October 25, 2007
A TAD LATE TO THE DANCE:
What Comes Next (Yuval Levin & Peter Wehner, October 17, 2007, New York Sun)
If 25 years ago you had asked an American conservative to name the preeminent domestic policy challenges of the day, you probably would have gotten back, along with a general worry about cultural decline, some combination of welfare, taxes, and crime.
Few conservatives today would name any of these three as the foremost problems, and even on the cultural front they could point to some advances. This is due, in large part, to a series of conservative successes that have transformed American politics and made conservative theories of economics, law enforcement, and welfare the accepted wisdom. Success has not been complete in any of these areas, of course, but the struggle over first principles, over which way to go in general, has been won.
Today the left -- which for decades fought vigorously on all three fronts -- offers scant opposition on any of them. No leading Democrats are arguing that we undo conservative achievements on welfare and crime. And even on taxes, which liberals want to increase, no Democrats are arguing that we return to the days when the top rate of taxation was 70%.
But what now? On what issues can conservative principles point to popular reforms today? The most prominent domestic policy concerns of the day would seem, at first glance, to favor the left. Health care, income inequality, and the environment, among other issues, have long been identified with American liberals, and conservatives have been uncomfortable taking them up.
But the notion that the left owns these issues is not a fact inherent in the problems themselves; rather, it is a failure of conservative imagination. In fact, it is precisely these kinds of issues that should now be front and center on the conservative agenda, not only because the public cares about them, but also because the left is far more vulnerable on them than it seems. Conservatives should fight precisely on what is perceived to be liberal turf, as they have done successfully before.
Welfare reform -- the most successful social policy innovation in generations -- offers a powerful model. For decades welfare was the quintessential liberal issue, and while conservatives offered serious reasons for concern and opposition, they did not offer enough in the way of concrete reforms.
But when conservatives finally turned their attention to reforming the welfare system -- applying basic conservative premises about the centrality of the family, the power of economic incentives, and the value of self reliance -- they took control of the issue and eventually enacted a sweeping and dramatically successful reform. Democrats had been right to focus on welfare, but their approach was disastrous. Republicans were wrong to ignore it, but once they took it on and offered an alternative, they won.
Something of a similar dynamic now presents itself on a range of other issues.
They ought to be embarrassed not to realize that the President was passing things like HSAs while they slept. Posted by Orrin Judd at October 25, 2007 9:26 PM