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Best Laid Plans . . . .

July 19, 2012

Juan Williams may appear on Fox News regularly enough to have garnered the reputation of a moderate, or at least not a hair-on-fire liberal, but he’s got enough of the Democrat in him to argue (as he does in this recent piece) that Republicans can only compete with Obama’s Washington-centric economic agenda by producing an equally-grandiose “jobs plan” of their own. He says the conservative side hasn’t offered a plan that can compete with Obama’s tax-and-spend-and-borrow-and-bailout-and-stimulate approach to reviving the U.S. economy. But Juan’s wrong about that, on a number of fronts.

First, the Right has been offering viable alternatives to Obamanomics, including a plan presented by Americans for Prosperity. These plans take a different and better approach, by not revolving everything around spending more money with “pump-priming” or the growth of an already-massive government, but that’s an advantage, considering that the country is broke. Less may be more when it comes to a jobs plan: meaning less regulation, less taxation, less government meddling, less crony capitalism.

Plus, Republicans have been playing this game of one-upmanship for decades with some very unfortunate results. It’s one of the major reasons the party has lost some of its conservative street cred and too often finds its positions and policy prescriptions indistinguishable from those of Democrats. Trying to compete plan-for-plan with statists, in addition to being impossible – since they always have another plan in the wings, which invariably involves the growth of government – has a tendency to keep moving the ball in the wrong direction. If Democrats call for the complete nationalization of healthcare, but Republicans advocate only the partial nationalization of healthcare, for fear of being accused of not having a plan, who is incrementally winning that battle? The nationalizers are. Republicans, meanwhile, have thereby compromised on principle and continued to water-down their brand, alienating conservatives and embracing ideas that are in direct conflict with what they espouse.

The problem with meeting the other side “half way” is that this moves you half the way down a slippery slope, from which escape becomes nearly impossible. A perfect example of this is how America’s partially-socialized medical system — which shifts costs from those who can’t or won’t pay for care onto the working, the taxpaying and the insured – has now become the justification and rationale for the total socialization of medicine. Because Republicans haven’t vigorously enough opposed partial socialism, or come-up with a market-oriented, private sector-based alternative, they aren’t in the strongest position if they want to slam on the breaks now.

That explains why Republicans are having such a tough time in this presidential campaign season re-drawing brighter lines of distinction between themselves and Barack Obama. Every time Republicans take a shot at Obama — for squandering money on  Solyndra, as just one example — Democrats can deflect or counter the critique by pointing to some case, somewhere, where Republicans “did it too.”

Finally, perhaps the best “jobs plan” a conservative candidate or party can offer is one that, instead of getting government even more deeply involved in “creating” jobs, as Obama’s always do, focuses instead on preventing government from destroying jobs, mainly by getting government out of the way. Perhaps the best plan, if one can call it that, doesn’t involve adding new interventions, but subtracting old ones — clearing away the regulatory, tax and bureaucratic burdens that make starting and operating a company in America such a hassle. No prescription might be a better cure for what ails the U.S. economy than the wrong prescription, especially those of the poisonous sort administered by this administration.

Republicans might gain an edge in the jobs debate not by promising more government-centered solutions, or more “stimulus,” but by making the removal of business climate barriers their primary  emphasis. It would never occur to Williams and his ilk that too much planning, and too many plans, is part of the problem — and that perhaps, when it comes to setting our economy free, getting the government planners out of the way could be the best plan of all.

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