Rejectionist Conservatism, which comes in tea party and libertarian variants, would use current political controversies to fundamentally reorder the role of the federal government. At least in theory, it would repeal not just Obamaism but also the Great Society, the New Deal and much else in pursuit of a minimal state.
Reform Conservatism, in contrast, would seek to achieve federal goals in modern, market-oriented ways. It is less concerned about re-founding the country than making Medicare work. Its chief practitioner is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), supported by a few policy experts of disproportionate creativity and influence.
In my initial description, I called Rejectionist Conservatism more “ambitious” — which is true only in the abstract. Some tea party rejectionists have opposed the Ryan budgets because they would not achieve quick balance — a symbolic display of ideological ambition. Yet during the recent presidential primaries, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) distanced herself from Ryan’s Medicare proposal. Ron Paul was weaker on entitlement reform than anyone else in the Republican field. It is far easier to endorse the theoretical abolition of government programs than to embrace specific reforms involving actual political risk.
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