“A good government implies two things,” James Madison wrote in Federalist 62. “First, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained. Some governments are deficient in both these qualities; most governments are deficient in the first. I scruple not to assert, that in American governments too little attention has been paid to the last.”
On Constitution Day, it’s good to keep in mind Madison’s worry. The Constitution was in part intended to create an institutional structure to mitigate that worry, but it remains the case that some of those Americans most inclined to think seriously about the proper ends and limits of government are nonetheless too often prone to lose sight of the importance of means—of the particulars of policy. The Republican Party has certainly had that problem lately.
The combination of reforms Lee proposes is, to begin with, good policy. It would make our tax code friendlier to growth and more supportive of prosperity, and would correct a number of iniquities in the current code, in the process easing for many the path into the middle class and upwards through it and beyond it. It’s also good politics, as offering a larger child credit would help build a broader constituency for the other tax reforms (which conservatives have long wanted) while at the same time enabling the right to show working-class families how conservatives policies can improve their lives. As Lee put it in his remarks: “For a political party too often seen as out of touch, aligned with the rich, indifferent to the less fortunate, and uninterested in solving the problems of working families, Republicans could not ask for a more worthy cause around which to build a new conservative reform agenda.”
The outlines of such a broader agenda—a conservative appeal to the working-class families to whom the Democrats have less and less to offer and to whom Republicans just haven’t had enough to say—have been taking shape among conservative wonks in recent years. Lee’s proposal clearly echoed arguments long made by Ramesh (for instance here) and others, in these pages and elsewhere, and the details clearly built on this excellent proposal by the economist Robert Stein in National Affairs. (Full disclosure: I’m the editor of National Affairs, and I commissioned Stein to write the piece.)
Encouraging signs are few and far between these days, but this was a big one.