Today’s WSJ op-ed by my boss Arthur Brooks is exactly the reason why I am proud and excited to work at AEI. I doubt whether too many people think the center-right is soft on taxes and spending. It’s more so that Americans can’t connect the dots on how conservative policies actually fix the biggest problems in their lives or those of their neighbors. Either they don’t know what the conservative solution set is, or they misunderstand its application. And in some cases, the solution set is out-of-date and inadequate. Brooks:
Some say the solution for conservatives is either to redouble the attacks on big government per se, or give up and try to build a better welfare state. Neither path is correct. …
Instead, the answer is to make improving the lives of vulnerable people the primary focus of authentically conservative policies. For example, the core problem with out-of-control entitlements is not that they are costly—it is that the impending insolvency of Social Security and Medicare imperils the social safety net for the neediest citizens. Education innovation and school choice are not needed to fight rapacious unions and bureaucrats—too often the most prominent focus of conservative education concerns—but because poor children and their parents deserve better schools.
By making the vulnerable a primary focus, conservatives will be better able to confront some common blind spots. Corporate cronyism should be decried as every bit as noxious as statism, because it unfairly rewards the powerful and well-connected at the expense of ordinary citizens. Entrepreneurship should not to be extolled as a path to accumulating wealth but as a celebration of everyday men and women who want to build their own lives, whether they start a business and make a lot of money or not. And conservatives should instinctively welcome the immigrants who want to earn their success in America.
With this moral touchstone, conservative leaders will be able to stand before Americans who are struggling and feel marginalized and say, “We will fight for you and your family, whether you vote for us or not”—and truly mean it.
I would call this Ronald Reagan conservatism. I would also call this Jack Kemp conservatism. But will it also be Paul Ryan-Marco Rubio-Bobby Jindal conservatism? And the big question: Will Republican policymakers support a Brooksian message with smart, modern, pro-market populist policies? That is a live issue, to say the least.