The GOP’s '76ers
Sep 3, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 47 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Here is what independence might look like: A responsible budget would tame the debt by addressing the unfunded liabilities in Social Security and Medicare through a combination of increasing the retirement age, tying benefits to longevity and inflation, and introducing premium support. Medicaid would be block-granted. Its maintenance-of-effort regulations would be liberalized. The health care system would be improved and costs lowered through competition, the freedom to purchase insurance across state lines, a tough approach to malpractice litigation, and an end to the tax penalty for individuals who do not obtain insurance through their employer. The emphasis of social policy would be on getting families off government assistance, not ensnaring more of them in a safety net that raises effective marginal tax rates.
Full exploitation of America’s domestic carbon energy resources—oil, coal, and natural gas—would lessen our dependence on foreign oil and reduce the trade deficit. The sort of retaliatory tariffs against unfair Chinese trade practices and currency manipulation for which Irwin M. Stelzer has argued in these pages would have a similar effect. A center-right consensus has emerged to deal with Wall Street: Link bank size to increased capital requirements so that financial institutions cannot grow fat on leveraged dollars. Go ahead and audit the Fed, but also increase the pressure on it to commit to a rules-based monetary policy rather than the sort of haphazard discretionary approach it has adopted since the financial crisis began.
So one Republican theme, and goal, could be independence for self-governing citizens. Another could be union.
The idea of union, the concept embodied in our unofficial national motto, “Out of many, one,” can inform public policy. The current administration has damaged the ideal of union by slicing and dicing the American electorate into groups—minorities, the young, women, the One Percent and the Ninety-Nine Percent—and pitting each against the other. The appropriate response is to treat Americans not as members of a race or group or class, but as sovereign individuals possessing equal natural rights.
Prosperity and freedom do not benefit one group over another. They benefit us all. So a strong union would have a strong economy. It would also try to tax its citizens equally, which implies a simple and broad-based tax code in which the income derived from investments and the income derived from labor would be taxed at equal rates. Special-interest loopholes, especially those that benefit the wealthy, would be closed in order to lower tax rates for everyone. This was the goal of the 1986 Reagan tax reform, and should be the goal of any tax reform in a Romney-Ryan administration.
Viewing government through the prism of natural rights clarifies priorities. A strong union would promote color-blindness and equality under the law. A Romney-Ryan administration would affirm the right to life, and would eliminate the threats to religious liberty and conscience contained in Obamacare and in other progressive innovations. Assaults on personal property rights, whether they come from the environmental lobby or from the federal government, would be curtailed. The right to free labor—to work where one pleases, for what one pleases, and with or without joining a union—would be expanded at every opportunity. The goal of economic policy would be, as Romney has put it, more jobs for more take-home pay: increasing the worker’s return on labor by maximizing demand for workers, by lowering their cost of living, and by protecting them from unfair wage competition.
It’s a tall order. The election is close. Cynicism and pessimism and declinism are everywhere in the land. But surely the American people will rally to a Romney-Ryan ticket—and will support a Romney-Ryan administration—if it follows a path laid out by the greatest guides of all: Abraham Lincoln, and the American Founders, and the spirit of 1776.