Liberty, License and Legalization

With the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington State, the U.S. has once again extended individual liberty. But yet again it feels as if we have deferred the conversation on individual responsibility.

We enjoy amazing individual liberty in the United States. We get to choose how to make our money, where to live, how to find purpose. But traditionally there have been boundaries around how we have fun, how to make the moment a little less intense, a little more intense, a little more pleasurable. Most vices – enjoyable ways to kill oneself slowly – have been prohibited.

There are certainly religious overtones to the prohibitions, but it was also practical. We live in a compassionate society, with a safety net to keep people that have fallen on hard times from dying. Most people are able to balance their fun with their work. But some people can’t. For whatever reason – biological lottery, wrong upbringing, lack of willpower, whatever – some people can’t stop having the fun they find most compelling, to the point of disrespecting their bodies and their lives.

Too much of a good time often leads to hard times; people that can’t stop having fun eventually crash and burn. With our safety net, society bears much of the cost of keeping them from dying and then helping them put their lives back together. And the costs can be extreme. A drunk driver in an auto accident can incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses. A drug addicted father causes the state to have to pay to rear his children. Compassion has a financial cost that we all pay.

So even with the legal ways to have fun we made it as inconvenient as possible. We greatly limited where and when alcohol could be purchased, making it much harder for people that had already started drinking to continue drinking. Our cultural norms reinforced the laws. We had a strong societal bias towards sobriety and seriousness and a general distrust of the impact of vices. All of this worked together to keep people from having too much fun and also worked to limit the costs to society.

Now we have just the opposite. Many cultural norms seem to encourage excess and offer having too much fun as proof of individual freedom. And now, in Colorado and Washington State, smoking marijuana is added to the list of legal vices. It’s not any worse than alcohol, but it is yet another example of a trend – we keep coming up with more and more legal ways to kill ourselves slowly. Sugar and calories are cheaper and cheaper. Pummeling each other with fists, knees and feet is legal. Motorcycle stunts. Even extreme forms of yoga can damage the body. Every year it gets easier for a person to damage themselves in the pursuit of their fun.

My Libertarian friends find this change a good thing (and I generally agree). We are giving individuals greater freedom, more ability to choose their lives and their pleasures. But our social system hasn’t changed; our safety net doesn’t differentiate between bad luck and bad decisions. There is an old saying about personal liberty: “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose.” The rights of any one individual cannot come at the expense of the rights of another. But the same maxim should hold true with our safety net: “Your right to decide how you have your fun ends at my wallet.” At some point, Liberty becomes License.

Society doesn’t have unlimited resources – as harsh as this sounds, we can only afford so much compassion. Money we spent on compassion comes at the expense of early childhood education, or cancer research. We only have so much money to spend, and we have to decide where we spend it. At some point, we will have to draw a boundary around what society is expected to pay for. At some point it is unfair to the people that do lead sober, serious lives to expect them to pay to support people that spent their lives having too much fun. There are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to ask the questions. How often should society pay to fix someone that breaks themselves over and over again? How much respect does society owe an individual that disrespects themselves?

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Wishing the President was more Presidential

I know the Republican Party has forced the government shutdown and potential default on our debt. And I know that a sub-set of the Republicans, Tea Party Republicans, are responsible for the madness going on in Washington. But I can’t help think that if President Obama had been more presidential our country would not be in this position.

For all of the irrationality of the Tea Party, somewhere deep inside there is a philosophic position – the Tea Partiers are concerned that the line separating the responsibilities of government from the responsibilities of the individual has shifted too far towards government, and that this shift will (is) lessening our freedom. Whether one agrees with them or not, this is a legitimate question – where should we as a country draw the boundary between individual and collective responsibility?

We have been debating this question since the founding of the United States. In our country’s first pass at forming a government, the Articles of Confederation, the line was drawn in such a way to greatly favor the individual, with almost no authority for the national government. Our founding fathers recognized that without a strong national government we would never be a strong nation and so re-drew the line – the Constitution greatly increased the power of the federal government and in doing so decreased the power of the individual. And each new generation has to decide for itself, in the context of its situation, technology, cultural evolution, where the line should be drawn.

In the United States, it is the role of the President to shape this conversation. He or she is the one member of our government that every person in the country has the opportunity to vote for or against. The President alone has what Teddy Roosevelt called “the Bully Pulpit”, the chance to talk to our nation as a whole. I think President Obama has done a credible job, and somewhere down the road even Republicans will come to appreciate his role in keeping our country from slipping into a Depression. But he has not used the Bully Pulpit, he has not engaged in the conversation over the proper balance between individual and collective responsibility. Not too long ago there was the thought that perhaps we had reached “the end of history”, that we had somehow settled the question once and for all. At times it seems as if the President believed that history has in fact ended, and his side won.

