Conservative public policy reforms in the 1990s significantly reduced bad behaviors. Tough policing, pioneered by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and widely copied, vastly reduced violent crime. Work-oriented welfare reform pioneered by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and widely copied, vastly reduced welfare dependency. Economic and job growth in the 1990s and 2000s surely owes much to these policy successes.
But more is plainly needed. One possible area is education, where 1990s reforms and the Bush education law have encountered strong institutional resistance from teachers' unions and education schools. Manzi, citing models in Sweden and the Netherlands, calls for "the creation of a real marketplace among ever more deregulated publicly financed schools -- a market in which funding follows students, and far broader discretion is permitted to those who actually teach and manage in our schools."
Democrats are prevented by their teacher union paymasters from pursuing such goals seriously -- witness their battle to kill a small school voucher program in the District of Columbia. Republicans could do much better, starting at the state level and daring the Obama administration to stop them in Washington.
Another possibility is pro-family tax reform. The post-World War II tax regime, with its big dependent deductions, produced the equivalent of a generous children's allowance for married parents. Republicans should try to tilt tax policy in the same direction again.
Democrats promise to bring up an immigration bill this year. Republicans can take up Manzi's call to tilt immigration policy toward high-skill immigrants, away from job-seekers and toward job-creators.
Less likely to be of help are the issues that have raged in the culture war politics that prevailed until the current recession kicked in. Further abortion restrictions may be desirable, but the number of abortions has been falling for almost two decades. And I see no evidence that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying will induce opposite-sex couples who have children to get married and stay married.
The point is to advance public policies on education, taxes, immigration and other issues that can encourage, reward and honor constructive personal behavior. That's a daunting challenge for Republicans -- and for America.