August 17, 2010

August 17, 2010 | Commentary on

Thinking Big

Conservatives can’t afford to think small if we hope to tame big government.

Consider a recent example. In June, a MARC commuter train, run by Amtrak on behalf of the state of Maryland, broke down. Passengers were stranded for hours in between stations. The railroad couldn’t manage to move the train forward or backward. Some people got out and walked, while others roasted in 100-plus degree heat with no air conditioning and little air movement.

The next day, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley was out riding other MARC trains, blaming Amtrak and assuring customers he was doing everything he could. “O’Malley repeatedly reminded riders that his administration has nearly doubled capital spending for MARC,” reported the Baltimore Sun.

Well. He’s vastly increased spending. That’s never worked before, but at least it’s an idea.

Amazingly, O’Malley’s response wasn’t the emptiest. His Republican opponent for governor, Robert Ehrlich, took O’Malley appointees to task “for failing to attend meetings of a MARC riders’ advisory group.” So, the railroad would run smoothly if only some political hacks would attend meetings? Please.

The conservative response would be to say: “You can spend as much money as you want, but the government is never going to be able to run a railroad effectively. Let’s put MARC on the market and sell it to the highest bidder.” Voters have seen that the state-run railroad doesn’t work. Privatization would give them a big idea to support, instead of a small idea that more government spending is the answer.

There are plenty of other places where conservatives should be thinking, and acting, big. For example, a Connecticut judge recently told Quinnipiac University that its women’s cheerleading team didn’t count as a sport, so the school would have to reinstate its women’s volleyball team.

How did such earth-shaking issues end up in federal courts? Well, for decades now, the feds have enforced a provision of law known as Title IX. Washington has demanded that any school that receives any federal funding (in other words, virtually every institution of higher learning in the country) must ensure that the proportion of women engaged in sports matches the percentage of women enrolled in classes.

Since women now make up more than half of college undergrads, most schools have had to quash men’s sports. The Website reports that “more than 2,200 men’s athletic teams have been eliminated since 1981.”

Yet conservatives will always lose if we face this on a sport-by-sport or school-by-school basis. We ought to expand the playing field.

Title IX says, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” No mention of sports there, but it’s pretty clear that the law aims to eliminate discrimination.

It isn’t working. By 2008, women made up between 56 and 58 percent of undergraduates. That’s greater than their proportion of the general population (51 percent in the 2000 Census). In the interest of fairness, why not demand that Title IX be applied across the board to all academic programs? Yes, that will mean booting women out of school until they represent only 51 percent of undergrads. But that’s the law.

Such a radical step might force Washington bureaucrats to recognize the silliness of their attempts to micromanage college sports. Outraged lawmakers could be expected to oppose such “reverse sexism” and rewrite or revote Title IX. That would be a win for all Americans.

Finally, let’s rethink affirmative action.

It’s true that in previous decades, even centuries, blacks faced severe discrimination. Yet today “WASP elites have fallen by the wayside and a plethora of government-enforced diversity policies have marginalized many white workers. The time has come to cease the false arguments and allow every American the benefit of a fair chance at the future,” as Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., wrote in The Wall Street Journal recently.

Instead of promoting equality for all, “present-day diversity programs work against that notion, having expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white,” Webb added. And that’s true.

Like all government programs, affirmative action will keep spreading until conservatives start pushing back. It’s time to make the case, as Webb has started to do, for a truly colorblind American society, where laws are enforced without a thumb on the scale for favored minority groups. This idea appeals to American’s sense of fairness and is likely to be a political winner.

There’s a feeling in the air that Republicans are set to make huge gains in the 2010 elections. But that only helps conservatives if those Republicans are ready to move the country where it wants to go: to the political right. It’s time to think big.

Rich Tucker is a Senior Writer at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Rich Tucker Senior Writer
B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics

First appeared in