Friday, October 9, 2009
Bobby Jindal's Brave Move, Part Two
My piece defending Bobby Jindal, which I published in Fox News’ Fox Forum, seems to have raised some eyebrows, from such thoughtful observers as Philip Klein at The American Spectator, Michael Cannon at the Cato Institute, Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review, and Matt Welch at Reason.
In my Foxnews.com piece, I praised Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, for having taken on “the task of forging a ‘governing conservatism.’” And Jindal would certainly seem well equipped to do just that: Having piled up a 93 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union for his votes in Congress, he was elected to the statehouse in Baton Rouge in 2007, running on a platform of post-Katrina reform and renewal.
And in the midst of the ongoing vigorous debate over Obamacare, Jindal jumped in with his own healthcare ideas, which appeared on the op-ed page of Monday’s Washington Post. Most of his ten policy planks were well within conservative/libertarian orthodoxy, including tort reform and the portability of insurance. But he also offered this suggestion:
Require coverage of preexisting conditions: Insurance should not be least accessible when it is needed most. Companies should be incentivized to focus on delivering high-quality effective care, not to avoid covering the sick.
And that has caused some consternation--actually, a fair amount of consternation. Thus we see the ongoing challenge of forging a “governing conservatism,” or, as some would clearly prefer, a “governing libertarianism.”
While it might be asserted that the two intellectual traditions, conservatism and libertarianism, are--or should be--the same, there has, in fact, been a tension over the decades. Here, for example, are some strong words from Whittaker Chambers about Ayn Rand (in National Review), from Friedrich Hayek about conservatives, and from Russell Kirk about libertarians.
However, it could be argued that today a conservative-libertarian fusionism now prevails--on domestic and economic policy, at least--as opposed to both social policy and foreign policy, where nobody even aspires to consensus.
But if domestic- and economic-policy fusionism prevails among the intellectuals, there’s still the question of what the Republican Party thinks. Not every conservative/libertarian has affection for the GOP, of course, but the more politically minded among them maintain at least a tactical alliance.
And yet the Republican Party has its own imperatives. In 2003, the Republican Congress enacted, and President George W. Bush signed into law, the most significant piece of healthcare legislation in the past four decades, the Medicare Modernization Act--also known as Medicare Part D, the “prescription drug benefit.” This legislation is regarded with horror by many, if not most, conservative/libertarian intellectuals.
Even so, Republicans in the Senate six years ago voted
42:9 for the legislation, with the “ayes” including such conservative figures as Sam Brownback, Orrin Hatch, Jim Inhofe, and Jim Talent.
And in the House, the vote among Republicans was even more lopsided, 207:19, with the “ayes” including such right-leaning luminaries as Scott Garrett, Mark Kennedy, Steve King, Jim Nussle, Richard Pombo, and Chris Smith.
Surely there have been some second thoughts among those “aye” votes--and some of the “ayes” are no longer in office--but I am not aware of any great rethinking of Medicare Part D among elected Republicans.
In fact, many, if not most, elected Republicans are supportive of Jindal-style efforts at defining a “governing conservatism” that is unlikely to please purists. Moreover, one of the new talking points among Republican leaders in 2009 is to “protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of ‘health-insurance reform.’”
No doubt there’s an inevitable gap between the intelligentsia and officialdom, between the avant-garde and the stalwarts. The Movement has its ways, and they are important; elected officials have their ways, and they are important, too.
The question is how it might be possible--if it is possible--to narrow the gap between them. Ideology vs. pragmatism. The perfect vs. the good. Winning an argument vs. actually winning elections.
Thus the grand project of fusionism must continue.
Posted by James P. Pinkerton at 8:18 AM