But history never ends, nor does the conversation on the balance between individual and collective responsibility. Over forty times the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, what they call “Obamacare”. Over forty times the minority party expressed their extreme dislike of how the boundary between individual and collective responsibility was being drawn. They never once suggested how they would re-draw that line. But did anybody think they would stop trying to roll back the Affordable Care Act? Did anyone think that they would suddenly agree to its expansion of government responsibility?

I cannot remember the President even once defending the Affordable Care Act – I cannot remember President Obama defending or even addressing the proper balance between individual and collective responsibility. The Democratic Party has largely stopped offering its own coherent vision of government, instead falling back on “but those guys are crazy.” Yes, the other side of the debate has grown irrational, in some ways even crazy. This has certainly proven to be a successful electoral strategy for the Democrats, but pointing out the other side’s craziness is not the same thing as explaining your side.

Sometimes it seems as if the Democratic Party is no better at enunciating its vision of the proper role of government than the Tea Party. When people ask me how the Republican Party got to where it is today, how it has strayed from any rational view of the role and responsibilities of government, I cannot help but wonder if this is part of the cause. Would the Republican’s view of government have strayed so far from reality if the Democratic Party was offering its own coherent vision? Would our country be facing this crisis if the President had used the bully pulpit to explain and defend his view of the proper balance between individual and collective responsibility?

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Conservatives and the Affordable Care Act

Several commentators have suggested that Conservatives are against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because they are afraid that it might work and in doing so disprove their small government philosophy. But this misses the point – It is how the government would make it work that worries small government Conservatives.

Right now the United States spends more on healthcare than any country in the world, about 18% of our gross domestic product. By comparison European countries average about 12%. Despite our higher spending not all citizens in the U.S. have healthcare coverage – about 15% of Americans have no healthcare insurance. Many people blame private insurance companies for our expensive healthcare system, but insurers actually have very little to do with rising costs. Instead it is technology, utilization and lifestyle. Medical technology companies are coming up with more ways to fix problems we used to have to live with, and more expensive procedures to replace older, less expensive procedures. People are using more of these services – things we used to live with now we expect to be able to get fixed. And our lifestyles are costing money as well – people not taking care of themselves has led to an increase in adult onset diabetes, high blood pressure and a range of other expensive, chronic maladies.

None of these issues are directly addressed by the Affordable Care Act – instead it focuses on providing funding mechanisms (mostly more government money) to extend healthcare coverage to the people that don’t have it. If all the Affordable Care Act achieves is to increase coverage at the same cost per person, it will achieve one goal, providing universal coverage, but come close to bankrupting our country – we cannot afford to spend 21% of our GDP on healthcare. So the only way the Affordable Care Act can actually work is by rationing – somewhere, somebody in government will have to make a decision on what to pay for, and how much extra to charge people for the cost of their own irresponsibility.

Rationing is something that all healthcare systems do (and a primary reason why European countries spend less on healthcare). In the United States we have made it very hard for private insurers to ration care. Despite periodic stories of insurers refusing to pay for specific treatments, there are thousands of pages of state and federal laws that obligate insurers to pay for a wide range of treatments and technologies and limit insurers’ ability to charge irresponsible people higher rates. On top of this, it is very easy to sue an insurer that denies a claim. By law and by tort system, we have made it almost impossible for private insurers to effectively ration care.

The federal government doesn’t have these same restrictions. It is very difficult, and in many cases not even possible, to sue the Federal Government. Further, the Federal Government isn’t usually bound by state laws and often exempts itself from laws that apply to private companies. In combination this allows the Federal Government to much more effectively decide how to ration healthcare. The Federal Government can arbitrarily decide what it will cover and not, and is effectively beyond challenge.

So if the Federal Government succeeds in controlling healthcare costs where private insurers could not, it won’t happen because of some inherent advantage of big government over the private sector – it will happen because the government is allowed to do things that private insurers aren’t allowed to do. The Federal Government will be able to do the rationing that the private sector can’t.

And at a very deep philosophic level, the government making these rationing decisions is unsettling for small government Conservatives – it means putting the government in charge of deciding who lives and who dies. Small government Conservatives know that big government can effectively ration, and there are many examples throughout history of big governments deciding which of their citizens live and die. But they would prefer the United States not become one of those countries.

