July 23, 2010


David Cameron's dream could be President Obama's nightmare (Michael Gerson, July 23, 2010, Washington Post)

If Cameron's approach works -- dramatically cutting deficits without stalling economic growth -- it will be an obvious, powerful example for America and other nations.

But Cameron's progress offers two other lessons that some Republicans may be less willing to acknowledge.

First, Cameron's austerity measures have succeeded (so far) in the context of a coalition government with Liberal Democrats -- Britain's centrist third party. This alliance of the middle has made Cameron's government less dependent for support on the extremes of either party, resulting in a truce on divisive issues such as immigration and European integration. Cameron's alliance remains strong at the highest levels of political leadership. It will be tested as party activists from both coalition partners canvass against each other in next year's local elections and referendum on electoral reform.

A formal coalition government is not an option in America, which lacks a viable third party eager for power. But large, politically risky spending reductions will require spreading the responsibility and the blame beyond a single party. Some type of center-right alliance of fiscally conservative Democrats and Republicans -- a coalition of the complicit -- will be needed to act boldly and marginalize partisan extremes.

Second, Cameron makes clear that austerity alone is not a sufficient message for a political party. He calls deficit reduction his "duty." He refers to his social agenda -- the "Big Society" -- as his "passion." Cameron has paired his emergency budget with a series of measures designed to encourage volunteerism, empower local communities, create charter schools, reform welfare and fund the work of private charities. The problem with centralized, government-oriented policies, he argues, is not only their expense. They have "turned able, capable individuals into passive recipients of state help." The alternative is a "thoughtful re-imagination of the role, as well as the size of the state."

Cameron envisions a radical kind of devolution, not only to local governments but also to communities and individuals. Government, in his view, has an important role in building the Big Society, but it is mainly catalytic -- providing resources and authority to community institutions.

...for running on compassionate conservatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 23, 2010 6:20 AM
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