What Are We For?
From the diaries by Erick . . .
I am a conservative who on a good day actually gives a rip about the rest of the world. Conservatives often know what they are against but do they know or remember what they are for? It would help the country culturally, economically, and politically if we could articulate what we are for. It would help conservatism and our country if we could better promote common sense for the common good. Moreover, people of principles who desire to be of some earthly good also need to be passionate about problem solving. Saying is good; doing is even better.
Here are some suggestions.
1) A Balanced Budget. This may seem retro but absent a balanced budget and modernizing Social Security and Medicare the priorities of everyone across the political spectrum are at risk and will be increasingly so. The reality is that we are deeply in debt, the system is dysfunctional, and we are adverse to hard choices. This will require a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. It is this requirement that currently makes governors more fiscally responsible and this is required to make Washington, D.C. the same. We need to show how children and the elderly will be impacted if we do not return to fiscal sanity. This is also the long- term path to more growth and opportunity, lower taxes, as well as a safer and sounder safety net for the poor and vulnerable.
2) Healthcare Innovation. While we are opposed on principle to key tenets of Obamacare, we should be for problem solving regarding healthcare solutions for Americans –problem solving that promotes innovative, accessible, affordable, and quality health care options for individuals and families. Many conservatives support policies that promote healthcare access for lower income and struggling families without government expansion, but few are talking about it. In our mobile society, healthcare options should also be attached to the individual or family rather than the employer. Or at least any tax benefits for healthcare options should be equally available to individuals and families.
3) Immigration Solutions. True conservatives want all Americans to have the opportunity to succeed across all income levels, races, creeds, and ethnicities. Ongoing legal immigration is a source of strength and vitality to our communities and gives us a competitive edge vis a vis the rest of the world. Ignoring illegal immigrants does not make them go away and it does not make us safer as a nation. The Constitution explicitly makes immigration a federal responsibility while immigration solutions have long been neglected in Washington, D.C. Even with President Obama still in office, a deal on immigration is possible if problem solving returns for a visit to Washington, D.C. The four key elements are securing the borders in a measurable way, enabling and holding accountable employers to promote legal hiring, a pathway to legal status, and a pathway to citizenship only for those who return to their country of origin (absent a legitimate claim for asylum) and stand in line behind those who seek to come to America in a legal fashion. This deal will allow for justice and fairness to be at the same table and help us move forward as a country.
4) Educational Excellence and Innovation. Conservatives should partner with whomever they can to promote empowering parents with quality educational options for their children. Families in urban and rural America are particularly struggling with poor educational options. In many urban high schools in American less than half of students graduate. Many on the left choose not to objectively face this reality. Some on the right ignore the complexities of poverty.
Some key steps to better education; 1) don’t give up before you start- the pursuit of educational excellence and maximizing individual potential and fulfillment should be for every child, every ethnic and racial group, and every learning style. We need to continue to oppose the soft bigotry of low expectations for children of all backgrounds; 2) recruit the best teachers- teachers should be drawn from the top 25% of college graduates. We need to create incentives including higher salaries and laying out the vision of public service to attract the best teachers possible; 3) keep the best- mentoring, no immediate or absolute tenure, expanded incentives, professional development opportunities and flexibility for teachers and principals; include parents not just test results in determining which educators are best; 4) expand the field- in addition to math and English language arts, teach history critical for an informed citizenry, science, art, music, and foreign languages too to connect with a wider range of student learning styles and interests. Support parent triggers and charter school options for underperforming schools, personalized learning through technology, use adjunct teachers in high schools, explore specialized learning, apprentice programs, and community college and other higher education partnerships. Many educational theorists and educational union supporters don’t get the appeal of choice or charter schools in urban areas when for many charter schools the testing outcomes are not different. But parents and kids get the difference that comes with a different service oriented organizational culture and respect for partnering with parents to promote a child’s education. Our view of education needs to be more holistic; 5) local decision making and national commitment -great teachers should be honored in our society and are not easy to replicate. Great schools are difficult to franchise. Yet, innovation and flexibility should not be shut out at the local level. Barriers to innovation and excellence should instead be eliminated. Good schools and good educators should not be afraid of parental options and choice. They should embrace it. We need accountability on opportunity outcomes and flexibility on methods. The policies suggested above should not be federal, but they need to be a national passion and national leaders should highlight local educational successes.