The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and needs to be implemented – this is how democracy works. Hopefully, once implemented, it will create a groundswell of concern that will lead to the ACA being changed and improved – this is also how democracy works. But the concerns of small government Conservatives about the direction of the law and its impact on the future of the Unites States are valid.

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The Tragedy of Grover Norquist

New commentary article in the Post-Dispatch…

Sometime on Saturday, Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, will take the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting here in St. Louis. He will very likely receive a standing ovation from the conservative audience. But for those of us not at the meeting, their enthusiasm will be further proof of the moral decline of the conservative movement.

Continue reading

http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/the-tragedy-of-grover-norquist/article_02260724-7d36-5963-b044-bca3b47e8004.html

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When School Choice Meets Reality

More than twenty years ago, as a researcher for the Missouri House Republican Caucus and State Rep. Jim Talent, I prepared a study on how to wind down the St. Louis School Desegregation program. The one option the report didn’t consider was School Choice because, well, it was a flawed theory. And now the situation with the Normandy School District, and its possible bankruptcy, is making clear just how flawed it actually is.

The theory of School Choice sounded compelling. Let the principals of the free market improve our educational system. Instead of forcing children to go to their neighborhood schools, provide vouchers allowing them to attend any school in their district or even region. This will force schools to compete for students, rewarding the good schools and forcing the bad schools to improve. Competition will lead to a better education for all students.

But the free market doesn’t work this way in the real world. Lots of mediocre companies hang on for years or even decades, getting away with selling an inferior product. Why would we assume school districts would behave any differently? Why would we assume that under-performing districts that lose students would suddenly improve? The Normandy District has been aware of the possibility of losing students for several years, but didn’t manage to improve educational outcomes enough to keep it from happening.

And now it will have an even harder time improving education. Normandy will now be forced to pay $15 million of its $50 million budget to pay for the tuition and transportation costs of the transferring students. But the Normandy District’s expenses are not completely tied to the number of students. A school, like any other operation, has fixed and variable costs. Even if a quarter of the students leave the high school the fixed costs remain the same; the lawn still has to be mowed once a week. So what happens? Variable costs would have to be cut disproportionately; teachers would have to be fired and the number of students per class increased. Conceivably Normandy could face a situation where many of the teachers have been fired but the high school itself remains open with a skeleton staff. Can anyone truly suggest that this is improving the educational opportunities for the remaining Normandy students?

Many of the Normandy students transferred to Francis Howell. In the free market, successful companies capitalize on demand to increase their capacity. Should Francis Howell attempt to increase its student capacity? What if the administration at Francis Howell is better at educating students than projecting market demand? What if Francis Howell passes a school bond to expand and accept all of the Normandy students, but then Normandy students change their minds? It might be doing a good job of serving the students it has but still not able to make its construction bond payments and so be forced to close. This happens all the time in the free market – successful companies eventually fail because they over expand or grow beyond the skills of their management teams. Why would schools be any different?

These aren’t imaginary problems but decisions the market makes every day. Even a cursory attempt to imagine how market principles would actually work when applied to the real decisions facing Normandy and Francis Howell very quickly highlights just how far-fetched the idea of School Choice is.

But these are strange times for the Republican Party. It wasn’t that long ago that the party was known for its rational, hard-nosed pragmatism – Republicans used to be skeptical of theories that couldn’t be grounded in real world examples. Now the party is so intent on avoiding any solution that involves a role for government that it shoe-horns virtually every issue into the theory of the free market, whether it fits or not. The Republican Party has traded its hard-nosed pragmatism for think tank optimism.

Somebody once said “Reality is where think tank ideas go to die”. Reality is now in the process of killing school choice. Our country will be better for this – we can go back to having a real conversation about what we need to do to improve our schools. But the tragedy of the process will be the collateral damage. Thousands of Normandy School District students will receive an even worse education while the theory dies.

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A response to “Give Back? Yes, It’s Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1%”

A recent Forbes commentary by Harry Binswanger suggests that instead of asking for more from the very wealthy, we should reward them by waiving their taxes, with a nod to Ayn Rand.

But Harry… interesting choice of Goldman Sachs, but not consistent with your example. You note that good interactions are always win/win. When Heinz sells me a bottle of ketchup, both parties benefit. I get the ketchup I wanted, and Heinz realizes profit – and creates additional value – of a few dimes. But Dear Ayn was talking about purchases. When a speculator buys insurance on a bond the speculator does not own – betting that the price of the bond will drop – there is no value created. Instead, value only changes hands, from the insurer to the speculator. This is unproductive economic behavior, and while very profitable for Goldman Sachs, it is a win lose situation, not win/win. Credit Default Swaps and many of the more abstract forms of speculative insurance are exactly this – win/lose transactions, with one side realizing profit without creating value. Again, strange that you would choose a banker as your example for Rand’s commentary on production.

