem associated with the dysfunctional character of American politics: instead of being a true opposition to the Democrats, the Republicans advance the Democrats’ interests through their own incompetence and corruption.

“Ideology certainly plays a role—the party’s embrace of libertarian economics severely constrains its ability to use policy to advance real interests, whether partisan or national—but it is hardly a sufficient explanation. Historically, the ideological commitments of American political parties have been relatively flexible. A party that genuinely sought electoral dominance would adapt its ideology accordingly. So why haven’t Republican politicians abandoned Reagan-Bush conservatism (as Trump haltingly and inconsistently began to do in 2016), especially now that it lacks any meaningful popular, intellectual, or economic base?

The best answer, in my view, is that the Republican Party’s remaining connection to the dominant sectors of the American economy occurs through its usefulness as a tool to selectively balance and discipline the members of the Democratic coalition. Big Pharma, for instance, will throw money at the Heritage Foundation to rant against ‘socialized medicine’ whenever talk of the government negotiating drug prices surfaces, but pharma is hardly interested in repealing Obamacare, much less dismantling Medicare. Financial lobbies will rent the Republican Party to ward off troublesome regulations or taxes, but are hardly interested in ‘sound money’ policies or big spending cuts that would derail financial markets, never mind social conservatism. Big Tech will team up with Americans for Prosperity to oppose legislation limiting app store developer fees, all while more aggressively controlling conservative speech online, and so on.”

These issues and more are what led Krein to later conclude that the Republican Party lacks a genuine political-economic model to offer to the Union. It has led to the increasingly dysfunctional US politics as well as the obvious lack of a vision and a plan to govern the Union at the Federal government. The American people, and anyone observing US politics from outside the Union, knows it. But Krein does not find the current state of affairs to be completely hopeless, even as it seems that the Republican Party is slowly developing a cult of personality around Donald Trump. Much like this Author, he remains adamant in the position that a Conservative Socialist political-economic vision can exist outside and even against the Republican Party. We do not need the Republican Party to advocate for Conservative Socialism so long as Conservative Socialism has no place inside the Democratic-Republican Party, be it the Democrats or the Republicans.

“It is possible to imagine a new coalition that might have an alternative political-economic vision and therefore support a distinct, positive agenda for the Republican Party. Such a coalition could perhaps consist of the growing number of challengers to big tech monopolies, or of up-and-coming firms seeking to disrupt incumbent multinationals—and therefore eager to take advantage of (different) state industrial policies, as their Asian counterparts have done—and the financial players who might profit under such a scenario. Such a group might also have more interest in ‘conservative’ social issues like stable family formation, or correcting the increasingly ideological and moralistic trends in education and the media. Until something like that emerges, however—an outcome which is neither imminent nor inevitable—Republicans will find it difficult to win national power, and almost impossible to govern even when they do.”

Categories: Politics

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: