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Contentions

A More Modest and Effective Approach to Governing

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, a Contentions alumna, did a three-part interview with Yuval Levin, Ramesh Ponnuru, and me on a new publication, Room To Grow, and our thoughts on a conservative reform agenda for the 21st century. (The links can be found herehere, and here.)

Yuval, Ramesh, and I discuss how the right looks (and should look) at government, how to apply conservative principles to the challenges facing this generation, why reconceiving the role of government (and not just cutting spending) is urgent, how humility and moderation can co-exist with a fairly bold set of policy proposals, and how to think about immigration, marriage, and federalism.

Among the arguments I put forward is this one:

there’s a tendency among some on the right to simply disparage government rather than to put forward ideas to improve (and responsibly re-limit) it; to speak only about its size and to ignore its purposes; to talk about abstract theories at the expense of practical solutions to problems facing middle-class Americans. We’re offering a conservative alternative to the failures of liberalism and doing so in a way that’s both principled and potentially popular, that’s consistent with our tradition and relevant to the challenges of our times.

And, on federalism, this: 

When I worked for Bill Bennett when he was Secretary of Education, we put out a series of booklets on What Works in American education. As a general matter that is, I think, a very good way to approach governing, with emphasis on experience, on empirical evidence, on real-world successes. And we can certainly learn a great deal from the states. The argument for federalism, then, is practical, not just theoretical, and we should do more to publicize what works in the states. I’d only add one other thought: federalism is consistent with conservatism in that it assumes a certain degree of modesty and humility. We don’t pretend politicians in Washington, D.C. know all the answers, that one size fits all, and programs that work in some states might work less well in other states. After the arrogance of the Obama years — when the president and those in his administration have acted as if they are all-knowing, all-seeing, all-wise – there is something refreshing about a more modest approach to governing.

The whole interview will, I think, interest COMMENTARY readers.


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