You rightly point out the debt we owe to people such as Bill Gates (sorry, old school) and Henry Ford. Great examples of producers who created value. But the great majority of people that have gotten very rich in the past two decades have not been producers, they have been people involved in some kind of financial speculation, whether with credit default swaps or other forms of derivatives. By no stretch of imagination does this create value.

The strange part of your article is that somehow it suggests people such as Bill Gates aren’t able to take care of themselves, aren’t able to extract the real value from what they are doing, and hence society needs to reward them by waiving their taxes. I don’t think we need to penalize Mr. Gates, but neither do we need to pamper him – I can think of no reason he shouldn’t pay the same percentage of his income in taxes as the people using his software.

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Fifteen Signs of Hope

Late last week the Missouri Legislature failed to overturn Governor Nixon’s veto of a controversial tax cut bill, with fifteen Republicans supporting the Governor’s veto. The fifteen were promptly dubbed “the Flimsy Fifteen”, and area conservative radio talk show host Dana Loesch told her listeners that “the Republican Brand has been trashed.”

There was a time not too long ago when “Republican” wasn’t a brand, it was an approach to governing. It wasn’t that long ago that the Party believed in a pragmatic, rational role for government. Republicans believed that a well-functioning government was necessary to insure a strong nation and that government, just like business, could be rationalized using the scientific method to make it more efficient and effective. This view of government goes back to the Party’s founding – historically, the Republican Party supported a role for government that while limited was still robust and capable. As strange as this sounds, it wasn’t that long ago that people voted Republican because they thought we could make government operate more efficiently.

Pragmatic Republicanism seems to have been replaced by ideological Republicanism, the belief that government is inherently flawed and incompetent – now unfortunately, the Republican Party has become the anti-government party. Instead of believing that we can rationalize government using the scientific process, the Republican Party seems to argue that government is inherently inefficient and corrupt, not to be trusted with even the most basic of tasks. Instead of seeing a robust if limited role for government, the Party has come to view almost every action of government as a step towards creeping Socialism. Instead of making government operate better, we just need to defund it, to starve the beast until it collapses and dies.

When Loesch noted that the party will now have “zero credibility” with voters, this is what she was talking about – voters will now doubt the Party’s commitment to defunding and bankrupting government. But for many of us that are more traditional Republicans, this is a good thing. A surprisingly large number of pragmatic, rational Republicans think trying to bankrupt government is actually a bad idea.

The de-funding approach to shrinking government is also intellectually dishonest. “What should government do?” is a hard question. Answering “Less” makes for great talk radio, but terrible governance. If you feel government should be less involved in education, have that debate when the legislature is debating educational spending – have the courage to stand up and say what you believe. Tax cuts – defunding government – instead ducks the hard questions, hoping to force a cut in the size of government and then figuring out how to clean up the mess later.

It was this mess, figuring out how to drastically cut spending for education, that the fifteen Republicans were thinking about when they voted with the Governor. Many of them would probably prefer a smaller government and reduced tax burden. But they also recognized that starving the beast, while a great bumper sticker, isn’t a good way to run a state. Ideology rarely works well as an approach to governing.

The goals of Ideological Republicans and those of us that are more pragmatic overlap, but with a key difference – pragmatic Republicans still see a need for an efficient, well-run government. Most Republicans agree that government has the bad tendency to expand in scope. But the best way to protect against creeping government while insuring it still fulfills its basic responsibilities is to be the party running government. The ideological bent of the Republican Party is starting to get in the way of this approach. Why would voters trust the Party to run government more efficiently when we are telling them our real goal is to bankrupt the government so it shrivels and dies?

A surprisingly large part of the Missouri population does want the state government to help support educational spending, and this includes many parents in very good, Republican-leaning school districts. A surprisingly large part of the electorate does see the need for an effective government. And so for many of us the votes of the fifteen legislators were signs of hope, signs that maybe the Republican Party is returning to its more pragmatic, rational roots. Let’s hope that this vote marks the return of the Republican Party that earned the name The Grand Old Party.

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Global Warming and Rational Republicanism

The Republican Party seems to be slowly moving back to rational, pragmatic Republicanism. But until the Republican Party acknowledges that global warming is real and that there is a need for the federal government to help ensure clean air and water, the process won’t be complete.

