The debate between right and left, limited or unlimited government, dispersing power or consolidating it, is largely about the fate of the crucial space between the individual and government, where civil society flourishes—and only conservative policies can sustain and expand that space.
As Americans attempt to adjust to the challenges of 21st-century life, our government has too often been getting in our way rather than helping us along. Many families now face stagnating wages, excessive tax burdens, rising health and higher-education costs, barriers to mobility and work, disincentives to marriage and childbearing, and an economy increasingly held back by over-regulation, cronyism, institutional sclerosis, and mounting public debt. All of these burdens have left Americans uncharacteristically pessimistic about the country’s prospects. And in each case an overreaching, hyperactive, unwieldy, and immensely expensive federal government lies near the root of the problem.
This has often led conservatives to appeal to the public by calling first and foremost for restraining that government — restricting its reach, reducing its scope, cutting its cost. These are surely essential goals, but a failure to put them in the context of a larger vision of the proper role of government risks leaving the public with the impression that what conservatives want is less of the same: the liberal welfare state at a lower cost. This is in fact how many on the left would like Americans to understand our public debates.
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