Of course, this means Republicans and Democrats will campaign on the same grounds. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's pledge to rely on "smart government" is virtually indistinguishable from Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's promise to provide Americans with "a government they can believe in," that is "reasonably efficient."
Republicans cannot win consistently if they abandon principled opposition to big government. If both Democrats and Republicans campaign on big-government grounds, Democrats will win -- they can stand on their historical commitments to big government and class warfare. Too many Americans believe economics is a zero sum game: The poor are poor, in this view, because the rich are rich. Democrats capitalize on this misconception by pandering to the poor and taxing the rich.
Republicans, therefore, have a double task when it comes to economics: teaching and winning. They must inform the public that the rich are not rich because they steal from the poor, but because they work hard and invest wisely; that the rich necessarily provide jobs and income for the poor; that government, not the rich, takes money out of the hands of the poor by depressing economic growth; that money in the hands of government is money out of the hands of the individual. Republicans must teach, in short, that both the rich and the poor benefit from the absence of big government. Government exists to provide a societal framework where hard work and individual initiative are paramount. When government encroaches on personal freedom, everyone suffers.
It is a tough sell. It will require an articulate politician, and a courageous one -- it is always easier to pander than to speak the truth. But if Republicans wish to win, they must stand for something beyond liberalism-lite.
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