Historically the pragmatic, rational wing of the party has strongly supported conservation and protecting our environment against pollution. A Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, established our national parks system, and President Nixon signed the executive order establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. Yes, it was a Republican President that created the EPA.

Republicans recognized that while we should be cautious of government power, federal environmental protection laws satisfied two of the most basic roles of government: protecting individuals from harm due to the actions of others and protecting the interests of future generations. Keeping factories from discharging polluted water into streams and rivers protected the health and well-being of people living downstream. Requiring factories to clean their smokestack emissions ensured that people living in surrounding neighborhoods and communities could breathe without choking on toxic gasses. In some ways, pollution control is a very basic form of conservatism – leave it the way you found it.

Support for federal environmental protection was an extension of a broader belief in a pragmatic, rational role for the federal government that goes back to the founding of the Republican Party. Rational Republicans believed that a strong federal government was necessary to insure a strong nation and that government, just like business, could be rationalized using the scientific method to make it more efficient and effective. Historically, the Republican Party supported a role for the Federal Government that while limited was still robust and capable.

Now unfortunately, the Republican Party has become the anti-government party. Instead of believing that we can rationalize government using the scientific process, Republicans argue that the federal government is inherently incompetent and inefficient, not to be trusted with even the most basic of tasks. Instead of seeing a robust if limited role for the federal government, the Party has come to view almost every action of government as a step towards creeping Socialism.

The specter of Socialism also turned the Party away from its support of federal environmental protection. Republicans came to view the EPA as doubly dangerous. Not only was it effective at cleaning up our environment, a dangerous example of government competence, but it was also an intrusion of the federal government into management of the means of production, our factories. Republicans feared it was a short step from the government telling companies how they must produce to telling companies what they must produce. Republicans came to view the EPA as the Trojan Horse that would open the gates to an eventual government takeover of industry. And global warming, with its implicit call for global action, was a path to a socialist One World government.

The Republican Party began to portray the EPA as incompetent and inefficient, even a threat to our way of life. The Party backed away from the support for federal anti-pollution laws, instead arguing that the states were better positioned to respond to local pollution issues and that the free market – letting neighbors sue polluters – would keep our environment clean. Unable to point to a free market solution to global warming, the Party instead began to suggest it was a fraud, something made up by a scientific community intent on expanding the power of government – global warming was a socialist plot.

A great many people are trying to pull the party back to the Rational Republicanism of its past. But the process can’t be complete until the Party returns to a rational environmental policy. The free market approach was tried and failed before the EPA was formed– we are still cleaning up polluted Superfund sites from decades ago. The EPA has done a good job for our country; it is possible to pass and enforce federal anti-pollution laws without moving towards socialism. It is also possible to accept the science of global warming without supporting the current proposed remedy of shipping billions of dollars to third world countries. Until the Party acknowledges that yes, the federal government does need to play a role in keeping our country clean voters will continue to be skeptical that the Party is returning to its rational, pragmatic roots.

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School Choice and Rational Republicanism

Something the Republican Party used to be known for was its hard-nosed realism. Republicans used to be skeptical of abstract theories. We believed that we could use the power of reason to think through how a theory would work in the real world, what situations might arise and how the theory would be applied in those situations. We used to take pride in applying the scientific method to the sometimes fanciful ideas generated by think tanks and academics.

The Republican Party has unfortunately slipped away from hard-nosed realism. In its place, the party has embraced its own abstract theory for fixing any problem facing our country – apply the principals of the free market. The party’s fascination with School Choice is an unfortunate example.

The theory of School Choice sounds compelling. Let the principals of the free market improve our educational system. Instead of forcing children to go to their neighborhood schools, provide vouchers allowing them to attend any school in their district or even region. This will force schools to compete for students, rewarding the good schools and forcing the bad schools to improve. Competition will lead to a better education for all students.

But think about the real world of school finances. With the implementation of school choice many students would quickly leave the district’s bad schools and so decrease their funding. But the schools’ expenses are not completely tied to the number of students. A school, like any other operation, has fixed and variable costs. Even if half the students leave the fixed costs remain the same; the lawn still has to be mowed once a week. So what happens? Variable costs would have to be cut disproportionately; extra teachers would have to be fired, increasing average classroom size. Conceivably all the teachers could be fired but the building itself would be kept open, able to meet only its fixed costs. And what happens if enrollment is not even sufficient to meet fixed costs? Does the school close down, the remaining students simply bussed to one of the “good” schools?

