George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

Reflec⁠t⁠⁠i⁠ng on Conserva⁠t⁠⁠i⁠sm a⁠t⁠ ⁠t⁠he End of ⁠t⁠he Decade

By: Dr. J. Robert McClure / 2019

By Robert McClure
Wednesday, 18 December 2019 04:15 PM

We are fast approaching a new year, a new decade, and a new election cycle.

Like many of you, I did the Facebook 10-year photo challenge and marveled at the visible changes in myself, my family, my home state, and indeed my country that have occurred over the past 10 years. Most good, some not as good, and as I move through my 50s, I marvel at how much more quickly 10 years seems to pass by than in times past.

There are, nevertheless, two things that have not changed over the course of the past decade — one reassuring and one somewhat depressing.

On the upside, the principles I hold dear about our country — that the United States is the greatest experiment in self-governing in history — still hold true. That limited government and relatively free markets are the critical elements of opportunity for all, regardless of station in life, make as much sense to me now as they did in 2009, or 1999, or 1989 for that matter.

On the less-than-reassuring side, conservatives continue to be criticized (in my opinion, correctly) for our inability to effectively communicate our vision in a way that has broad appeal to citizens. It appears that often when the times are desperately in need of a clear vision, well-intentioned conservatives get bogged down in the weeds of policy details, complexities of issues, or explanations of trade-offs. We struggle to connect with people who are, for better or worse, seeking to be reassured that we share their goals, empathize with their circumstances, and genuinely want to provide greater opportunity for them. Conservatives need to realize we live in an insta-world and tailor our messages accordingly.

Let’s take healthcare as a current example.

Politicians and pundits on the Left have adopted a tagline that encompasses their vision — “Medicare for All” — that accomplishes two things: it provides an easy-to-digest idea that most voters can understand, and it effectively sweeps a million problems with this policy under the rug. By adopting a clever (albeit misleading) moniker and never veering off message, the Left can overshadow our (better but more complicated) vision of patient-centered and affordable healthcare services as innovation and advances in technology make all our lives better.

This challenge is not new. I am reminded of the 1999-2000 Presidential campaign of George W. Bush, in which he sought to portray himself as, in his words, a “compassionate conservative.” I remember thinking that if you need to put a qualifier like “compassionate” on the term conservative, then we are in serious trouble in our ability to relate.

The irony is that, when we have managed to message well, we have succeeded beyond our highest expectations. In my home state of Florida, over a period of several years of ceaseless attacks from the teachers’ union, we championed the vision of opportunity for parents and children via school choice. We stood tall throughout, knowing our vision was morally just, and we have seen both political and practical success as more and more parents see the benefits of school choice.

So, if I were to make a resolution for 2020 for the conservative movement, it would be for those seeking to engage in the battle of ideas to stop ceding the “moral high ground” or a specific demographic to the Left, backing down in the face of false and misleading criticism. This is true at both the macro and the micro levels. In the macro sense, free-market capitalism, property rights, and the rule of law have successfully lifted more than two billion people out of poverty in the last 30 years. There is no greater formula for human prosperity in the history of mankind — full stop. These ideas transcend demography. Everyone wants a better life for their children and grandchildren.

The same holds true in the micro sense. In healthcare and every other public policy, make it personal. For example, fewer onerous regulations and preferential tax treatment governing health insurance will lead to more options, choice, and affordable alternatives for people and will result in greater health outcomes. In education, robust school choice in Florida already helps hundreds of thousands of students each year escape school settings that are not right for them and their parents. As a result, the rising tide has lifted all ships and Florida’s trends in academic achievement are off the charts.

One of my favorite policy wonks (and good friend) Arthur Brooks sums it up better than most — that while we shouldn’t devolve into resentment and contempt, we must never forget one clear and undeniable fact — that our policy ideas of embracing free markets, liberty, and equal opportunity are the reason that billions of human beings are not subjected to the miseries of poverty.

We should proudly proclaim this truth with moral clarity and continue to seek out leaders who effectively articulate this vision and act on those principles.

Dr. Robert McClure provides expert perspective on current issues facing our nation and his home state of Florida, the third-largest state in the nation and a policy bellwether for the country. Recently named one of the Most Influential People in Florida Politics, Dr. McClure serves as the President and CEO of The James Madison Institute, Florida’s premier free-market think tank. He is a frequent commentator on television and talk radio programs and has lectured nationally on diverse policy issues. Dr. McClure has been published numerous times at both the state and national level on topics including property rights, tax policy, health care, and education reform. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.


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