The Corner

Organic-Government Conservatism?

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more talk about this Alex Castellanos piece:

What we believe in is people-driven, choice-filled, dynamic, flexible, equal-opportunity self-government. We should call it organic government. Want to know what your government is going to look like 20 years from now? Ask your children. They will say it will look a lot less like General Motors and a lot more like MySpace. The Internet is an education for us all, a place where people self-organize and govern themselves with maximum freedom. In its reflection, we can see more than the future of technology and communications; we can see the promise of democracy.

Conservatives believe that we govern our society more often, and better, through the private sector than through the public sector. We govern our lives in our churches, communities, bowling leagues, and neighborhoods. We govern our most altruistic impulses through charities. The PTA governs. The Chamber of Commerce governs. Facebook governs. The Invisible Hand governs.


Conservatives need to abandon the old debate in which we ask voters to choose between big government in Washington or nothing. We will not do well in the political marketplace if our sales pitch is “we have zero to sell,” or if, with no product of our own, Republicans remain faux Democrats, selling lower-calorie versions of liberal failure. We need a new dynamic in which we offer a choice between old, lazy, big government in Washington and new, energetic, private-sector self-government in the real world.

Sure, conservatives believe we should have a department of education, bigger and better than ever. But instead of its being a big bureaucracy in Washington, we believe the department of education should be found at the end of every American driveway. Even Marion Barry, the former mayor of Washington, supports school vouchers in D.C., saluting “moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and other guardians in my community” who are “working to make the right choices for their children.” That is our kind of government.

In his victory speech after the North Carolina primary, Barack Obama echoed Bill Clinton by saying, “Government can’t solve all our problems — and we don’t expect it to” (at which point the applause in his Democratic audience noticeably dimmed). He went on to say, “That’s how we’ve always changed this country — not from the top down, but from the bottom up.” O.K., Senator Obama, where do you want the education money? Do you want in the hands of parents, bringing change from the bottom up? Or in the hands of education bureaucrats and trickle-down government in Washington?

That is Barack Obama’s opportunity, as it is ours. If Obama seizes it, wins the election, and transforms Washington — moving government to the thriving, innovative, problem-solving private sector from the decaying, old, industrial public sector — he and his party can snatch the future and govern America for the next 25 years. Conservatives may want to get there first.

Conservatives do have solutions. Our answer is not “no government”; our answer is a government that is more natural. Choice and diversity, if entrusted to people, require — and create — economic freedom. Conservatives need to learn the language of the environmental and civil-rights movements, not only because it is more marketable, but also because it more accurately reflects the organic liberty and self-government we cherish.

Our theme, our brand, our identity? How about this: Republicans are the not the party of a decaying, old, static, industrial-age, top-down government in Washington. We are the communications-age party of genuinely democratic, dynamic government — of, for, and by real people. We want to get money and power out of Washington and into the hands of the people — not because we want no government, but because we believe people who live in liberty create the best government when they are trusted to govern themselves. Ours is a purpose-driven populism, determined to change Washington, because if we do that, Americans can achieve anything in the world.

Fellow conservatives, let’s learn to say it: We need more government, lots of it, but we need the kind that actually works: Bottom-up self-government by a mature people. And we need that government in our hands — because it is not natural, efficient, or beneficial to leave something so powerful in the hands of anyone else.


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