Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Tough Opponent and Major Challenge

Looking back on the majority of my posts, I’ve noticed my tendency to focus on Obama. I’ve looked at the silly policy proposals, his temperament, and his appointments. What I’ve not done is really outline many alternatives. I heard him yesterday say that while he has a cabinet and advisors with a broad range of views, he will make the policy decisions. I’ll confess that I'm very impressed by that answer.

This makes me realize that Obama is a tough opponent. He is not conservative obviously. But he poses a different kind of challenge to conservatives trying to reclaim an electable agenda. For too long, conservatives have defined themselves by what they’re against and not what they’re for. So if Obama is for Policy-X, we must be against Policy-X. The problem with this is that it’s not very thoughtful and it won’t work against a nuanced, subtle opponent. When you have an opponent who has sharp edges and takes clearly defined lines it is easier to do this. Obama is not what you would a call a crunchy leader. Instead he has a soggy leadership style because he is nuanced and not defined or straightforward in certain respects. You don’t really know what he stands for as opposed to say Reagan or even George W. Bush.

This does call for a different tack in conservative policy proposals. We tend to make proposals using generalities. For example, we call for tax cuts or argue that we’re for advocating vouchers as a way to improve education. Tax cuts are not a centerpiece of an economic plan. Nor are vouchers a means of improving education for the vast majority of public school students in subpar schools, especially inner city ones. We tend to fight battles that are a generation old. By now, it should be obvious that we cannot simply say we’re going to cut taxes and the liberals are going to raise them. We can’t ignore the public schools either just because we are against public bureaucracies and teachers unions. Public schools and teachers unions aren’t going away. They’re a vested interest. Plus, they aren’t all evil people. My son goes to a public school and his teachers are part of a union. I have a vested, personal interest in seeing the teachers, and my son, and his classmates succeed. These teachers do great work and are helping my 6-year old son to read.

What we should do is come up with proposals that are new or old so long as they are relevant. For example, one idea we should advocate is a flat tax with limited deductions. This is not a new idea. In practice this would likely be a tax increase for many Americans. And yet, they would still support it. It is fair, it is straightforward, and it is popular. It is a fundamentally conservative idea. It would also dramatically reduce government bureaucracy required to prepare, process, and audit taxes in the current system.

Another idea is for public schools to require classroom spending increases and cuts to non-classroom public school bureaucracy. This is not a new idea either. I have heard of one proposal where 95% of school funding goes to teachers and students and is spent directly on classroom materials and learning aides. Many cities have large county staff that does non-classroom activities. We should become pro-teacher, pro-student and advocate targeted spending where it counts in public schools and not to prop up bureaucracy. We can’t simply say we’re against public school spending. It’s like saying you’re against the idea of a Blackberry or Satellite TV. You can be against it all you want but the fact is that it’s not going anywhere. So we can at least try to make it work successfully.

In the end, there are both old and new ideas that we need to consider. These two are not exhaustive by any means. Conservatives can’t be so predictable or we become irrelevant. Unless of course we want to be the 40% minority party for the next generation. If we believe Conservative values mean anything we need to adapt and rethink our knee-jerk broad brush positions.

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