Crossposted at The Rockefeller Republican
Conservatives are feeling pretty dejected lately. After 3 decades of near dominance on the national stage we have been relegated to the wilderness. It’s been a generation since we have been here and some are wondering what exactly should be done. Should we be looking for the next savior, the next Reagan? Should we be drafting a new populist platform? Should we purge the party of all those who do not hold an ultra-conservative view? In the meantime we soldier on. The united stimulus felt good for a while, but it did not really do anything lasting for us or the nation. Rush has once again risen to national promise as conservatives flock to any voice that is sympathetic and authoritative. But what we really need to do is to retrench and rethink about what we have traditionally stood for as a party; we need to remember what we stand for, not just stand against. The Republican Party can once again be the major force for change in America, but it will not get there with a personality-driven messiah. Conservatives should work to create a movement that changes the culture from the ground up rather than top down. We can do this with a strong focus on to vital areas in the American pysche. We need to become the party of the family and middle America.
One of the Founding Father’s of modern conservatism, Russell Kirk, stated that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.” Yet we have fallen away from this ideal in the recent past. Since the sixties our common culture has supported things which have helped to break down the family: two-income families, preschool, cradle-to-grave social welfare, a society so mobile that extended families often live hundreds of miles from each other. Conservatives are quick to bemoan the societal ills that the break down of the family leads to. Issues such as drug use, failing educational systems, abortion, youth crime are all common fodder for any right-wing talk radio host. But how many of us really stop to think of the root cause of all this. We, as conservatives, need to conserve that most important of American institutions, the family.
Two ideas come to mind which are concrete and relatively straight forward to implement. First we need our tax system to support the development of strong nuclear families. Tax breaks for families that choose to have one parent stay at home is a good place to start. These families cost society less money as children that come from homes with strong parental involvement generally do better in school and have less childhood health problems. Additionally youth crimes have been shown to occur most often in the 3-6PM range. Exactly when the traditional latch-key kid is on his own without any parental supervision. With all these societal benefits it makes sense to cut these families a financial break as they attempt to get by on a single income. For those who make the ultimate commitment and decide to homeschool their children additional incentives could be offered. This would not effect huge numbers of Americans at first, but it would send the message that Republicans really do put families first.
Another pro-family move would be to support a nationwide movement on the lines of the “Say no to drugs” campaigns of the 1980’s. These times of multimedia cultural messages are used by prolife and antidrug organizations all the time. Unfortunately these programs are like cold medicine, they help with the effects but don’t really cure the problem. Let’s start one that targets the root of the issue instead of the symtoms. A push for family dinner nights, or national unplugged days, could at least be a way to start a national conversation.
The next area conservatives could rally around would be a vigorous support of Main Street over Wall Street. Fiscal conservatism should always stand for free markets and a capitalistic attitude towards business, but that doesn’t go far enough. Small business is the real engine of the economy and we need to tell Americans that we know this, and do more than just give it lip service. Small business needs three things to survive and thrive. The first step is obviously creating a tax situation that supports and encourages entrepreneurial behavior. Next, real solutions to health care for its employees, not just penalties and forced inclusion. Lastly, and possibly most intriguing is the need for a well educated workforce. Some educational theorists have posited the idea that the college system needs to radically change. One possibility is moving toward a more certification-based system rather than the traditional degree-based one. It has worked for accounting and technical programs for years. If it was expanded then students could get certified faster at a much lower out of pocket cost. Another idea that would be less radical but no less effective would be to actually cut federal college tuition aid. It has been shown that colleges adjust their costs to such a degree that students require federal aid. This way they have a larger pool of potential “customers.” If colleges actually had to provide their services at a reasonable cost instead of the de facto government subsidy rate they have been getting, we would see a much leaner, meaner and affordable college system.
Being a conservative used to stand for something, but over the past generation we seem to have lost our way. I don’t agree with Ralph Nader about much, but he is right when he says the two major parties are really not that different anymore. We talk a good game, but too often the results seem the same. We need to retrench; we need to stand for something. Standing for families and middle America is a solid place to start. Let’s give people a real choice in the ballot booth.