Whether you’re liberal or conservative, it’s usually easy to say what you oppose. Both sides spend a good deal of time trying to shoot down policies from the other side. But do you know what you favor?
It’s not enough to simply say “no” all the time. Yes, that’s an important function in our system of government. Opposing bad policies is part of the job. But only part. You also need to promote good policies. And if you lose sight of what you’re for, you won’t be able to do that — at least not effectively.
That’s why I’m glad to see the Heritage Foundation’s “Solutions 2016” come out. It’s more than a handbook of sensible policy solutions on a wide range of issues, both domestic and foreign. It’s a gut check for conservatives — a reminder of why we do what we do.
Take, for example, calls for fiscal responsibility — for government to spend less, and to limit federal programs in number and scope. Does this spring from stinginess? From a desire to act like 21st century Scrooges? To hear liberals describe us, it does. We hate the poor and just about everyone else, right? Wrong.
For one thing, an ever-expanding government, even if you think it’s a marvelous idea, is unsustainable. As Margaret Thatcher famously quipped, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” It’s impractical and irresponsible to grow government endlessly.
So “Solutions 2016” rightly points out that the costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, left unchecked, are on pace to overwhelm the federal budget. One of the problems with Obamacare is that it will add nearly $2 trillion (note the “t”) to the federal budget over the next decade.
Perhaps the most startling chart in “Solutions 2016” puts federal spending into stark perspective. It shows four stacks of twenty-dollar bills. One stack represents the median family income of $54,000. The next one, slightly higher, is the $61,000 a family would blow if it spent like the federal government. A tiny one then shows the $7,000 they’d be putting on a credit card. A final, huge stack stands in for the $300,000 of debt they already have.
But the book goes beyond that: “Since the beginning of the 20th century, the federal government’s domestic activities have expanded well beyond what the Founders envisioned, leading to ever more centralized government, smothering the creativity of states and localities.” Exactly.
It goes on: “Even when Washington allows states to administer the programs, it taxes families, subtracts a hefty administrative cost, and sends the remaining revenues back to state and local governments with specific rules dictating how they may and may not spend the money.”
Or take conservative policies on taxes. Cut them, yes, but good policy goes beyond this. As “Solutions 2016” points out: “There is a growing consensus that a simpler, flatter tax code — one with fewer, lower marginal rates and only essential deductions — is one of the best ways to promote growth.”
And that’s the key: growth. The right policy won’t just save us money. It will create a stronger, more vibrant economy. That’s something that benefits everyone.
In short, conservatives are not anti-government. We are anti-big government. Anti-overreaching government, one that is permitted or encouraged to expand beyond its constitutional limits, to the point where it encroaches on the God-given freedoms of hard-working Americans.
“The conservative project is a constructive one,” the introduction to “Solutions 2016” points out. “Our task — like the task of every generation of Americans — is to distinguish what should be conserved from what should be reformed, abolished or overturned, and to implement principled reforms that protect rights, expand opportunity, strengthen civil society, and eliminate favoritism.”
That’s a compass reading that’s well worth taking as we enter a presidential election year. Conservatives have solutions, all right — as long as we remember what we stand for.
- Ed Feulner is the Founder of the Heritage Foundation
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Times