Sound strategy for conservatives

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The Article

Beleaguered conservatives would do well to ponder the sage policy advice advanced by David Frum in his latest book, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again.

While Frum hopes and believes that future generations will render a positive judgement on the mixed record of the presidency of George W. Bush, he has no illusions about the current plight of the Republican Party. “Conservatives were brought to power in the 1970s and 1980s by liberal failure,” writes Frum. “Now conservative failure threatens to inaugurate a new era of liberalism.”

Among the more conspicuous shortcomings of the Bush administration has been failure to improve the living standards of low- and middle-income earners. Frum notes that while labour costs for employers have risen by close to 25 per cent during the Bush years, the entire increase has been absorbed by the soaring costs of health insurance.

A large part of the problem is perverse government regulations that mandate universal coverage for nonessential services such as acupuncture, marriage counselling and hairpieces. As a result, health insurance can cost as much as five times more in a highly regulated state like New Jersey than in low-regulation Kentucky.

Frum urges Republicans to come up with a plausible plan for holding down health care costs, while assuring universal coverage within the framework of a competitive health-care system. In particular, he commends the reforms initiated by former Republican governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts that make comprehensive and affordable private health insurance compulsory for all state residents.

Canada’s ruling Conservatives should take note: They, too, cannot expect long to remain in power, if they fail to satisfy the demands of voters for an end to the intolerable delays that plague Canada’s state-run, medicare monopolies.

Frum is also concerned about the failure of the Bush administration to reverse the decline in the United States fertility rate to a bare replacement level of 2.1 children per woman of childbearing age. He counsels the Republicans to promote larger families by means of a refundable tax credit of $1,000 per child indexed to inflation.

Canada confronts a much worse demographic crisis, having a fertility rate of barely 1.5. The Harper Conservatives should give priority in the next round of tax cuts to increasing the Canada Child Tax Benefit and transforming it into a non-taxable entitlement for children in all families regardless of income.

Frum maintains that to win again in the United States, conservatives should seize the initiative on environmental issues. To this end, he calls upon the Republicans to endorse a hefty tax of $50 per ton on carbon emissions that would fall mainly on oil, natural gas and polluting coal.

This new levy would serve to cut carbon emissions and reduce United States reliance on oil imports from politically unstable countries, while appealing to voters who are caught up in the global-warming hysteria.

In British Columbia, the province’s nominally Liberal, but in many ways conservative government has recently imposed a more modest carbon tax of $10 per tonne. Conservatives in other oil-importing provinces should consider the introduction of a substantial carbon tax in conjunction with an offsetting increase in child benefits.

Just a few months ago, the Iraq war was the most conspicuous failure of the Bush Administration. The United States-led coalition was making so little headway in combating the Islamist terrorists who prey on the people of that sorely oppressed country that the Democrats looked all but unbeatable in this year’s presidential election.

Today, the outlook for the war is much different. The belated decision of the Bush administration to authorize a surge of military force in Iraq has had remarkable success in curbing terrorist attacks and clearing the way for another free and fair Iraqi election in October.

As an early exponent of increased military force in Iraq, John McCain is the presidential candidate who inspires the most confidence on issues of national security. But to retain the White House for the Republicans, he will have to broaden his appeal, by also embracing the kind of sound and innovative domestic policies proposed by Frum.

Rory Leishman
Latest posts by Rory Leishman (see all)

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