In Washington, we debate public policy so persistently that we can lose sight of the fact that policies are means, not ends. We say we are for lower taxes, or less regulation, or spending restraint. But those are just policies we advocate. They’re not what we’re really for. What we’re really for are the good things those policies will yield to the American people. What we’re really for is the kind of society those policies would allow the American people to create, together.
Conservatives in the late 1970s did not start a “civil war.” They started a civil debate. Because of that confident and deeply conservative choice – to argue rather than quarrel, to persuade rather than simply purge - the vanguards of the establishment never knew what hit them. The bottom line was that in 1976, the conservative movement found a leader for the ages, yet it still failed. By 1980, the movement had forged an agenda for its time and only then did it succeed. That is the lesson our generation must take from our movement’s “revolutionary era,” and the enormous and exhilarating challenge it presents to us today.
Upward mobility has never been easy. It has always and everywhere required backbreaking work, personal discipline, and at least a little luck. But if upward mobility was not universal in America, it was the norm. From our very Founding, we not only fought a war on poverty – we were winning. The tools Americans relied on to overcome poverty were what became the twin pillars of American exceptionalism: our free enterprise economy and voluntary civil society. America needs a new, comprehensive anti-poverty agenda that not only corrects – but transcends – existing policies.
The same kind of dysfunctional big government that unfairly excludes the poor and middle class from earning their success on a level playing field, sometimes unfairly exempts the wealthy and well-connected from having to earn their success.
This is America’s crisis of crony capitalism, corporate welfare, and political privilege: in which government twists public policy to unfairly benefit favored special interests at the expense of everyone else. A Conservative Reform Agenda must restore equal opportunity to the top of our society, too: to root out cronyist privilege from the law, and from our party, to re-empower the American people, and restore fairness, dynamism, and growth to our economy.