Senator Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act, which consolidates and simplifies numerous tax credits and family benefits (including the Child Tax Credit and the child-based provisions in the Earned Income Tax Credit), has put off a revived intra-conservative debate regarding the translation of conservative thoughts and principles to some operational policy agenda.
It’s still too early to gauge this debate will finally be solved. Though Romney’s proposal was lauded in some wonky and social circles that are conservative, its original critics have produced various arguments regarding work disincentives, fiscal expenditures, etc.
A major part of the debate is about competing policy perspectives. But one gets the sense that the disagreement also reflects conflicting views concerning the political future of American conservatism: Is it about ongoing down a Trumpian route of identity and grievance politics, doubling back on the conventional Republican policy agenda of tax cuts, commerce, and globalization, or charting a new, policy-oriented working course?
I would submit that, as American conservatives debate this particular matter, they may have the ability to draw lessons from current conservative knowledge in Canada. A British government, headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper by 2006 to 2015, successfully ascribed a conservative policy agenda rooted in the issues, interests, and inspirations of working-class voters. Its track record indicates that this type of strategy can finally create positive coverage and political outcomes.
Specifically, the Harper government’s creation of a Universal Child Care Benefit to comprehend that the social value of parenting and also head to a nationwide child-care system proposed by its progressive opponents may offer salutary lessons for Western conservatives in the context of their present child benefits argument.
Grand New Party?
Conservative intellectuals Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam are credited for foreseeing the political fecundity of working populism within their 2008 book, Grand New Party: The way Republicans could win against the Working Class and Save the American Dream.
They contended at the time the Republican Party and also the broader conservative movement needed to adjust their policy agenda to better represent the issues, interests, and ambitions of non-college-educated voters when they were able to compete at a political context that was realigning along academic lines.
Douthat and Salam’s political and policy analysis was based on a mix of juvenile and demographic trends and a growing awareness that conservative policy principles, including pro-efficiency tax cuts, entitlement reform, and globalization, have been disconnected by the Republican Party’s voters.
“In case you create conservatism relevant to normal working folks, you ensure it is the most effective political philosophy in Western democratic society” He lacked the significant policy ideas which Douthat and Salam set forwards, but he automatically discerned what they’d seen roughly eight years before. His working populist message allowed a exceptional route to success within the presidential primary and finally in the overall election.
There are many factors that led to the Republican Party to dismiss Douthat and Salam’s admonitions, however there is a legitimate debate that, though it was well-researched and strict, their strategy only involved a level of risk and doubt that Republican lawmakers were reluctant to take on. They had been in effect calling on elected Republicans to change away from a group of policies and issues for which they’d developed muscle memory over almost 3 years. Politicians are, if anything else, leery of this untested, unknown, and unfamiliar.
Harperism: Working-Class Conservatism in Canada
I have sometimes wondered if the situation for a new, working-class conservatism would have been strengthened by pointing to the policy and political accomplishments of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in this time. Harper’s governing program, which he described as”adapting modern issues to some other conservatism,” was basically a real-time validation of Douthat and Salam’s thesis.
It wasn’t only an intellectual exercise . The Canadian experience showed a conservatism oriented to working-class interests, concerns, and ambitions could really be tremendously successful as a political proposal.
Harper’s political vision was about bringing conservative thoughts to keep on behalf of working citizens. As he said in a 2006 interview:”If you create conservatism relevant to normal working people, then you ensure it is the most effective political philosophy in Western society. Where Conservative parties are successful, and successful on a sustained basis, that is what they do”
His governing record reflects this vital insight. Conservatives have to have a restricted yet optimistic vision for authorities that addresses bigger questions such as the function of the family from our society, the more socio-cultural origins of poverty and purposefulness, as well as the social costs of crime and dependence.
As he summarized in a 2003 address Before becoming prime minister:
There are real limits to tax-cutting when conservatives cannot dispute anything about why or how a government actually does what it does. If conservatives accept all legislated social liberalism with balanced budgets and company grants–as do some in the company community–then there really are no differences between a conservative and a Paul Martin [that the centrist Liberal prime minister at the time]. There’s, clearly, more to be done in economic policy…. In large measure, however, the public discussions for doing so have already been obtained. Conservatives have to be greater than modern liberals in a rush. The truth of the matter is that the true agenda and the defining issues have shifted from economic issues to social values, so conservatives must do exactly the same.
Thus, Harper sought to reorient Canadian conservative coverage considering its macroeconomic priorities of earlier decades (such as uncompetitive marginal tax prices, bloated government spending, also over-regulation) to a new set of microeconomic and social problems which were conspicuous with high-income voters.
This intellectual change proved to be good politics. The Conservative Party essentially uttered its”gender gap” between female and male voters and continued this demanding ratio during the majority of its own bureaucracy. Additionally, it made significant gains with non-college-educated, working-class guys that likewise held up throughout its time in office. The net effect was to win three straight federal elections including the first Conservative majority victory in almost a quarter century at 2011.
