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Who should liberals be arguing with right now? Option A: the smartest, freshest thinkers on the other side. That’s who you should test your ideas against. Option B: actual influential conservatives, since they’re the ones who control Congress and determine what happens in the real world.

Smart conservatives think the answer is Option A. And I don’t blame them! Hell, I get bored with shooting ducks in a barrel anyway, and it would be great to have more meaningful conversations, stretch our minds a bit, and maybe even raise the profile of the non-Tea Party wing of modern conservatism in the process. The problem is that the non-Tea Party wing is pretty damn small these days, which means that conversations like this pretty quickly take on an air of la-la land. Take this exchange between Ezra Klein, for the left, and Reihan Salam for the NTP right, about a supposed “consensus” among Republicans that they’re in favor of federal aid to states as long as states are willing to reform their budgeting processes. Here’s Ezra:

When asked to name some legislation, Reihan didn’t come up with much. “That is the basic idea behind Sen. Scott Brown’s Fiscally Responsible Relief for Our States Act,” Reihan said. But Brown’s proposal — a proposal from one of the most moderate Republicans who is representing one of the most liberal states in the union — doesn’t have any co-sponsors, so it’s hard to see how it represents a consensus….Moreover, making aid conditional on budget reform is not the basic idea behind Brown’s bill. Just ask Brown.

….The basic idea behind Brown’s bill is that state aid should be funded using preexisting stimulus dollars. That’s what he talks about in the video. He doesn’t say anything about conditions. And to double-check, I read the bill. Still nothing.

It’s possible I’m missing something in the legislative language, but from what I can see, Brown’s bill doesn’t make aid conditional on state reforms, and it doesn’t have Republican co-sponsors. It provides no evidence for the contention that Republicans would happily partner with Democrats on state aid, if only Democrats would embrace more stringent conditions.

My guess is that making aid conditional on states developing fiscally sound long-term budgets is unworkable. It’s too hard to define what “sound” means, it would take too long to do it, and it’s next to impossible to guarantee that states would stick to their bargains once the crisis has passed. But it would be an interesting discussion. Way more interesting than, say, commenting on Sean Hannity’s latest attack on the New Black Panthers.

Unfortunately, you’d have to be happy leading an essentially monk-like existence to do this on a regular basis. In the real world Republicans are mostly yammering about the Ground Zero mosque and other assorted idiocies, not developing creative proposals that address actual problems. Even Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” proposal, which I don’t think is nearly as smart as consensus has it, can’t get any real support in the Republican caucus. They’re too busy pretending that they’re going to repeal healthcare reform or get rid of the 14th amendment. Bottom line: I don’t demand a huge conservative groundswell before I start blogging about some of these more moderate proposals, but there’s got to be some support for them. Otherwise this is just a dorm room bull session.

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