Ponnuru: Liberals Need a Reform Plan, Too

National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru responds to liberal criticism of Sen. Mike Lee’s conservative reform agenda by noting that progressivism needs its own facelift after the failed presidency of Barack Obama.  

Writes Ponnuru:

Both Dionne and Galston draw a parallel between the efforts of Republican reformers today and those of the Democratic Leadership Council in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There is quite a bit to the analogy, which is why people often make it. What the analogy misses is also important. The Democrats of the 1980s had to respond to a country that was largely happy with Republican governance and to specific conservative policy successes; much of what they had to do took the form of concessions to conservatism. Today the Republicans must reorient themselves in a country that is persistently unhappy and where liberal policy successes are too hard to detect to be the basis for concessions.

Dionne writes that reform conservatives are “far too timid in their approaches to economic injustice and to the structural problems in the economic system.” We diagnose those injustices and problems differently than he does. But isn’t the contemporary progressive agenda pretty timid and unimaginative, too, even on its own terms? The central demand of a progressive president on economic matters is a higher minimum wage, and the left-wing favorite who recently became mayor of New York City wants more funding for preschools. Even if I thought these ideas were good ones, I would not think them likely to improve American life in any major way.

In his treatment of “the reformicons,” Dionne is thoughtful and even at times generous. But he seems to think that what contemporary conservatism needs is to be more like contemporary liberalism. Conservatives should decline the invitation and, because the condition of liberalism is not exactly enviable, should decline it without regret.