Ezra Klein posted a laundry list of Republican Party flip-flops last week, that he says demonstrate that our political system is driven by "which party should be in power, not actual policy." "[T]he voters who trust the parties don’t know that, and they tend to take on faith the idea that their representatives are fighting for some relatively consistent agenda. They’re wrong," Ezra writes.
But is politics or ideology driving the GOP position changes? Take a closer look at Ezra's list:
- Supporting a temporary, deficit-financed payroll-tax cut as a stimulus measure in 2009, as Republican Sen. John McCain and every one of his colleagues did, put you on the right. Supporting a temporary, deficit-financed payroll tax-cut in late 2011 put you on the left. Supporting it in early 2012 could have put you on either side.
- Supporting an individual mandate as a way to solve the health-care system’s free-rider problem between 1991 and 2007 put you on the right. Doing so after 2010 put you on the left.
- Supporting a system in which total carbon emissions would be capped and permits traded as a way of moving toward clean energy using the power of market pricing could have put you on either the left or right between 2000 and 2008. After 2009, it put you squarely on the left.
- Caring about short-term deficits between 2001 and 2008 put you on the left. Caring about them between 2008 and 2012 put you on the right.
- Favoring an expansive view of executive authority between 2001 and 2008 put you on the right. Doing so since 2009 has, in most cases, put you on the left.
- Supporting large cuts to Medicare in the context of universal health-care reform puts you on the left, as every Democrat who voted for the Affordable Care Act found out during the 2010 election. Supporting large cuts to Medicare in the context of deficit reduction puts you on the right, as Republicans found out in the 1990s, and then again after voting for Representative Paul Ryan’s proposed budget in 2011.
In every policy area mentioned above, the Republican party has become more libertarian. Some Republicans used to like Keynesian stimulus, now they don't. Libertarians never did. Some Republicans used to like individual mandates, now they don't. Libertarians never did. Some Republicans used to like cap and trade, now they don't. Libertarians never did. You get the idea. There is a reason Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has been speaking so highly of Ron Paul.
Ezra's case on the two other issues, the filibuster and the negative income, are weak as well. Libertarians absolutely support the right of the Senate to make its own rules, and when those rules slow down legislation, they are all for it. Whether or not the Senate should be filibustering judicial nominations is a different story.
As for "favoring a negative tax rate for the poorest Americans," I think Ezra misstates the Republican positions then and now. Republicans (like libertarians Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek) have generally supported a safety net which may include a guaranteed minimum income. And most Republicans still do. What many Republicans and libertarians have always worried about, and those worries are only heightened today, is that the middle class is becoming dependent on the welfare state. That is not a flip-flop. That is a legitimate and long-held concern about the ever expanding size and scope of the federal government.
The fact is, Americas are just becoming more libertarian. Republican leaders are only responding to those changing beliefs. That may be frustrating for a policy wonk who wants to see as much power transferred to Washington, D.C., as possible, but the American people just have a diametrically opposed view of which direction the country should be going.