It's time for conservatives to give serious thought to what they believe and how they can make a more persuasive case that conservative principles offer the best path for America. Conservatives have to do more than invoke small government, lower taxes and protection of the family. They have to explain the principles on which such policies are based and why those principles are more likely to fulfill the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on which the nation was founded.
Liberals always argue for their policies on the basis of fairness and justice. It's only fair, they say, that those who have the most share what they have with those who have less. The whole basis of the progressive tax system rests on this principle -- and it is at the heart of the Obama tax message even now.
Conservatives' arguments that this economic redistribution will harm the economy (it will) or that the taxes raised still won't be enough to pay for ever-expanding entitlements (they won't) never confront the false premise that the principle is just and fair in the first place. Here is where conservatives seem to have lost their footing, almost as if they no longer know why they believe what they do.
The idea that it is right and just for one group of persons to take from another the fruits of their labor simply because they have more political power would strike most people as unjust. Yet, the debate around raising tax rates on the rich ultimately boils down to that.
At least in the short run, we could raise more revenue to pay for government programs by raising taxes on everyone -- rich and middle class alike (few people argue for making the poor pay taxes) -- than we could by taxing only those who earn $250,000 or more. No politician argues for that because middle class Americans still make up the voting majority in this country and the middle class have no interest in redistributing their own hard-earned wealth. And why should they? Most people believe they're entitled to what they've earned through their own efforts.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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