Assessing the Social Value of Parenting
The country went from a post-WWII universal family allowance to some means-tested, income support program for families with kids in the 1980s due largely to budgetary aspects.
The Conservative Party under Harper proposed restoring a universal child benefit within its 2006 election platform. The UCCB would provide $100 CAD ($78.35 USD) per month for every child under age six regardless of family income or the way the funds would be used. The coverage case was primarily about positive externalities: a universal child benefit hunted to comprehend the gap between the private costs and social returns of increasing another generation. It had been in effect a public coverage affirmation of the social worth of parenting or what’s been described in the policy literature as a”parental recognition objective.”
Placing a universal child benefit at the center of their party’s policy agenda was a significant departure in the conventional policy and political orthodoxy. Yet Harper and his team (like Ken Boessenkool who had written in favour of international child benefits in the late 1990s) seen the UCCB as part of a broader shift in the Conservative Party’s placement in”economic issues to social values”
A contributing factor was the then-Liberal authorities was beginning to consciously pursue a new federal child-care frame where it would transfer funding to provincial authorities to establish what amounted to some publicly-funded along with publicly-delivered child-care version that adheres to some frequent set of federal standards. The thought had a lengthy pedigree among Canadian progressives dating back to some Royal Commission on the Status of Girls in the early 1970s.
The UCCB must hence be regarded as a policy solution to the Liberal Party’s state-centric notion of a national childcare system. However, this was merely a technocratic debate about the best way of supporting families with kids. It became an expression of competing values about parental choice, the function of the state, and the way we consider paid and unpaid work.
As I outlined at a recent article, the Conservative position was helped by two factors. The first is that a vast majority of Canadian families with kids below the age of four at the time used a mixture of home based daycare and other private agreements for their child-care needs and consequently were by and large neglected by the Liberal government’s one-size-fits-all version.
Harper intuitively understood that conservatives must employ their fixed principles to new and evolving problems whether they are to stay relevant and responsive to the voting public in general and working-class economists in particular.The second was an notorious, mid-campaign gaffe if a Liberal spokesman complained on a television panel which parents would abuse the unconditional dollars under the Conservative plan to buy”beer and popcorn” This political misspeak highlighted the technocratic, government-knows-best underpinnings of this Liberal Party’s child-care proposition and brought into better focus the values-based choice before voters.
The net effect was to position the Conservative Party since trusting and supporting parents from the Liberal Party who did not seem to encourage parents to make the best decisions for their families. It’s a challenge to discern how basic this political comparison was on the Conservative Party from the ensuing election, however there is no question it was a significant theme particularly in the wake of this”beer and popcorn” incident. It’s no accident, for instance, a standard Conservative message at the last days of this campaign was the party thought the”real experts on increasing kids are mothers and dads”
The Conservative Party finally won the 2006 electionand the incoming government resisted its predecessor’s national child-care frame and executed the UCCB in its first year in office. It produced positive consequences on child poverty in Canada, had minimum (even mostly optimistic ) job impacts for youngsters, and finally became one of the Harper authorities trademark policies within its almost ten years in office.
Lessons for American Conservatives
As important as Canadian conservatives’ encounter with child benefits isthe bigger lesson here is about the translation of both conservative thoughts and principles to some working agenda. Harper instinctively understood that conservatives must employ their fixed principles to new and evolving issues if they are to stay relevant and responsive to the voting public in general and working-class voters in particular.
This isn’t a call for sectarian compromise. It’s rather a recognition which conservatism is more than a finite set of policy positions: it is a frame to see the world as it actually is. Its thoughts and principles are repaired however its application to new and evolving topics is necessarily dynamic. This procedure was described by Yuval Levin as a practice of”applied conservatism.”
It’s a fantastic descriptor of Canadian recruits’ placement on child benefits in particular and Stephen Harper’s political philosophy more generally. It pertains to the translation of conservative principles about choice, subsidiarity, and also the significance of the family association to the reasonable question of the increasing prices of raising young kids.
That’s precisely the sort of policy and political recalibration which Douthat and Salam pictured in their own book. Theirs wasn’t a call to leave conservatism but rather to employ and translate into a new set of topics applicable to working-class voters. The Harper government’s encounter with the UCCB demonstrates that they had been on the right path.
The choice prior to American conservatives is therefore about more than the particular design details of Senator Romney’s kid allowance suggestion. It’s about the Republican Party’s future orientation: Can it change its policy agenda to better satisfy the needs of its working-class base as Douthat and Salam put forward more than a decade ago? Or will it continue to advance a more traditional Republican policy agenda that seems increasingly disconnected from its voters?
Nevertheless, the Canadian conservative document demonstrates it isn’t just an exercise in expediency. The result is to incrementally shift governance and policy within an applied conservative management.