Bridging the Conservative Divide – Part 2

In Part One I argued that the Center Left and progressive Left are much better at playing together than those of us on the political Right. Since they already agree on the solution, there’s little point in arguing about the problem. And their solution that is perpetually in search of a problem – any problem – is ever and always more government, more spending, more control.

On the Right, meanwhile, we see an apparent – I say apparent because I think it’s more style than substance – split between the centrists who have traditionally dominated the establishment conservative base and the new grassroots conservatives that tend to lean more constitutional and libertarian. And who also feel a much greater sense of urgency in changing our current course.

What is indisputable, though, given that we have a president in Washington and slateful of elected officials in Helena who are of the Party of the Left, is that this center/right state and country are not translating conservative philosophies and preferences into political power.

That has to change.

And change it will if we can concentrate on what unites the Right and replace the straw man arguments constantly erected by the Left with intuitive and easily stated concepts for making this a better place by following the recipe left to us in our founding documents.

Here are a few ideas.

First, polls show broad agreement around the concept that government is too big, too expensive, and unsustainable at current levels. If something can’t go on forever it probably won’t, as an economist once said, and we’re at a tipping point between continuing down the current path leading towards becoming a European-style social democracy, or returning to the principles of freedom, capitalism, and limited government that have made us unique in history.

There is also broad agreement that the system of special interest spoils, crony capitalism, and identity politics has broken the bank and is morally corrupt. The more government can pick winners and losers the less incentive people have to achieve and the less opportunity there is to climb the ladder of success. That’s unfair and it makes everyone except the connected few worse off than they otherwise would be.

The Left’s focus on equality of outcomes, whether it be incomes or feelings, also provides an opportunity to unite behind some basic conservative principles.

They are focusing on the split between the richest and poorest and calling for closing that gap through redistribution or a playing field that would be leveled through government intervention, i.e. holding some people back and giving others a boost.

But there is no such thing as a level playing field and there never will be. People are born with different interests, aptitudes, talents, luck, and a million other attributes that guarantee they will not approach life in the same way, work at the same levels, or aim for and achieve the same goals. The ability to set your own goals and decide how much effort to put into achieving them is essential to freedom.

And there will always be a split in incomes. The Politburo lived better than the average Russian, just as a Wall Street executive lives better than the average American. Tin pot dictators around the world live better than their subjects.

The important thing isn’t whether there is a split in incomes – that will always be the case under any system – but whether there are opportunities to rise. And nothing provides more opportunity to rise than a free enterprise system where people are equal under the law – the rules apply to everyone equally – but where what they get out of it depends on what they put into it.

So we shouldn’t let the Left get away with the simplistic and materialistic argument that money buys happiness and equal amounts of money make everyone equally happy.

Instead we should be focusing on the fairness of a system that rewards work and risk. If some people work more they get more. That’s fair. If you want to work less and live a simpler life that’s fine, too. It’s your business to decide how much you want to put into and how much you want to get out of your labor and whatever other assets you have, not the government’s.

And we should be pointing out that prosperity is good for everyone. Only rich societies can afford things like social safety nets, environmental stewardship, and host of other things that civil societies provide. These things aren’t made possible by equal incomes; they’re made possible by increased incomes that a free enterprise system makes possible.

And a free enterprise system – as opposed to the crony capitalism we’re seeing more of today – has a government that protects rights rather than creating them and allows people to reap the rewards of their earned success. That means limiting its role in our lives, it’s reach into our pockets, and acting as a protector of rights rather than a granter of goodies.

These are points that have broad appeal, don’t take an economics degree to understand, and can be easily passed on from one person to another.

Rather than concentrating on the few issues that divide the Right, we should be focusing on the ideas and principles that most Americans embrace as our unique heritage and advantage. Hopefully we’ll learn in time.

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