Consider above all — and it is painful to say this of such an impressive Republican — Paul Ryan’s unfortunate claim that Americans enjoy some strange moral novelty called a “right to rise.”
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Jeb Bush gave the alien term a bear-hug embrace, holding it up as “the core concept of economic freedom.” To be sure, a system that prevents current elites ever from failing prevents future elites ever from reaching prominence. But economic freedom demands precious few rights. It doesn’t even demand a right to market entry, the precondition of competition.
Indeed, economic freedom, as the very grammar of the English language shows, is not a primary good but a subset of one. Economic freedom is simply the presence of liberty in economics, and liberty counsels that upward mobility is not to be found among the inalienable appurtenances of man.
The establishment persists in its unconservative formulations out of the dual fear that American prosperity will collapse without proper government supervision and that American voters will abandon the GOP unless persuaded that Republicans will devote the practice of politics to raising their standard of living.
And what are the fruits of these labors? A Republican base that will reward any candidate who delivers a different message, no matter how personally ill-suited to the task. A liberal media more certain than ever that today’s GOP is more conservative than ever. And an election-year narrative that allows Democrats to frame the Republican Party as defined by the love of wealth.
If victory in 2012 is to come, the formula for victory is clear. Republicans must begin from the premise of liberty and run against Barack Obama’s habitual, instinctive aggrandizement of the government, the executive, the crony class, and himself. Rather than portraying the president as a man who wants to make America much weaker, Republicans should depict him as a man who wants to make the uncontested rule of his kind of elites much stronger. Rather than promising greater prosperity than government can guarantee, Republicans are obliged to emphasize the damage done to America when freedom is traded away for any degree of prosperity.
At this moment in the race, there is only one candidate who seems capable of assembling a full-spectrum Republican coalition around these themes. His name is Newt Gingrich.
And if that bothers you, the GOP establishment should bother you too.
James Poulos is a columnist at The Daily Caller, a contributor at Ricochet, and a commentator in print, online, and on television and radio. Recently he has been the host of The Bottom Line and Reform School on PJTV and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. His website is jamespoulos.com and his Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.