Did Republicans lose in 2006 and 2008 because they were too far to the left or too far to the right? And which approach should they adopt if they want to regain power in 2010 and 2012? Some people think the GOP needs to be more moderate. David Frum, for instance, says Republicans need to mimic David Cameron in the United Kingdom. And at his website, Frum highlights this (rather disturbing, as I will explain below) video of Cameron making a pitch to the British people.
First, the good news about the video. It is possible that Cameron intends to do good things about education and welfare policy. Unfortunately, it’s also possible that he intends to do bad things. But we don’t know since there is nothing but rhetoric. Speaking of rhetoric, it is troubling that he also has lots of language about a “fair” society and the gap between rich and poor. This doesn’t necessarily mean he intends to push bad policy. A policy of smaller government and free markets, after all, will boost economic growth and help poor people climb the ladder. Shrinking government also will reduce the power of special interests, which will make society more fair. But it’s also possible – and perhaps more likely – that he is using this rhetoric to signal support for more redistribution.
What is most troubling, though, is that Cameron sides with government and against taxpayers whenever he gets specific about policy. About one minute into the video, he endorses the minimum wage and higher fuel subsidies. Fifteen seconds later, he wants more redistribution for food programs. The worst proposal comes around the 2:50 mark, when he endorses wage indexing instead of price indexing for the U.K.’s version of Social Security (which would be grossly irresponsible and undermine one of the best achievements of Margaret Thatcher). Last but not least, he then endorses more spending on government-run healthcare.
These proposals are all bad policy, but they’re also bad politics. If an election is decided on the basis of which party is more excited and more sincere about redistribution, that benefits left-wing parties. That doesn’t mean that a (supposedly) right-wing party will never win an election. Indeed, Gordon Brown may very well lose to Cameron later this year. But that will simply be a case of the electorate rejecting an incumbent party for doing a terrible job. There will be no mandate for better policy. Indeed, it appears that Cameron wants to be like Obama – a big-spending politicians who takes over from another big-spending politician. In the long run, this is a recipe for the Tories to be a minority party. And if Republicans follow the same approach, they also will be a minority party.
One final comment. It should go without saying that right-leaning parties should always be figuring out better ways of selling the message of liberty, freedom, prosperity, and responsibility. And they should be finding the candidates who are best able to articulate that message in an optimistic, forward-looking way to average voters. But that’s not what Cameron represents. From what I can tell, he’s Richard Nixon with a smile.
P.S. Cameron also has surrendered to the left on the global warming/climate change issue, though maybe the absence of any rhetoric in this video is an indication that he realizes the tide has turned and there is nothing to be gained electorally by imposing that particular piece of awful policy.
P.P.S. And he has refused to say that he will undo Gordon Brown’s reckless decision to raise the top tax rate from 40 percent to 50 percent.