Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Conservatives and Governing

Recently, I was at a meeting with some other conservatives and the topic as usual, was about government. A few of the people there talked about how large the government was and what a bad idea that was. Now, I agreed with that sentiment, but I left the meeting wondering, about conservatism and governing. Conservatism is naturally supposed to have a healthy skepticism about government. But, I think we have allowed that to metastisize into a hatred of government and that to me leads to either really bad governing and to losing elections.

Republicans should be for lean government. We don't think government is the answer to everything or that it should control huge sectors of American society. But that doesn't mean that government has an answer to a public policy question.

Case in point: health care. There are tens of millions of Americans that don't have health care and probably more are being added daily as more and more companies lay off people in the ensuing recession. What can be done when someone loses their job and their health care? Far too often, Republicans have talked about the spectre of something Canada's single payer health care system. Now, I am against single payer health care or for that matter the socialized health care found in the United Kingdom. But just because other nations have used government to control the health care sector, doesn't mean that government should have no role in solutions to health care.

To his credit, for Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney came up with a new way to approach health care when he crafted a plan that treated health care akin to buying auto insurance. The result is still unclear and some conservative wags have panned it, but the fact is, it was at the very least a solution instead of nostrums to the dangers of government control.

In a recent article to Ripon Forum, for GOP Representative Tom Davis says that the guide for conservatives these days should not be lower taxes or smaller government, but something that could George H.W. Bush smile- prudence. It is prudence that must be our guide and not litmus tests:

First, we eliminate checklists and litmus tests and focus on broad principles, not heavy-handed prescriptions. Free trade. Strong defense – at home and abroad. Government as small as is practicable in these times. Economic, education and energy policies that promote growth, energy independence and a competitive agenda that will allow businesses to grow and compete, not be protected by artificial barriers.

That’s it. Believe anything else you want, but advocate for those things outside the structure of the party.

Second, remind ourselves the first principle of conservatism is not tax cuts or free trade or even smaller government. It is prudence, and prudence should be our guide.

Prudence dictates we take seriously the concerns of those who elect us and tailor our policy proposals to counter the government-mandate-heavy ideas bound to emerge from the other side.

Americans want something done about the 43 million of us who lack health care. The question is not: Should government care? It must. The question is: Do we get a top-down, Washington-knows-best, one-size-fits-all “solution” or a Massachusetts-style program that preserves choice for patients and discretion for doctors?

Prudence dictates we build on the No Child Left Behind Act and get serious about education reform. Americans demand top-notch schools, and it is our constitutional duty to ensure this happens. Yes, constitutional. We’ve reached an age where we can’t, in practice, provide for the common defense or compete economically without an educated citizenry. We should maximize local control … so long as local control is working. We need to measure, and we need to see that failure is addressed. Remember, it’s about the students, not the institutions.

Prudence dictates we pursue energy independence on all fronts. It is our key to a secure future and our bulwark against the price swings we’ve endured in recent years.

In the end, Americans want their government to do something. Republicans can't talk about how they hate the government and then ask people to elect them to the thing that is supposed to be the problem. Conservatives are not anti-government, but we are pro-freedom. We should see government as one the many important institutions in society, not as a leviathan.

Yes, we should be in favor of small government. Yes, we should hold fast to supporting novel approaches to social problems instead of the top-down approach of liberals. I am not saying we should become big government conservatives.

But we need to be willing to see government as a useful tool to better society.

For conservatives, government can't be the answer, but it has to an answer for it to be a viable movement.

1 comment:

Rob Sisson said...

Hi Dennis-
Prudence! Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and Richard Weaver are smiling down upon you!
Best wishes,
Rob Sisson
Republicans for Environmental Protection