Wednesday, April 04, 2007

COLUMN -- Head-shaking won't do it; engaging in market-principled government might

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:18 PM |  

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

It was a week where the Minnesota DFL taxed even our patience with proposals for tax increases on just about everything else. The time seems right for a good old-fashioned rant on the arrogance, self-serving politics and downright socialist propensity of the DFL (motto: "Willing to force someone else to pay for a better Minnesota").

Although such a rant would be indeed cathartic, it has little value. Two cardinal rules of life: 1) never bluff a dumb poker player and 2) never try to embarrass someone who has no shame.

A shameless DFL has gone wild exposing the nanny-state metaphors. But the blame for that irresponsible behavior, I contend, rests with the GOP. The GOP ran a bluff and lost its stake in the Legislature by playing a DFL-lite hand. Now it's a little late for the governor and the party to go all-in on conservative principles. Nobody's buying that ruse.

The DFL has exposed the GOP "tell" - the GOP shakes its head "no" whenever the DFL ups the ante. The GOP is chasing control of state government like a dog running after a bus; it doesn't know what to do with it when it catches it. Lacking faith that conservative principles can win elections, Republicans mimic the DFL tax and spend dance. Unfortunately, they don't know the steps very well and their metaphors are smaller.

In case the GOP (and my good friend Jason Lewis) missed it, David Brooks' New York Times column published in the Pioneer Press ("The folly of looking backward to Goldwater and Reagan," March 30) implies that while government is not THE solution to problems, by the very nature of its extent, government today must be a PART of the solution.

Brooks' premise is simple: Conservatism rose to prominence in the 1970s when people were right to think their future prospects might be dimmed by a stultifying state. The active paradigm was "liberty vs. power" - the idea that big government meant less liberty.

That was then. Today non-ideological Joe and Jane, facing large amorphous threats like having their jobs outsourced, rising energy prices, loss of health insurance and deteriorating schools for their kids, don't see their own government as the No. 1 threat to their personal freedom.

Brooks writes: "People with secure health care can switch jobs more easily. People who feel free from terror can live their lives more loosely. People who come from stable, secure homes and pass through engaged schools are free to choose from a wider range of opportunities."

The "liberty vs. power" paradigm has been replaced with a "security leads to freedom" model. That switch doesn't end debate between right and left, says Brooks, it just engages it on a different ground.

Unfortunately, the Minnesota GOP doesn't get that, or, if it does, it hasn't figured out how to engage the DFL in the new paradigm. That's why the DFL can run wild with economy-killing tax proposals, stomp on charter schools and vouchers to "save" the status quo education system, and create the illusion that government-provided universal health care coverage is the same as being able to see a doctor when you need to.

But Joe and Jane aren't listening to the conservatives on these issues because their head-shaking "no" strategy offers neither security nor freedom. Joe and Jane aren't responding to GOP moderates because they aren't offering as much as the DFL.
In today's world, the GOP can't portray government as the enemy when its goal is controlling the government. The challenge for the GOP is creating conservative policy that meshes with the "security leads to freedom" paradigm. The GOP needs a Ronald Reagan with a message for this time and this place that resonates with today's voters - someone who understands that even in the guise of a government program, market mechanisms work.

Government is no longer the only problem, or even our biggest problem. Neither is government the only solution or the best solution. But government is definitely part of most approaches to the challenges facing Minnesota.

The GOP must not slight individual and economic liberty (as the DFL and GOP moderates do), but it must stop its whining about DFL policy and lamenting the ignorance of voters (as conservatives do). The GOP needs to put aside its fear of government and consider how to replace the DFL tax-and-spend model with a market-mechanism approach to limited government programs. "Trust but verify" also makes for good domestic policy.

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