January 3, 2013 was an important and historic day on Capitol Hill for many different reasons. And one of those reasons, of course, was because Ted Cruz was sworn in as Texas’s first Hispanic U.S. Senator. It was a momentous and moving occasion — an event that Americans of all stars and stripes can celebrate. But basking in the limelight — I suspect — is not the reason why Mr. Cruz entered public life.
He went to Washington to roll up his sleeves and get to work. Indeed, that very same day, the freshly minted Senator penned a must-read op-ed in the Washington Post articulating a new conservative vision for the nation — one that empowers all Americans to rise and prosper and live the American Dream. And he called it — aptly – “opportunity conservatism.”
Since Election Day, much energy has been spent analyzing why Republicans did so poorly. Many have urged that Republicans must “moderate their views,” by which they mean we should adopt more policies of Democrats.
That advice misdiagnoses the problem. The 2012 election did not reflect popular approval of the Obama policies of out-of-control spending, taxes, deficits and debt. To the contrary, 51 percent of voters on Election Day agreed that “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.”
First you win the argument, then you win the vote, Margaret Thatcher famously admonished. Republicans did neither.
Nothing better illustrates that failure than “47 percent.” Not the comment itself nor the good and decent person who uttered it, but, rather, the overall narrative of Republicans. Voters were convinced that the GOP is the party of “the rich” and that Democrats are the party of everybody else.
That characterization is false, but as long as a majority of Americans believe that Republican policies do not benefit them, Republicans will continue to lose.
And far too many Republicans believe it as well.
So let me suggest an alternative course: opportunity conservatism. Republicans should conceptualize and articulate every domestic policy with a single-minded focus on easing the ascent up the economic ladder.
The truth is that the public largely agreed with Mitt Romney’s argument that government was too big and federal spending was too high. However, the problem — as Cruz points out — is that Republicans lost the messaging war. Remember, too, the United States as an idea — passed on by our founding founders – has always represented a place where anyone could achieve anything if they were willing to work hard and respect the rule of law. But somewhere along the way many people lost faith in the American Dream. In other words, Cruz argues, rather than “move to the center” in future election cycles — as many on the Right believe we should — conservatives must reaffirm the timeless principles that historically made the United States (in President Ronald Reagan’s words) that “shining city on a hill” and a “beacon” of light to the world. And he explains how:
Americans want to stand on their own feet, and Republicans need to champion policies that enable us to do so: ownership, choice and individual responsibility.
Opportunity conservatism is a powerful frame to explain conservative policies that work. It covers the gamut of issues. Republicans shouldn’t just assail excessive financial and environmental regulations; we should explain how those regulations kill jobs and restrict Americans’ ability to buy their first home.
Don’t just say no to new taxes — fundamentally reform the tax code so that every American can file his taxes on a postcard. Eliminate the corporate welfare and complexity that enrich only accountants and lawyers.
Don’t just criticize union bosses; explain how closed shops confiscate wages and make it harder for low-skilled workers to get jobs.
Don’t talk generically about education; advocate school choice to empower parents and expand opportunity for children struggling to get ahead.
Don’t just dwell on the long-term solvency of Social Security; promote personal accounts to allow low-income Americans to accumulate wealth and pass it on to future generations.
This is sage advice for any conservative looking to bring the message of freedom, liberty, and economic opportunity to all Americans.