5) Helping Vulnerable, At-Risk Children. As with their education, conservatives need to advocate for vulnerable, at-risk children through supporting healthy marriages, responsible fathers, and vibrant communities. We need to support single mothers while acknowledging that the ideal for a child remains a loving mother and father. Defending the rights of those who cannot defend themselves is an issue of justice. We also need to support families with the critical responsibility of raising children by expanding the child tax credit or deduction and to include respective reductions in payroll taxes as well as income taxes to support parenting and working families until the children are 18. On principle, we need to eliminate all marriage tax penalties and address counterproductive fiscal cliffs for those desiring marriage and receiving government supports. We also need to incentivize savings for asset building purposes for low-income families and children and encourage financial education and skills. If you are against poverty, you need to be for families.
6) Standing for the Dignity of Human Life and Work. We need to affirm the dignity of life in concrete ways for the unborn, children, the disabled, and the aging in the US and around the world. While embracing the potential and gifts of science, we also affirm appropriate ethical limits. Trains without brakes are counterproductive. We focus first on the human dignity of the elderly not the cost, promote adoption in practical ways and support quality foster parenting as needed. We also need to be at the forefront of promoting work opportunities and social mobility. Job opportunities can transform families and communities. Our commitment to simplified and lower taxes and commonsense regulations rather than burdensome ones will help. We also need to focus on barriers to social mobility and poverty elimination like inadequate access to quality education and training and limited access to capital and support and policies which reward the dignity of work like the EITC. The minimum wage should be adjusted to inflation going forward to help people in entry level jobs in need of work experience and to keep the policy focus and debate on the primary poverty challenges; a supportive family, a good education, a good job, and access to savings and capital for asset building purposes.
7) Promoting Foundational Freedoms and Human Rights including Religious Freedom. In addition to protecting and supporting life, we need to be aggressively vigilant at supporting religious freedom and freedom of conscience for all Americans and to make clear that Americans support human dignity and freedom of conscience around the world. Freedom of conscience should matter for everyone and we need to explain why it is so important. We missed an important opportunity to highlight how Obamacare offensively violates freedom of conscience and foundational freedoms in the recent government shut down; hopefully the Supreme Court will get it right this time. Under Obamacare not only can you not keep your health plan you can’t keep your conscience. Our national leaders and Ambassadors also often neglect to promote fundamental human rights including freedom of conscience and religion and the equal treatment of women around the world. Promoting these values is in our strategic interest and confronts extremist ideologies and threats. We should make clear that we are for freedom of conscience and religious freedom, for equal opportunity for girls and women, and against violent extremism and violent jihadists around the world.
8) Unleashing Energy Potential and Embracing Common Sense Conservation. Clearly one of the best things that has happened to some struggling families and communities and a struggling economy in the last several years is the unleashing of America’s energy potential by the private sector, this needs to continue. At the same time, conservatives need to avoid shutting down our national parks and instead find ways to support and improve our National Parks and Wildlife Refuges as national treasures. We also should be promoting commonsense efforts to protect our air and water. Unleashing our energy potential and being stewards of our land like every good farmer does not need to be mutually exclusive. This is good stewardship and is good for America.
9) Promoting Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation. While conservatives support entrepreneurship through promoting lower regulations and taxes, we need to support social entrepreneurship for solving the challenges that face America including poverty and lack of social mobility. We shouldn’t be shocked when we keep doing the same things and keep getting the same results. We should support local problem solving and unleashing the little platoons through our families, churches and other faith-based institutions, businesses and innovators, and neighborhoods. The 10th Amendment is important and principles of autonomy and local problem solving like subsidiarity and sphere sovereignty which the 10th Amendment is designed to help protect are even more important.
10) Standing for a Strong America. Our strength as a nation comes from our families, churches, and communities but the core responsibility of the federal government is to keep Americans safe. We should be open to more cost effective ways to do so but this is the primary responsibility of the federal government. The burden of fiscal responsibility should not fall to those who keep us safe. We need to stop abandoning the strategic benefits of places where our soldiers have fought and died. We need to embrace the physical and mental needs of our veterans and their families. We need the courage to stand up to tyrants and stand with and for proponents of freedom of conscience around the world. As conservatives, we should be at the forefront of creative peacemaking; remembering that the goal of peace through strength is peace. We also need to stop vacillating on promoting basic human rights. It is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time; to promote our national security and human dignity. We need to unabashedly acknowledge that intelligent intelligence gathering is important to our nation’s security and not pretend otherwise. We need to also teach the lessons of history and make clear that we will not abandon nations and people who stand with America and those who stand for human dignity.
Randall J. Brandt, Strategic Consultant, Attorney, and Mediator. Previously served as Policy Director for Rick Santorum for President in 2012, Senior Advisor at the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and Deputy Staff Director and Counsel at the U.S. Senate Republican Conference.