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Labor Republicanism

Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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This “self-mute” strategy, replicated by Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race, has four negative consequences. It allows Democrats to frame the debate—and, as APIA observes, “In a country deeply conflicted by the issue of abortion, the party that aggressively frames the debate stands to win.” The self-mute strategy also prevents the GOP from attracting new voters who may not agree with the party on economics but do agree on social and cultural matters. It lets Democrats pay no price for pro-choice extremism. And it gives social conservatives hardly any reason to pull the lever for Republicans. Why vote when neither candidate speaks your language?

The self-mute strategy is intended to create more space for the Republican economic message. But that message can be unpleasant to the ear. The success of past GOP tax policy has led to a situation in which reductions in marginal income tax rates no longer have widespread appeal. The Republican celebration of the heroic entrepreneur and job creator falls flat in a country where Horrible Bosses is a box-office hit. One of the top concerns of voters, prices rising faster than one might gather from the official statistics, is hardly addressed by either party. Working families with kids want to hear politicians speak to their concerns: increasing health and tuition costs and a moribund job market. What they often hear from Republicans are prophetic warnings about debt and deficits, and the necessity of cuts in entitlements and in the corporate income tax. No wonder they tune out.

Labor Republicans can do better. They can link Obamacare to Americans’ declining standard of living. They can champion innovative education reforms like changes to accreditation or a Texas-style $10,000 bachelor’s degree. They can reintroduce monetary policy to the national debate and frame their economic policies in terms of making the dollar go further. They can speak the language of the family man in exurban Ohio rather than the language of the mogul in midtown Manhattan. They can take lessons from Mike Lee and propose future-oriented, positive legislation designed to benefit working Americans. Not every piece of legislation will satisfy small-government conservatives and fervent libertarians, who more often want to discuss cutting government than making it work for the people. But in fact a middle-class agenda—a working Americans agenda, a labor agenda—would help shape the kind of America almost all conservatives would like to see. “By 1980,” Lee said, “the movement had forged an agenda for its time—and only then did it succeed.” It can again.

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