Ross Douthat's hardly novel idea for the Republican Party
Ross Douthat, wrote a signed
op-ed guest essay for The New York Times, April 27: "Here’s My Novel Idea for the Republican Party." In it he concedes that the populism that Donald J. Trump brought to Washington has not faded in the months since Joe Biden became president. It is to be noted, quickly, that while Douthat is not as vicious a NeverTrump as his Times colleagues, the so-called "conservative" David Brooks, and the still somewhat conservative Bret Stephens, Douthat rarely has a generous word for the former president, whom he calls, at the start of this editorial, "a lazy, inconsistent populist."
Coming out in support of "populist-flavored economic proposals," Douthat calls for a GOP "Common Good Caucus." Douthat writes that Republican candidates for Congress "could find in the Common Good Caucus a distinct identity in a primary campaign, a ready-made agenda to run on in the general election and a built-in in set of allies waiting in Washington if they win."
He concludes: "[I]t would be appropriate for my imagined faction's title to invoke the common good: Simply by existing, they would be doing a service not just to their own ideas, but to the competence of Congress and the health of the Republic as a whole."
The difficulty here is that Douthat claims too much in suggesting that a "Common Good Caucus" is his idea. In fact, the notion of government officials serving "the common good of the society" goes back to Madison and his writing, February 1788, Federalist No. 57.
Shouldn't Douthat be familiar with The Federalist Papers, including No. 57, as well as the more cited Nos. 10 and 39? That is to say, his idea for emphasis on the "Common Good" is hardly a "novel idea."
After opening with the acknowledgment that there is a "class of citizens which will have least sympathy with the mass of the people, and be more likely to aim at an ambitious sacrifice of the many to the aggrandizement of the few[,]" Madison notes (emphasis added):
The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society, and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.
Madison goes on to assert that the members of the House of Representatives (emphasis added):
... can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments of which few governments have furnished examples: but without which every government degenerates into tyranny.
Madison then warned that if the freedom-loving spirit of the American people "shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty" (emphasis added).
(Question: Is it true that the "Affordable Care Act" treats the members of Congress differently from the general population?)
Madison makes clear that tyranny, not democracy, happens when elected officials fail to pursue "the common good of the society."
Rather than Douthat "imagining" a Common Good Caucus among Republican members of Congress, he might, with modesty, have cited Federalist No. 57 as providing a roadmap for congressional Republicans to follow to keep totalitarian-minded Democrats within the guardrails of the Constitution. Indeed, Federalist No. 57 should be regarded as a populist manifesto from the Founding Generation and should be on the desk of every Republican congressman and senator.
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