In his speech to the Republican National Convention, Governor Romney suggested something of this need for bigger-picture thinking. Of his five strategies for renewal (a national energy policy, improved schools, trade reform, steps toward a balanced budget, and small-business restoration), tax cuts played a subsidiary role, arising only for point number five (small businesses). With the limits of old orthodoxies made more plain with every passing quarter of economic stagnation, we might be entering an era of experimental politics, where the finding of solutions involves an open-ended investigation and demands policy flexibility. When conventional wisdom has failed, the ground is open for the finding of new conventions.
Yet this reform would not be for the pursuit of mere novelty but for the re-realization of higher truths and more enduring ideals. One of the critiques made by abolitionists of the American slavery system was that it embodied a short-circuiting of opportunity: not being free labor, the slaves could not improve their own lots. For these abolitionists, as for countless Americans across time, openness of opportunity has been a foundational concept for America. As Lincoln said in an 1860 speech, “We do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.” Now is certainly not the time to surrender this promise of new growth. Nor should we give up on some of the central tenets of the United States as an aspirational nation: that a free market, with the proper girding of government, can provide prosperity for a wide swath of Americans; that hope is more than a campaign slogan but serves as a vital social glue and spiritual reward; and that, in the great American pageant, we can both improve our own lots in life and better those of our neighbors.
Fred Bauer is a writer from New England. He blogs at A Certain Enthusiasm, and his work has been featured in numerous publications.