Yuval Levin has a very important and interesting article in The Weekly Standard. Arguing that it’s time for conservatives to develop a post-Reagan domestic policy to appeals to the aspirations of middle-class parents, he offers a compelling analysis and some interesting first steps. A couple of snippets:
[T]he "present crisis" Reagan addressed is long past. Because of welfare reform and conservative pro-family policies, it is no longer fair to say that government is the greatest threat to American families. In the wake of Reagan’s and Bush’s tax cuts, the federal government is not the drain on Americans’ pocketbooks or the deadweight on economic dynamism that it was in 1981. The federal government remains too big and overbearing. But opposition to government can no longer do as the primary means of advancing
the interests of families and markets--which has been and should remain the twofold aim of American conservatives.
The left, for now at least, offers little to oppose, and does little but oppose the right. American conservatives, in turn, are no longer primarily an opposition movement but a governing movement. That does not mean conservatives will win every election; but it means they will set the tone. And they will have to think hard about what advancing the interests of families and free markets now entails.
This means thinking afresh about the tension at the heart of the conservative worldview: between the interests of the family and traditional values on the one hand and the interests of the market and economic freedom on the other. Government was never the source of that tension, it was merely a common foe. Limited government is inherent to any conservative governing vision, but if those who run the government no longer explicitly seek to undermine capitalism and traditionalism--if government is no longer the greatest danger to both--then what is that greatest danger? And what is the best way to serve the causes of family and freedom?
Unease is perhaps the best way to describe the mood of American voters today. The terrorist threat and the war are of course primary sources of worry. But in survey after survey, there emerges a clear sense of disquiet about all manner of issues besides national security. More than half of Americans with health insurance expressed concern about losing their coverage in a USA Today poll in September. Exit polling in this fall’s election found that less than a third of all voters believe children born today will grow up to be better off than their parents. Similar signs of underlying anxiety emerge from countless other surveys.
In fact, today’s disquiet seems less the panic of a drowning man than the angst of an overachiever. The worry of middle- and lower-middle-class families arises from a genuine tension between the two things they most eagerly strive to do: build families and build wealth. That tension, and the disquiet it causes, is especially acute for parents. Indeed, Americans in the middle class and what used to be called the working class would be better conceived of today as the parenting class. Their concerns and aspirations are no longer focused on their standing in the workplace, as they were when our political vocabulary was coming of age, but on balancing the pursuits of family and prosperity.
The members of the parenting class do not live on the edge of poverty. But they are anxious about their ability to meet their high aims, like affording a decent college for their children, getting the most from their health care dollar, and (in our increasingly older society) meeting the needs of their aging parents.
This is the anxiety of a successful capitalist economy filled with individuals who want to lead good lives. It is an anxiety produced by the kind of society conservatives seek to promote. It therefore calls for a response from the right, from those who share the aspiration to balance families and free markets, not those who think the system is about to collapse (and deserves to fall).