In my last few columns I wrote that political conservatism is under assault from many quarters and why. Many critics who attack conservative views don’t understand the “proper role of government.” They pillory conservatives who don’t want government to be involved in solving problem and funding every solution. They call conservatives hard-hearted, out of step with the American public, and co-opted by the super-rich and corporate America.
Some wounds to the conservative movement are self-inflicted. As an instructive example, recall how each side addressed health insurance, one of the most important issues of our day: Liberals talked with sympathy and inspired hope to the millions of families who cannot afford health insurance; they conceived the Affordable Care Act to subsidize all or part of health care premiums for all moderate and low-income people. Conservatives countered by saying that the U.S. cannot afford the mammoth cost of the ACA and that the Constitution prohibits Congress from establishing a federal health care system. They had no alternative program to address one of the most important issues for millions of Americans. Instead they speak unceasingly about rescinding the ACA whose subsidies for low and moderate income citizens and features such as mandatory issuance of insurance and no underwriting of personal conditions are very, very popular.
So who wins the public relations battle in this standoff? Who speaks to the people about one their top concerns that affects not only their pocketbook but is at the heart of what they worry about as a family — access to health care? They seemingly speak to the people and for the people. Translation: Democrats care about the average citizen. They’re in touch with what you’re facing in your life. They want to help you. The government’s resources should be used to help people like you.
By contrast, Republicans lecture citizens without health insurance that the dusty old Constitution prohibits Congress from subsidizing struggling families’ health care. They warn that our national deficit cannot sustain the huge costs of the ACA. They predict that the ACA will wreak havoc on our outstanding health system. They say the crushing burden of ACA taxes will kill jobs and bankrupt us. They would rather shut down the government than deal with one of the issues of our time. Translation: Republicans don’t have any ideas of their own. They only try to defeat Democrat programs meant to help other Americans. They obsess about tax increases because they’re protecting their super-rich supporters and allies. They don’t care about the little guy. They won’t compromise. Thus, the Republicans are the party of “No.”
Conservatives really are at a disadvantage in this ongoing tango because their core beliefs are not easily translated into the public parlance. Still, if conservatives hope to stay on the field, they must:
- Teach their fellow Americans about the constitutional principle of limited government.
- Highlight the power of markets, private investment and innovation.
- Put forward ideas and programs consistent with conservative principles to address the pressing needs of our fellow citizens. Conservatives can’t be against everything.
- Our federal representatives should cooperate with states to address issues of importance to the people.
- Simplify the tax code, and in so doing promote a national dialogue about corporate America’s fair share of taxes.
- Quit playing legislative games like shutting the government down and postponing the vote of Judge Garland.
- Quit demagoging all Democrats, liberals and other opponents.
- Work with Democrats on serious legislation.
- Be sensitive to the public’s valid concerns about guns.
- Quit letting the extreme right drive the agenda.
- Exercise leadership. Act rather than react. Show the people conservatives can govern and lead.
- Put forward more people like Paul Ryan who are positive, creative, open to new ideas, who have valid concerns for Americans in poverty, etc., who need our help.
- This is the big one: let the past go. Conservatives lost the battle over Social Security in the ’30s, Medicare and Medicaid in the ’60s, the ACA in our time. Sensibly modify these laws where necessary. But move on. Deal with America as she is and deal with Americans as they want to be dealt with.
Greg Bell is the current president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association. He is the former Republican lieutenant governor of Utah.