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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Keeping tabs on reform conservatism [updated]

There's been a lot written lately about "reform conservatism," such that even people who are interested in the subject might have trouble keeping up. Here are a few notes from me on recent developments and current trends:

1. David Frum has put his DailyBeast blog on indefinite hiatus while he focuses on family and personal matters. He will continue his weekly CNN column but, for the time being, cease being the prolific figure he's been on the punditry scene. I wish him well, look back fondly on my involvement with the earlier FrumForum, and fully expect he'll return to a highly active public role sooner or later.

One thing that was great about FrumForum was that it was informed by a common sensibility (in particular, a belief that the GOP and conservatism needed to renew themselves in some way) but also contained a considerable diversity of opinion on particular issues and priorities. How else could the site have had room for, say, both me and my friend John Guardiano, who is notably more conservative than I've ever been? (I will note, though, that one other person I knew through FrumForum later made a point of cutting his ties to me, and not explaining why, which suggests limits to that intellectual diversity.)

2. Ross Douthat recently itemized his idea of a conservative reform agenda. I was reasonably in tune with a fair amount of what's on the list, but was unpleasantly surprised to see that he explicitly excluded "a cap-and-trade bill, or any sweeping regulatory response to climate change," while citing the influence of Jim Manzi and linking to a piece by the latter rejecting a carbon tax. There's room for debate on what to do about climate change, but if the conservative reform answer is to do nothing, or to focus some limited effort on future technologies that may help someday, then there is a gaping political and policy weakness at the center of reform conservatism.

3. There's some fuzziness as to what constitutes reform conservatism such that some people frequently identified as reform conservatives disclaim that they are conservatives. This came up recently with regard to the fast-rising pundit Josh Barro, who describes himself as a "neoliberal" and adds: "But people might understand better if I just started saying 'moderate.'" I agree that "neoliberal" is a confusing label (all those free-market reforms outside the U.S. were also "neoliberal," for starters). For my part, I am happy enough with "moderate" or "centrist" and have stopped calling myself, as I did in years past, a "libertarian" or "libertarian conservative." But since such I'm-not-a-conservative admissions generate an enormous amount of crowing from the likes of adamant conservative non-reformer Erick Erickson, I would also like to point out that what counts as conservatism has changed again and again over the decades (see The Conservative Century: From Reaction to Revolution, by Gregory L. Schneider for background) so I can easily imagine a future in which, say, Josh Barro is considered a conservative and Erick Erickson is considered what he is: a suitable partner for Lou Dobbs in discussions of biology.

4. I'm not quite as politics-focused as some of the people discussed above. Career-wise, I've had oars in multiple streams over the years, including financial journalism, science journalism and the Erie Canal. Quicksilber can be expected to continue covering eclectic subject matter, and there are even plans in the works for an artistic collaboration involving alien life. Still, at a time when there is some contention over where and among whom "real" conservatism and "real" reform conservatism can be found (and some hypocrisy about that, as Conor Friedersdorf points out), I consider my wide range of interests an asset, as reform conservatism will need input from people of varied backgrounds. I expect to continue paying attention, and occasionally weigh in, on this overall subject in the future.

UPDATE 2:10PM: Here's a reform conservative manifesto at Forbes, by Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry, in which the environment and science figure not at all. Man, this movement needs to broaden its agenda.

UPDATE 6/7: Welcome TalkRadioSucks members.

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