With the Republican presidential field — or two candidates, at least — touching down in Maine this week, it’s worth taking a moment to re-examine the difference between the two major parties, and what it really means to be a Republican. A central problem the GOP has faced on both a national basis and, all too often, here in Maine is that big government solutions are seen as helping people while small government policies are regarded as abandoning them.
On fiscal responsibility, any time Republicans propose any serious budget cuts, they are attacked for taking away programs that people need. Fiscal responsibility is portrayed as a cruel, heartless policy that merely seeks to stop helping the needy. While it is true that the media frequently play into this argument, Republicans often do little to effectively counter it.
When fiscal policy is discussed, Republicans need to point out that they are not for eliminating all social welfare programs, but rather for reforming them to focus on the truly needy. Locally, that debate has played out in Augusta this past session, where Republicans argued for welfare reforms to encourage able-bodied adults to transition off welfare into work.
What Republicans need to become better at is pointing out that these sorts of reforms create opportunities on both sides of the equation. By encouraging those able to work to do so, we are not only able to cut spending on welfare, but as those individuals enter the workforce they will pay more taxes and contribute more to society. This creates a far greater opportunity for everyone than simply raising taxes on some to pay for assistance for others.
The ability to create opportunity for all of society, rather than just for certain groups at a time at the expense of others, is at the core of many small-government policies. Enacting a surveillance state to keep this country safe might feel good, but just like the welfare state it will leave us less free, cost a great deal, and might do nothing to keep us safer — robbing opportunity from everyone. Respecting people’s individual liberties is not only mandatory under the Constitution, but it is fiscally responsible, as enacting a police state always costs more money than leaving people alone. It is entirely possible to keep this country safe and secure without trampling all over the rights of innocent Americans.
On immigration, it’s time for Republicans to acknowledge that much work has to be done to reform the entire system. Just as we should not enact a blanket amnesty policy for all illegal immigrants currently in the country, it is not realistic to expect that we can round up and deport all illegal immigrants without spending a lot of money and hurting innocent Americans in the process. What we can do is take realistic steps to secure our border in an intelligent, cost-effective way, while also removing bureaucratic hurdles for those who wish to come here legally, reducing the incentive to come here illegally.
For too many years, Democrats have been successful at portraying their big-government, tax-and-spend policies as fulfilling needs for people and any opposition as cruel attacks on the underprivileged. In order to truly improve society, we must create more opportunities for everyone, rather than offer more handouts.
Of course, the key question is whether Republicans are truly willing to embrace small government across the board, rather than just when it’s politically convenient. If they do so, they can make the case that it’s small government that creates opportunities for all — and opportunity is at the core of what makes this country exceptional.