It's the Personal Liberty, Stupid

After the Republicans' 2008 election wipeout, some conservative pundits and elected Republicans argued that there was no constituency for limited government. Republicans, we were told, had to give up on the notion that the public was averse to an ever larger and more intrusive government. That was then.

Now, as Matt Welch of Reason magazine points out, fear of big government is all the rage -- and is cause for rage. He writes:

This isn't about liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. A majority oppose Obama's policies because they fly in the face of this country's bedrock values of personal liberty and limited government. Robbing Peter to pay Goldman Sachs does violence to that fundamentally American ethos.

And increasingly, Obama administration policy does violence to European values, as well. The continent has for the last two decades been systematically disengaging national governments from domestic industries. Top officials from Sweden, of all places, complained about Washington's auto bailout, tersely announcing that "the Swedish state is not prepared to own car factories."

And while conservatives find it hard to believe that voters didn’t see this coming from the most liberal man in the U.S. Senate, Welch correctly concludes, “Americans didn't vote for big government last November. They voted for a guy who looked like he could keep his cool in the heat of battle. If Obama wants to regain that cool, he needs to rein in the power-grabbers in Washington.”

But that goes for Republicans as well. The pressure to find some middle ground on cap and trade, ObamaCare, financial regulation, and an uber-consumer protection agency will become intense. But the Republicans would be foolish to provide cover for and assist Democrats in pursuit of a goal -- more government -- which is at odds with the wishes of a majority of Americans, including those critical independent voters. And oh yes, it’s never a good idea to vote in ways contrary to your party’s stated core message.

In some sense Obama has been invaluable to libertarians and conservatives. It is one thing to rail against excessive discretionary spending but it is quite another to have the public see how ominous a force (not to mention how expensive) government can be when it seeks to regulate and control the most intimate decisions about one’s family finances and personal health. Who would have thought Obama would have created such a consensus in favor of keeping government’s mitts off private insurance companies, doctor-patient interactions, and end-of-life care?

It therefore would behoove Republicans to return to some first principles and explain that their opposition to Obama-ism goes beyond the eye-popping debt and the implications for future economic growth. It is about personal freedom. With this in mind the platform for Republicans struggling to avoid the tag of “do-nothingism” practically writes itself.

In place of ObamaCare, Republicans offer tax credits for individually purchased insurance, market competition (including the right to buy insurance across state lines), and legal reform. In place of cash for clunkers and government-run car companies, Republicans offer car company stock divestiture. In lieu of spending the remainder of the non-stimulus plan monies, Republicans urge tax reform, including reduction of corporate taxes and payroll tax relief, and restoration of funds for a real shovel-ready program: the F-22.

The contrast between the parties is especially great for young voters who were swayed to vote for the hip, young guy over the grumpy senior citizen in 2008. It turns out the hip guy wants to force them to buy health insurance, load debt and an enormous future tax burden on their backs, and raise energy prices. It’s not very 21st century. As Michael Barone observed after ticking off the list of statist policies at the core of the Obama agenda, “The larger point is this: You want policies that will enable you to choose your future. Obama backs policies that would let centralized authorities choose much of your future for you. Is this the hope and change you want?”

And finally, Republicans would be well to make the case that larger government not only means less personal freedom but more corruption, influence peddling, and “rent seeking” as interest groups and industries inevitably must seek to sway government representatives and bureaucrats who would hold enormous power over their economic destiny. It is not just that Nancy Pelosi faces a slew of ethics inquiries that have snared her closest allies. It is that by crafting legislation, most clearly cap-and-trade and ObamaCare, which would supplant millions and millions of private-sector decisions with government edicts, the opportunities for mischief making grow exponentially.

So perhaps the American people are ready for “change” -- once again and faster than most imagined. End big government power grabs, restore personal liberty, defend free markets, empower young people, and remove the temptation for corruption. Thanks to Obama we now know what the alternative looks like -- and it’s not a pretty sight. If the Republicans can seize on the unique opportunity (never let an overreaching president go to waste?) they may find the sojourn in the political wilderness much shorter than they feared.