The Corner

Rising and Inequality

Jeb Bush has a new PAC, called “the Right to Rise PAC,” which put out its mission statement this week. I think there’s a lot to like in it, especially if the “right to rise,” a phrase Bush borrowed from Rep. Paul Ryan, is understood as shorthand for “the right not to have one’s rise impeded by bad government policies.”

At one point the statement says we should “give all children a better future by transforming our education system through choice, high standards and accountability.” Michael Barbaro of the New York Times offers this gloss on the comment: “This is the part where Mr. Bush politely tells critics of Common Core and national education standards to go fly a kite.” I read it, instead, more as a peace offering. Bush has recently, it seems to me, been retreating from the controversial specifics of Common Core to the less-controversial principles that it may or may not advance. Conservative critics of Common Core are, in the main, for high standards and accountability.

I think the statement goes slightly wrong in its treatment of income inequality:

Millions of our fellow citizens across the broad middle class feel as if the American Dream is now out of their reach; that our politics are petty and broken; that opportunities are elusive; and that the playing field is no longer fair or level. Too many of the poor have lost hope that a path to a better life is within their grasp. While the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners, they’ve been a lost decade for the rest of America. We are not leading – at home or abroad.

At the Right to Rise PAC, we will support candidates who want to restore the promise of America with a positive, conservative vision of reform and renewal. We believe the income gap is real, but that only conservative principles can solve it by removing the barriers to upward mobility. 

Most people haven’t gotten ahead in our economy — over a time frame a lot longer than the last eight years — and it’s important for Republicans and conservatives to acknowledge the fact and offer ideas for restoring broad-based prosperity. Better policies in recent years might have helped the poor and middle class to rise more than they have, and could do so in the future. But in a stronger economy the rich might get even richer and the income gap might get even bigger. And that would be ok.

It can’t credibly be promised that any mix of conservative policies would reduce the income gap, let alone “solve” it (whatever that would mean). I don’t think that promise is politically helpful, either. All the public-opinion evidence I’ve seen suggests that most people are much more concerned about middle-class living standards than about the ratio between those living standards and those of the rich. I suspect that Bush and his PAC are more interested in the former, too, and just need to adjust their rhetoric accordingly.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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