"Lower taxes, less government".
These four words have defined the conservative movement for a generation. The slogan is short, simple and easy-to-understand. It effectively resonates with the American ethos of entrepreneurialism and implied distrust of federal authority. The conservative movement's standard-bearer - Ronald Reagan - was so successful at communicating this message that it has barely changed in the 30 years since he was elected.
Yet Ronald Reagan's America was a much different country than the land we live in today. And the ideology of lower taxes and less government is completely inadequate when it comes to solving the problems facing America in 2010. Unfortunately, the GOP's policy prescription for any issue ranging from healthcare to education to financial reform seldom deviates from the four magic words of Republican orthodoxy.
Lower taxes, less government.
Conservatives have shaped this debate masterfully. While Republicans compete to see who can sound the most conservative, Democrats fall all over themselves to sound centrist - whatever that means. Liberal has become a dirty word.
Advocating tax increases in the name of balanced budgets has come to mean political suicide. Saying that government can play a useful role in society is deemed socialism - which has somehow become synonymous with communism and fascism. Apparently, not much separates Hitler's Germany from Denmark.
Make no mistake, lower taxes and less government will not restore America to greatness. Democrats and Republican Presidents alike have pursued right-wing economic policies since 1980. We have coddled corporations and the rich with subsidies and tax cuts at the expense of the middle class.
We were told that if the rich have more money, they will create new businesses, and those new businesses will create jobs. Money would "trickle down" through the economy from investor class to proletariat. Statistics paint a very different picture. The discrepancy between rich and poor in the United States is staggering and "The American Dream" is no longer a reality for a vast majority of the population. Trickle down economics has not been discredited in a classroom - it has been debunked in flesh and blood right before our eyes.
Yet, the GOP has been unwilling to acknowledge this - and what's worse, Democrats will not talk about it. "More taxes, more government" does not make for election wins.
It is the Democrats job to explain that less taxes and less government will not improve America's schools. Less taxes and less government will not provide people with healthcare they can afford. Less taxes and less government will not protect us from oil spills and financial meltdowns.
These things are not impossible to do. We could make it a birthright for all Americans to received a first-class education but we have chosen not to because we are told such things were wrong. We are told that entitlements will make us lazy and retard our competitive spirit.
You know what retards competitive spirit? Not being able to afford college.
It's not 1980 anymore. The tax rate on the rich is no longer 70%. America no longer leads the world in math and science. One in every five people cannot afford health insurance. The financial crisis has devastated our economy and left all but the affluent to clean up the mess.
I'm not saying that the Democrats have all the right ideas. I'm saying that the Republicans are not even trying. Unfortunately, four magic words have shaped this debate for a generation and are continuing to dominate conservative thought.
Lower taxes, less government.
Guys... it's time to try something new.