07/18/2011 05:05 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2011

Reagan on a Unicorn: Imagining a Republican Paradise

Let's imagine Republicans got every single thing they wanted. What exactly, does the society they hope to create look like? What is their vision of an American utopia?

Clearly, they want a system that compensates risk-takers and "job-creators" even if it also rewards those who inherit or speculate their way to wealth. On this point, they've already won, and big. The top 1% used to have 9% of the wealth, now they have 22%. Conversely, the bottom 20% share about 1% of the wealth. Republicans think this is perfectly right and moral, as they consider the "free market" to be an immanently fair determinant of who gets what.

This doesn't mean they are pro-poverty. No one is pro-poverty. The Republicans envisage a society in which no one has to be poor because everyone who wants work can find it, rather like America in the 1950s. Unfortunately for the Republicans, that was also an era when the top tax rate was 91%. This begs the question: if low taxes spur growth, why have the lowest taxes in 50 years coincided with the most sustained unemployment in memory?

Another right-wing sacred cow is a strong military. This, of course, requires high defense spending, which is inimical to low taxes. The Pentagon is one of the biggest bureaucracies in the world. By definition, a big military constitutes big government.

Republicans object to the heavy hand of federal interference in the daily lives of Americans, but they also want to drink clean water and breathe clean air -- which necessitates the very regulation they insist is intolerably burdensome. They want timely and efficient disaster relief, but denounce FEMA. They are libertarian when it comes to guns, not so much in regard to drugs and immigration. When the subject is abortion, they are rabidly interventionist, increasingly requiring the opinions of state legislators to be the invisible third party in decisions a woman used to make alone with her doctor.

So a Republican utopia has the Second Amendment, nationalist swagger of Texas, with the 4% unemployment and non-existent deficits of North Dakota. It doesn't have scorching temperatures because global warming doesn't exist. Gays pray their orientation away, or just stay in the closet. Mexicans still do all the jobs Americans don't want, but somehow only access Mexican social services. Most of all, taxes are very low, but there's miraculously enough revenue to pay for huge standing armies, an efficient criminal justice system, comprehensive public safety, excellent schools and a strong infrastructure.

Basically, the Republicans propose a magical land that is mathematically impossible, the United States of Wishful Thinking. Economically, it would require a domination of the world's resources that is long gone as a realistic alternative, now that India and China demand a share of the riches commensurate to their population. America can't just grab more toys in the sandbox as we did in the past, we have no choice but to share.

We on the left are accused of unrealistic idealism, but we can cite a long list of very real countries that have achieved much of what we advocate for here in the U.S. Finland, Denmark, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Canada all have excellent education systems, lower rates of crime and incarceration, universal health care, and much less income inequality. None of them spend remotely the share of their G.D.P on the military as we do. All have a large and thriving middle class and no dearth of wealthy individuals, but experience a far wider distribution of social and economic equity. In Paris, cancer will never bankrupt you. In Berlin, no one drowns in student loans. And in neither place does anyone complain anywhere as much as we do about taxes, even though they are far higher there than they are here.

I can't think of one country the Republicans would like to emulate. Not Mexico, not Malaysia, not Japan not Indonesia. Only one place is held out as desirable; a mythical, past-tense America that only ever existed in the idealized imaginings of conservative pundits.

A utopia only for the rich is no utopia at all. Americans have to decide whether they are going to continue to chase after an unobtainable mirage, or choose to construct a society where the vast majority have the same chance at a happy and prosperous life as the lucky few.