value industriousness more than whites. Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it. Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. … What are the best ways to rouse ambition and open fields of opportunity? Don’t get hung up on whether the federal government is 20 percent or 22 percent of G.D.P. Let Democrats be the party of security, defending the 20th-century welfare state. Be the party that celebrates work and inflames enterprise. Use any tool, public or private, to help people transform their lives.
That’s a repudiation of decades of Republican rhetoric about government versus freedom. It would shift the GOP’s core emphasis from the size of government to the management of human nature. And this is a common thread among the post-election essays. “Conservatives will need to define a role for government that addresses human needs in effective, market-oriented ways,” writes Gerson. “Americans fear public debt, and they resent intrusive bureaucracies, but they do not hate government.” In National Review, Yuval Levin defends “benefits and protections for the poor and the vulnerable, provided they are designed to encourage independence.” Rather than oppose government intervention per se, this philosophy integrates conservative principles into government so that conservatives can, in good conscience, use state power in the economy.
6. Make things affordable. In his Politico column, NR editor Rich Lowry calls Romney’s investment tax cuts “almost a parody of a Wall Street Republican’s idea of how to help middle-income families.” Instead, Lowry pines for “a more explicit replacement plan for Obamacare” and “a proposal to begin addressing spiraling college tuitions.” Ponnuru agrees that voters “want politicians to offer a practical agenda to … make health care and higher education more affordable.” Neither writer wants bureaucratic solutions. But they acknowledge that politicians, in some way, must step in to close the gaps between current market prices and what people can afford.
7. Use the tax code to help couples raise kids. Lowry says a “generous child tax credit” would make good on Romney’s “rhetoric about increasing take-home pay.” Levin declares more explicitly that “there are some parts of our society that deserve special consideration and special treatment. I would favor a tax code designed to be more supportive of middle-class parents.” These ideas, echoing Rick Santorum’s message in the 2012 presidential primaries, would shift the GOP from flat-tax neutrality toward a more aggressive and progressive, albeit socially conservative, philosophy of taxation. It isn’t exactly redistributionism, but it could fairly be called distributionism.
Many of the other writers whose post-election columns I’ve examined—Chris Caldwell, Mona Charen, David Frum, John Fund, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Peggy Noonan, Kathleen Parker, Kim Strassel—offer similar suggestions. Others disagree. Together with Republican politicians and voters, they’ll gradually sort out which changes to adopt. The result could be a party defined less by deregulation and border fences and more by middle-class tax breaks, pro-immigration capitalism, and programs aimed at upward mobility. The revolution will be complete when—as in the case of civil rights, feminism, and retirement programs—the right no longer recognizes that it once opposed ideas it now takes for granted. The curse of being a conservative is that most of the time, you’re losing. The consolation is that in retrospect, you’ve never lost.
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