Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Our Sarah vs. Sterile Individualism

...a pretty good article in the NYT tries to explain the powerful sense of identification so many women have with Sarah. It goes without saying this author can’t identify with Sarah herself, but she admits, citing a fine study, that the pro-Sarah conservative women aren’t dumber than the anti-Sarah liberal women. She shows us that, by adding Sarah to Mac, the Republicans now have a comprehensive campaign against "sterile individualism." And "sterile," of course, is a word pregnant with many dimensions of meaning. Notice the way the phrase "our Sarah" is employed in the article, and you can see why it’s neither condescending nor messianic. And contrary to David Brooks’ complaint in his last column, the Republicans really are showing more signs than even the Democrats of transcending the limitations of the individualism of Goldwater.

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C-Span recently replayed Goldwater's 1964 convention speech. In the parts I watched, the main theme was that the growth of the national government was an effort to impose uniformity of America. Instead, Goldwater repeatedly praised "diversity." There seemed to be plenty of room for community, amid that diversity.

Goldwater tapped into a feeling that Big Government was consuming the individual. Goldwater's vision didn't have much to do with economic growth per se. He was against bigger government and he seemed unconcerned about how this growth was impacting people's living standards. In fact, Goldwater seems to have been afraid that high growth and rising living standards was narcotizing people to the dangers of Big Government. Goldwater himself was only able to sell that vision to a minority of Americans. Reagan was able to sell a similar vision to a larger audience by arguing persuasivley that Big Government (in the form of high taxes, onerous regulation, and overprinting of money) was standing in the way of rising living standards.

The problem with reviving either vision is that it is tough to argue to people from the evidence of their lives that Big Government is either regimenting society or crushing them through confiscatory taxation. We aren't becoming one big ant hill and the upper middle class seems to be doing quite well, even if alot of people aren't. The challenge for conservatives is to explain policies that will help currently struggling people do better in a free-market oriented framework and do it in a way that the effects can be demonstrated in the lives of the struggling people. This is where McCain's tax plan falls down. Even if it is good economics, all his business tax cuts have clear benefits for business and speculative benefits for everybody else. Telling somebody that cutting taxes for Company A, will at some point cause Company A to hire more people (not neccesarily you) is a tough case to make if you are not offering clear direct benefits to the middle and working classes. I'm not against his tax cuts, its just that I don't think that they are, by themselves, politically saleable in a climate where the upper middle class is doing quite well and stands to benefit from them disproportionatly, while the lower middle and working classes face income stagnation.

And one thing that modern pols really could stand to relearn from Reagan: His first inaugeral had a beautiful section on the fundemental decency and value of everyday life in America.

"We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we are in a time when there are no heroes just don't know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter - and they are on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and oppurtunity. They are individuals and families whose taxes support the Government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art and education. Their patriotism is quiet but deep. Their values sustain our national life."

Palin's life reminds me of that passage. Obama and McCain should read it and then shut up with their hectoring the American people about "service".

This in the NYT also speaks of her as "our Sarah", but is otherwise a much less sympathetic piece. She is not their Sarah. This is rough stuff and how much of it is NYT inflation and what is truth, of course, we will be hearing about for weeks.

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