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Conservatism and compassion

"Conservatism and compassion" Continued...

Public policy goals. Conservatives seek limited government foremost because they know big government crushes the best in people. Among the wealthy and middle class, big government suppresses innovation, job creation, and responsibility to one’s neighbor. In poorer neighborhoods, it robs dignity, undercuts initiative, and encourages dependency. There is nothing empathetic about gargantuan government.

In sharp contrast to an overbearing State, conservatives desire to cultivate vibrant community. That requires a balanced eco-system of inter-dependent institutions: families, businesses, houses of worship, civic organizations … and yes, government. Each has a vital role to play. When any one dominates the others, it is not merely a philosophical problem. People suffer. Children grow up fatherless. Loneliness becomes rampant. The struggling may receive government aid, but lack the relationships and support necessary to transform their lives.

In short, conservatives know that human flourishing comes from aspiration nurtured in community. This is true for the poor and rich alike. So any policy or program that works against this goal isn’t compassionate; it’s destructive. Meanwhile, conservatism—properly understood—nurtures conditions in which all of these institutions together can elevate the lives of all citizens, including the poor, far more than government alone ever could.

That’s why conservatism is compassionate.

But that fact alone isn’t enough. Because in politics, perception shapes reality. So if Republicans have an interest in winning a national election again, this simple truth must again be widely known to be our bedrock—both in what we say and what we do.

What will that require? First, we must re-explore this truth together—hammering it out on the anvil of serious discussion, just as the first Republicans did with their conviction that “all men are created equal” in the mid-1800s. Second, we must embody sincere concern for the struggling in our personal actions. Finally, we must articulate this vision by applying it in innovative policies.

Understanding all this helps us reject two equally harmful extremes. On one side is the Darwinian ethics of extreme libertarianism that deifies personal liberty but offers little vision for personal responsibility to one’s neighbor. This approach fails to recognize that there is, in fact, a necessary positive role for government and community in human thriving. On the other side stands the statism that promotes government as the solution for every ill, ultimately suppressing all competing institutions. Both of these are dead end roads and utterly insufficient for the challenges we face as a nation.

Instead, we must do what the best leaders always have: apply timeless truths in timely ways.

The GOP hasn’t been doing that particularly well recently. As a Commentary Magazine article by Mike Gerson and Pete Wehner pointed out:

“It is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the Party more than 30 years ago. For Republicans to design an agenda that applies to the conditions of 1980 is as if Ronald Reagan designed his agenda for conditions that existed in the Truman years.”

Here are a few inherently conservative (read: “compassionate”) policy ideas to get the discussion started:

Specific achievable policies

Family—the first economy and the first community
The first community and the first economy of any society is the family. When policies cast marriage and parenting as a personal hobby, not a public good, we all lose. Republicans first introduced the child tax credit, then expanded it. We can build on this further.

As part of upcoming tax reforms, we suggest merging the existing child tax credit and the childcare credit into a unified child tax credit, retaining its existing refundability and indexing it to inflation. Parents should be free to choose the best care situation for their child without financial penalty.

In addition, we should affirm a holistic vision that prioritizes family by promoting adoption. This includes making the adoption tax credit refundable and further supporting adoption from foster care, which saves taxpayers significantly over time.

No factor more predicts a child’s well-being than his or her parents’ marital status, so we must eliminate any and all financial disincentives to marriage, particularly those in programs designed to help the vulnerable. This includes both income thresholds and asset tests for all means-tested government programs.

We must also affirm the value of flexibility for working families. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has recently proposed allowing hourly employees to use their overtime for flextime. This would help parents who desire to pick up kids from school, go on field trips with them, etc. State and city employees have been allowed to convert overtime to flextime for almost 30 years, but outdated federal laws don’t allow private hourly employees this freedom.

Reprinted with permission. © 2013 The Clapham Group LLC. All rights reserved.

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