The primary reason for the Republican Party’s recent election failures, argues a former Bush speechwriter, is that it has neglected to respond to changing demands.
When voters began abandoning the GOP for the Democrats (who now outnumber Republicans three to two), writes Frum (The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush, 2003, etc.), conservatives responded by retreating to “obsolete politics,” engaging in pointless debates about “issues that are in fact settled.” Instead of arguing with voters, he suggests, Republicans should figure out new ways to appeal to the married, middle-class, white, churchgoing Americans who are their natural base. Unfortunately, readers looking for such new ideas will be disappointed. Most of Frum’s proposals have long been part of the Republican Party platform he accuses of alienating middle-class Americans: expansion of Bush’s unpopular No Child Left Behind Act; abolition of all affirmative-action programs; drastic cuts in immigration; privatization of Social Security; elimination of all taxes on wealth and corporations, including capital-gains and estate taxes on the very wealthy. However, the book does feature one truly innovative proposal: a $50-per-ton carbon tax on those forms of energy that create the greatest environmental harm. Frum makes this proposal not because he respects environmentalists—at one point, he suggests that ecologically concerned voters are among the most “ignorant” in the country—but because he believes America’s dependence on oil, including oil produced in America, threatens the nation’s economic security. Environmentalist or not, the proposal is sure to cause a stir among Republicans, as much for its underlying premise that dirty energy sources should be taxed in order to subsidize more-expensive clean energy as for its acknowledgment that concern for the environment is an issue Republicans can’t afford to ignore.
Lively writing and one intriguingly contrarian proposal salvage an otherwise standard-issue conservative polemic.