Michael Gerson says that there are currently two kinds of conservatives:
On one side there are Rejectionist Conservatives, who come in a variety of forms. There are libertarians who view federal taxation, except to fund a few night-watchman roles, as theft. There are tea party activists who believe that any federal power must be specifically enumerated in the Constitution — and then interpret the Constitution as if it were the Articles of Confederation. And then there is Ron Paul, who seeks to overturn the Lincoln and Hamilton revolutions.
But Obama’s overreach has also produced another conservative reaction — a Reform Conservatism. The key figure here is Paul Ryan, the main author of two House Republican budgets. The movement’s intellectual headquarters is National Affairs, a journal of small but potent distribution. Its brain trust includes thinkers such as Yuval Levin, James Capretta and Peter Wehner.
The reform movement — being prone to long, self-reflective policy articles — is not hard to summarize.
First, it asserts that America’s massive fiscal crisis is a result of public-sector inefficiency. So it looks for ways to achieve the ends of the welfare state both through more private means and more efficient public means.
Second, it asserts that America’s economic challenge is also a function of public-sector inefficiency and seeks above all to encourage growth — by streamlining the tax code, reducing burdens on competitiveness and showing confidence in market mechanisms and consumer pressure.
Third, Reform Conservatism argues that America’s social problem is largely a function of the collapse of social capital among the poor and seeks to transform the safety net — encouraging responsibility and providing training toward integration in the broader stream of American life.
Reform Conservatism is less ideologically ambitious than Rejectionist Conservatism. It would replace Obamacare, for example, rather than simply abolish it. Similarly, it focuses on education reform — school accountability, parental empowerment and teacher quality — rather than on the demolition of the Education Department. Reform Conservatism tends to be politically pragmatic. In exchange for serious Medicare reform, for example, it would certainly accept a higher portion of gross domestic product taken in taxes to ease cuts in discretionary spending — if those taxes are designed in a way that doesn’t undermine economic growth.
OK, but I thought Paul Ryan was a hero of the “rejectionist” Tea partiers. And are any conservatives really committed to achieving the ends of the welfare state? But still, perhaps there is something to this. Clearly different Republicans have different priorities. Then again, Is “reform conservative” just another name for “moderate”? Are the “rejectionists” so extreme that they cannot anything done, as Mr. Gerson suggests? Are there any other ways forward? At any rate, according to Mr. Gerson’s taxonomy, Mitt Romney is of the reform party.