Somewhere along the way, we conservatives stopped innovating and stopped explaining, preferring instead to fall back to “small government is better.” Well, maybe it is and maybe it is not. But the notion that government is always useless simply does not ring true in a world where people look to the government to provide Medicare, a national defense, FEMA relief, and public education. This being the case, we would do well to start probing for specific policy solutions that affect people in concrete ways. What is the government doing that is hurting small businesses today? What is the government not doing that it could be that could help small businesses? What about student debt? Can we use student loan forgiveness as a way to incentivize bright young people to enter particular fields? We need more primary care physicians if we are going to make this healthcare fiasco work. No one wants to be a primary care physician because primary care physicians get paid less than specialists, which makes it harder for them to pay off their medical school debts. But could we change the way the government reimburses primary care? And couldn’t we partially forgive student loans if borrowers agree to enter into primary care in particular markets for a certain number of years? What about tax policy: why are we not on the cutting edge of hyper-targeted tax cuts that we can show, with numbers, turbocharge the economy? Why are we not demanding that the government rebuild our cratering infrastructure rather than using taxpayer dollars to invest in projects it hopes will succeed (Solyndra)? Why are we not pushing pay for performance in the healthcare system AND in our education system? Workfare? Some of these ideas are useless, some of them might have legs, but the point is: specifics, specifics, specifics.
What I describe above, coupled with much-needed moderation in tone and substance on social issues (which I have written about elsewhere), all reaches back to the question we started with and which John Cornyn recently highlighted for his colleagues:
“I had a pollster years ago who said if they could only ask one question in a poll, it would be, ‘Does John Cornyn care about people like you?’ If people say ‘no,’ then you don’t have a chance. If they say ‘yes,’ then you got a shot.”
Time to get back to work building a conservatism that can win again.
Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law. He served as Senior Editor and Reporter for FrumForum.com from 2008-2011 and is a periodic contributor to David Frum’s blog at the Daily Beast. Follow Jeb on Twitter @jgolinkin.