Politics & Policy

Conservatism’s Little Red Hen Moment

Speaker Ryan and Bishop Shirley Holloway (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Speaker Ryan’s ‘A Better Way’ proposals are the conservative-reform agenda of the future.

If humanity hasn’t changed much since ancient times, then the parables of old certainly still hold true today. In contemporary conservative politics, perhaps none is more important to appreciate than the story of “The Little Red Hen.”

The fable, likely of Russian origin, tells the tale of a hen who happens upon a grain of wheat. She asks the other barnyard animals to help her plant the grain. They decline.

She then inquires if the frog, cat, and pig would assist in harvesting the grain, threshing it, milling it into flour, and, finally, baking the flour into bread. At every step, her fellow creatures refuse to join in the work.

Finally, the hen announces that the bread is ready to enjoy. All of the barnyard animals gather, eager to indulge in the fruits of her labor, and proclaim that they are finally ready to help her by eating the bread.

The hen responds that they will not receive any, as they did not help her with the planting, harvesting, threshing, milling, and baking. Instead, she divvies up the loaf among her chicks — leaving nothing for the others who idled while she toiled.

Last week, this cautionary tale came to life for conservatives. In front of the media and residents of Washington, D.C.’s impoverished Anacostia neighborhood, Republican lawmakers released “A Better Way,” a policy agenda that outlines how conservative principles can be applied to tackle America’s greatest challenges. Led by Speaker Paul Ryan, it is the compilation of efforts from some of the most powerful House Republicans, including Budget chairman Tom Price, M.D. of Georgia, Education and the Workforce chairman John Kline of Minnesota, Texas’s Kevin Brady and Mike Conway, chairmen of the Ways and Means Committee and the Agriculture Committee, respectively, and Representatives Jackie Walorski (Ind.), Andy Barr (Ky.), and Bradley Byrne (Ala.).


The plan focuses on eradicating poverty, bolstering national security, revitalizing America’s economy, creating a patient-centered health-care system, implementing pro-growth tax reform, and returning government to its constitutional parameters. Its stated goals should delight any conservative: Reward work; tailor benefits to people’s needs; improve skills and schools; plan and save for the future; and demand results.

While it was guided by the expertise of these policymakers, “A Better Way” began with GOP lawmakers earnestly reflecting upon the recommendations of community leaders across America who are closest to the problems our country faces. One such leader is Bishop Shirley Holloway, Ryan’s close friend and CEO of House of Help City of Hope, a faith-based rehabilitation home located in one of Washington, D.C.’s roughest neighborhoods.

Holloway, who hosted the rollout of “A Better Way,” detailed the speaker’s hands-on approach and the sincerity of his commitment. His leadership style, she insisted, is rooted in humility.

“His mom taught him this — and I also have come to cherish her advice: God gave us two ears and one mouth, and we need to use it in that proportion,” Holloway explained about Ryan’s method of policymaking. “I consider [Ryan] the ‘Listener of America.’”

“A Better Way” began with GOP lawmakers earnestly reflecting upon the recommendations of community leaders across America who are closest to the problems our country faces.

Flanked by the beneficiaries of Bishop Holloway’s tireless ministry, Republican lawmakers outlined how conservatism, accentuated by the practical solutions of America’s community heroes, can foster economic mobility, improve security, and demand greater accountability. They didn’t abandon their principles. Instead, they enthusiastically evangelized for the conservative cause, one that they believe can reverse the course of hopelessness and despair for the far too many Americans who suffer.

“First, government needs to be humble enough to realize it doesn’t have all the answers,” Chairman Price said. “Second, we need to make sure we’re measuring success by the number of individuals we are lifting up and out of poverty, not by the amount of money we’re putting into a program and not by the number of programs we create.”

For some in attendance, this sadly might have been the first time they had considered that Republicans cared about them. This may have been their first exposure to conservatism, as well as the notion that these policies were a better alternative to the liberal agenda that created such social decay and economic disparity. Perhaps this was even the first time politicians ever expressed to them that they honored their lives’ value and celebrated the joy of their lives’ potential.

It was an absolutely extraordinary day. But most Americans probably never heard about it. And worse, most conservatives probably didn’t, either.

Of course, the media couldn’t focus its attention on the policy matters at hand, chomping at the bit to ask Speaker Ryan about the latest Donald Trump calamity instead of how Republicans would put policies into action. Unfortunately, we have come to expect such a disservice from a press more keen to discuss political machinations than how policymaking actually affects the public.

#share#The real disappointment lies with many of the Right’s talkers and tastemakers who routinely reject any opportunity to lend their voice to a project as worthwhile as this — a project that introduces new audiences to the intellectual rigor and moral duty that are the foundation of conservatism. They predictably ignored last week’s event, despite their continued insistence that they are the most committed to the advancement of conservatism in this country.

These are the same movement leaders who apparently forgot to inform voters and activists that the strategic maneuvering of Florida senator Marco Rubio on Obamacare’s “risk corridors” did far more to dismantle the law than 2013’s three-week government shutdown ever could. I don’t recall hearing talk-radio hosts applauding Republicans thwarting nearly all of President Obama’s radical legislative agenda, from carbon taxes to card check to tax hikes. I didn’t see the keyboard warriors lauding Republicans for dramatically reducing federal spending (about $2.5 trillion over five years), and thus, budgetary deficits, despite having President Obama in the White House.

In order to achieve our policy goals, we must expand GOP majorities.

And after all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the GOP not using the “power of the purse” to stop Obamacare, these are the same folks curiously opposed to the House GOP passing its budget, which is necessary to trigger a conference committee with the Senate to employ budget reconciliation to actually defund Obamacare. It’s also chock full of things conservatives have wanted for a long time: It pays off the national debt, brings the budget into balance, creates the framework for comprehensive tax reform, sets up the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, and, perhaps most importantly, reforms our broken safety-net programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, that are going bankrupt.

In order to achieve our policy goals, we must expand GOP majorities. We cannot do this without an army of happy warriors, each using his or her gifts to positively influence family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors that conservatism is the right path for the country. But, we instead have prominent conservative figures who spend little time talking about what’s good about our movement and a lot of time complaining about what’s bad about it.

Why would anyone want to join a group where everyone seemed miserable and all the talk is about how much they hated their leadership? What would compel anyone to support our mission when the loudest voices on our side seem to find little virtue in our accomplishments? Why would an undecided voter give conservatism a chance when all she’s heard from the Left is how awful Republicans are — and when she’s heard nothing from conservatives to counter it?

#related#Of course, it’s critical that conservatives with public platforms hold the GOP accountable when it strays from our philosophy of limited government, free markets, and individual liberty. But even as we have the most conservative crop of lawmakers across all levels of government in generations, there are those conservatives who prefer to idly complain instead of doing the proverbial planting, harvesting, threshing, milling, and baking.

Many of us believe that America as we know it cannot survive without conservatism. And conservatism cannot survive without all of us playing our respective roles, cheerfully advocating for a liberating ideology that gets government out of the way so people live their best lives. And that’s why thoughtful conservatives (such as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, for example) are doing the work now so that our party, and more importantly, our country, can enjoy the bread for years to come.

Conservatives have the unique opportunity for every cat, frog, and duck to help in the baking of the bread. Let’s hope they choose to throw on an apron.


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