May 14, 2005

CLIMBING MAGGIE'S LADDER (via Political Theory):

Manifesto for a Conservative Britain: The man who could be the next Tory leader says his party faces vital challenges if it is to rule again (Malcolm Rifkind, May 8, 2005, The Observer)

[M]ost important for the Conservative party is to be clear about its modern identity and how that distinguishes us from our rivals. That identity must always have four main components.

First, we must proclaim our belief in liberty. Our rhetoric may not be the same as that of the left but our belief in the need to protect the freedom of the citizen from overpowerful government goes back to the days of Shaftesbury and Wilberforce. In the modern context, that must mean a total opposition to imprisonment without trial, to the irrelevance of identity cards and to other authoritarian measures.

Second, we must proclaim our belief in smaller government. That means more help for people to provide for themselves and their families. But the Tories also need to spearhead a renaissance in genuine local government by transferring real powers from Whitehall to county councils. [...]

Third, we must unambiguously embrace tax reform as a priority. Conservatives always wish to reduce the burden of taxation and we now have the time and the opportunity to engage the best brains in the land not just to identify unnecessary or wasteful expenditure but also to simplify a tax system that absorbs in administration too much of the revenues that it raises.

Fourth, we are a one-nation party and that means we must make the elimination of deprivation and poverty a prime objective of the next Conservative government. Between 1979 and 1997, we brought unprecedented prosperity to more than 75 per cent of the population by encouraging and liberating the wealth-creating forces of the free-enterprise system. We must now harness these energies to deal with the residual deprivation that is still with us.

One final point needs to be made. New Labour was always an artificial party, created to combine Blair's political skills with a non-performing Labour machine. It is now past its sell-by date. It is the Tories who must now win the battle of ideas.

It'd be helpful then to actually offer some ideas.

Operation Overreach: The downside of big-government conservatism. (Andrew Ferguson, 05/16/2005, Weekly Standard)

The president's plan to redo Social Security is the opening salvo in this campaign to transform the institutions of American society. The difficulties he has encountered in persuading the public to go along with him might strike a prudent man as a warning that he's pushing things a little too far. But prudence--like caution, diffidence, a sense of limits--was a quality that distinguished yesterday's conservatism, not today's. Agents of reform move in one direction only. So rather than withdraw his attempt at "modernizing" Social Security, the president and his men have responded by making their reform more complicated. Most recently he's embraced a plan devised by a John Kerry supporter to make the system an even more progressive means of transferring wealth than it already is. And don't forget: The tax system is next. When it comes to conservative reform, reform, not conservatism, is in the driver's seat.

Conservative reform, in fact, turns out to be a lot like liberal reform. Each involves a whirlwind of government activity. Each is a formula for politics without end--splendid indeed for politicians and government employees, but a bit tiring for the rest of us. Who can blame the public for beginning to show its weariness? The fatigue came to a head in the Schiavo case, and the president's poll numbers have yet to recover.

In the view of many people (me included) Bush's intervention in Schiavo's plight was a brave and noble endeavor; he and the Republican Congress had sound and principled reasons for doing what they did. But those reasons never stirred the public. What the public saw instead, apparently, was an army of busybodies from the White House and Congress, prying their thick fingers into a heartbreaking family dispute, and compounding the horror because they refused to control their impulse to set matters right. You don't have to try too hard to imagine the questions that arose in the public mind. Is there nothing these big-government guys won't get involved in? Ending tyranny, democratizing the Middle East, revolutionizing public education, fooling around with my pension, re-doing the tax code from top to bottom--and now they want to second-guess this poor woman's caretakers? Where's the self-restraint? Where's the modesty?

A lack of modesty and self-restraint is one excellent reason Americans grew to despise liberals in the first place.

Worth reading just for the typically brilliant closing line, but he's quite wrong. People obviously oppose Social Security reform not because the want less government but more and not to have to take responsibility for themselves. Likewise, to the extent that the Schiavo case had any effect on the President's numbers--gas prices are the more likely culprit--it was because they want to be able to dodge responsibility for sick family members.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 14, 2005 4:02 PM

Apparently, only the President and the entire Democratic Party understand that progressivity would destroy Social Security.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 14, 2005 5:45 PM

By the way, is that a Maggie's Drawers reference?

Posted by: David Cohen at May 15, 2005 9:25 AM