Successful schools could certainly expand to take advantage of the increased demand. But how would this work? How does the school district decide when to expand a school? Can the school district afford this over-capacity, building more classrooms while whole buildings are underutilized? Or do individual schools issue bonds? What if a school over-anticipates its potential for expansion, overbuilds, and cannot pay its bills? It might be doing a good job of serving the students it has but still not able to make its construction bond payments and so be forced to close. This happens all the time in the free market – successful companies eventually fail because they over expanded or grew beyond the skills of their management teams. Why would schools be any different?

These aren’t imaginary problems but decisions the market makes every day. Even a cursory attempt to imagine how market principles would actually work when applied to the real decisions facing school districts very quickly highlights just how far-fetched the idea of School Choice is. A voucher program can certainly allow motivated parents in poor neighborhoods to get their clever children into better schools and so improve the education their children receive. But it does nothing for the majority of students at under-performing schools and arguably even makes their educational experience worse. We as a society can’t afford this – we need to give every child access to a quality education.

At many inner-city schools this isn’t happening – too many children don’t graduate and many of the graduates don’t have the skills they will need to participate in our economy. School Choice isn’t the answer – it won’t fix the problems it claims to fix, would increase school districts’ costs and would cause a whole new batch of problems. And unfortunately the time we spend debating this unrealistic theory keeps us from having a real conversation about how we can improve our schools.

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Bring Back Rational Republicanism

The Republican Party has lost its way, and our nation is suffering as a result. It is time for the party to return to its roots, to return to Rational Republicanism. Rational Republicanism is the belief that a strong federal government is a prerequisite of a strong nation capable of extending individual freedom to its citizens. The belief that government, just like business, can be rationalized and the scientific method applied to make it more efficient and effective. Yes, Rational Republicans actually believe that we need a Federal Government that while limited is still robust and capable. This recognition of the need for a strong federal government goes back to the founding of our nation. Our first form of government was something called The Articles of Confederation, with a very weak federal government. Many of our Founders recognized that without a stronger national government the United States would not thrive and might not even survive. Their response was to draft the Constitution and then add the Bill of Rights. This third pass, a strong national government with clearly defined individual rights, was the form of government the Founders believed would best allow the United States to prosper and grow. The signers of the Constitution wanted a strong, expansive country and trusted a strong national government supporting our business community to help achieve these goals. The Republican Party was founded on these ideas. For its first century the Republican Party believed in applying the power of government to help modernize and strengthen our country and economy so extend individual freedom. Republicans believed the principals of business management and the scientific process could be applied to government, that empirical and measurable information could be used to understand what needed to be done and how best do it. And as strange as this sounds today, people used to vote for Republicans because they were better at running the government. It was the battle over Socialism that changed the party. Socialists saw a larger, even all-encompassing role for government. Instead of providing an infrastructure for private enterprise, government should instead take ownership and control of the economy. Socialists believed that the government could both increase wealth by more efficiently managing the economy and do a better job of distributing the wealth, providing far greater individual freedom. It’s not true of course, on either count. The government can’t do a better job of running the economy and putting the government in control of virtually everything doesn’t increase individual freedom. But Rational Republicanism got caught in the cross fire. Socialism by revolution is more dramatic, but socialism by evolution is possible as well. Government doing some things efficiently and effectively can be taken to suggest that government could everything better, if only given the responsibility; people, prompted by politicians, could get in the habit of looking to government for more and more. The slow, inexorable growth of government responsibility could conceivably lead to an eventual government takeover of our economy. But if government was portrayed as inherently ineffective and even incompetent then it shouldn’t be trusted with any responsibilities, let alone control of our economy. Slowly, over time, this became the position of the Republican Party – government is bad at everything it tries. The Republican Party went from being the efficient government party to the anti-government party, distrustful of all government and distrustful even of the scientific method. The Republican distrust of government is bad for our country and bad for the Republican Party. Most voters do see a need for government, even if contained, and want the government to perform as efficiently as possible. We want government to keep the roads paved and keep planes from falling out of the sky. But it’s hard for voters to believe Republicans can run government better if the party hates government and seems to be purposely sabotaging it just to prove its incompetence. The party needs to return to its roots, return to Rational Republicanism. It is time for Republicans to remember that there is a middle path between total government and no government, and that what our Founders recognized 200 years ago is still true today – to be a strong nation with a strong national economy requires a strong national government. It is time for the Republican Party to go back to being the party of rational, efficient Government.

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