Can A Young Gay Conservative Save The GOP From Itself?

Up until the last election cycle, Josh Barro seemed like just another warrior in the GOP army. The son of a prominent conservative economist, he had fulsome praise for Paul Ryan’s budget plan. He worked at such conservative temples as the Tax Foundation and the Manhattan Institute, and wrote for a National Review blog. But at some point, Barro’s bullshit detector went into overdrive, and he has since emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the current Republican party.

Perhaps that’s not surprising for a 28-year-old openly gay Harvard alumnus. But the difference with Barro is that he remains committed to conservative principles. What he abhors is the GOP’s total lack of ideas. The result sounds like heresy to conservatives and reality to everyone else.

  • On health care: “Republicans don’t actually want expanded access to health care. They want to politically undermine Democrats, and they want to protect policies that divert health-care dollars to seniors and doctors — Republican constituencies — instead of the poor.”
  • On economic policy: “[E]very economic ill must be shoehorned into an argument for lower taxes and less government spending. If a proposed solution to an economic problem doesn’t involve taking benefits away from poor people, then it’s not a solution at all…”
  • On smaller government: “It’s obvious why professional conservatives resist grappling with the real reason their economic agenda does not sell, because it would lead them to the conclusion that the economic agenda must change toward accepting larger government. The world is changing in ways that make Republicans’ platform of smaller government and lower taxes less desirable and therefore less saleable.”

Not surprisingly, Barro really castigates the party on gay issues. He described the nomination of a homophobic minister as the GOP’s lieutenant governor candidate in Virginia as the inevitable result of empowering “the party’s mad, swivel-eyed loon” element that “wants candidates that pander to their bigotry.” If the Supreme Court strikes down state bans on marriage equality, Barro says it would be a “huge gift” to Republicans since “gay marriage opponents are going to lose the fight; the only question is whether they will lose it in a way that is quick and painless or long and ugly.”

Not surprisingly, Barro has gotten a lot of attention from mainstream political writers, most recently Jonathan Chait in a profile in The Atlantic. Interestingly, Chait doesn’t mention that Barro is gay, although he notes that Barro took him to task for being uncharitable to Sen. Rob Portman in a column. The likely offender, though not identified by Chait: this column about Portman’s decision to support marriage equality after his son came out.

Leading the GOP out of its fever swamps is a thankless task and one that earns you the enmity of the party faithful. But if Republicans are ever going to be a serious party again, at some point they have to start producing actual ideas that are relevant to most Americans.  Barro is challenging his party to become a party of new ideas. Whether or not you agree with them is what elections are about. But if the GOP ever does find its way back to reality, it may owe a big debt of thanks to a gay conservative for pointing the way.

Photo credit: Josh Barro/Twitter

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