The GOP has a GOM (Grand Old Mess) on its hands. (Apologies to Gladstone.) The election for a new party chairman is exposing the fact that the party has no idea how to proceed after two straight election losses.
George W. Bush had become the boogeyman for the GOP. It was all his fault. This line of reasoning has the advantage that everyone agrees, albeit for different reasons. Conservatives say Bush betrayed his principles, encouraging the growth of big government and especially in his decision to ram through the Wall Street bailout last autumn. "Most of us strongly supported the Bush administration through the entire two terms," GOP delegate Curly Haugland told the Washington Post, "but in the last few months, this bailout and the abandonment of capitalism really kind of sealed it."
Abandonment of capitalism? Ah, there is nothing quite so bracing early in the morning as a true believer, someone who has convinced himself that maybe if there had been less regulation of Wall Street, and lower taxes of course, the economy would be doing gangbusters. After all, the invisible hand of the market works everything out for the best. Mr. Haugland should try telling that to the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in the past few months.
The economic collapse of the past six months is the final repudiation of the idolatry of the market that is such a part of conservative lore, starting with Reagan and Thatcher. "Government isn’t the solution; government is the problem," Reagan famously proclaimed in his first inaugural address. But, to whom did Wall Street and Detroit turn when their capitalists ran their companies into the ground? The collapse of communism came about because the internal lies of the system made it hollow to the core; the collapse of the idolatry of the market also came about because the internal contradictions of the system became too great. The tide of unrestricted markets that Reagan initiated, that tide is now flowing back out to sea. Good riddance.
To paraphrase a famous first century rabbi, the economy is made for man, not man for the economy. This is a first principle of Catholic social teaching. And, its immediate corollary is that when the private sector fails to provide for the good of all in a society, the government must step in. In terms of the relationship of government to the economy, this first month of President Barack Obama’s term is becoming a profoundly Catholic moment.
So, let the true conservatives bewail their oh, so recent champion George W. Bush. Let them elect a true believer to the chairmanship of their party. The faithful remnant in the Congress all hail from the most conservative districts in the country, so they are unlikely to recognize that the Republicans must move to the center, not to the extremes, if they are going to return to power some day. They should be focused on their abysmal showing among young people and Latinos, but instead they are debating the purity of their economic litanies. Shame. Someone should tell them, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, that the market is not the solution; the market is the problem.