Friday, December 01, 2006

Building Urban Regional Power Through Conservatives by Akindele Akinyemi

The fight for conservative principles in our urban regional base is beginning to become more crucial as we prepare to head into a new year.

Black conservatives within this region have worked politically in recent decades to advance two sets of goods: the family and the market. Brothers and sisters have advocated traditional values that sustain cultural vitality, and economic freedom that brings material prosperity. These two sets of ideals are mutually reinforcing to an extent. The market relies on a stable and orderly society made possible by sturdy families and strong social institutions; and freedom from unduly coercive authority is an essential prerequisite for making moral choices.

There are three key reasons I will stress why building an urban regional power should be the focus of a urban conservative domestic policy agenda, and the lens through which Black conservatives understand their challenge in the coming years.

First, in terms of simple politics, it is what a key and growing group of voters want addressed. If liberals have misdiagnosed the anxieties of the parenting class, conservatives have not recognized them at all. Compassionate conservatism, for all its virtues, does not even try to address itself to parents. A urban conservative agenda that did so would not only cement a relationship with these voters, it would also appeal to many with similar worries who do not share the strong cultural predilections that have drawn middle- and lower-middle-class parents to vote for Republicans.

Second, Black conservatives should think about the anxiety of these parents because the tension such anxiety reflects is precisely the tension at the heart of the conservative movement. Addressing it would therefore also help to address a problem for conservatism. Among the most edifying consequences of the often uneasy partnership between social and fiscal conservatives has been the way in which the two sides have educated each other. A surprising number of conservatives who are not spiritual and not especially concerned about social issues have become persuaded in recent times to oppose abortion, for instance, because their interaction with social conservatives has caused them to consider the question more seriously. A surprising number of social conservatives within Metro Detroit have expressed strong concerns about government spending in recent years, because their interaction with fiscal conservatives has taught them why they should worry about it.

But each group still tends not to see the way in which the other not only makes some valid points, but is also defending something vital to them both. Better understanding the pressure of health care costs as a barrier to the growth of larger families would help Black conservatives understand why they should seek health care solutions. Better understanding how anxiety about caring for one's children and one's elderly parents keeps people from taking the risks that allow a dynamic economy to flourish would help fiscal conservatives see the value of public policy that offers support to child-bearing and family caregiving.

Third, Black conservatives should concentrate on the anxieties of the parenting class because if they are not addressed in ways that take heed of both the significance of traditional values and the importance of free-market, small-government principles, they will eventually be addressed in ways that undercut both. In a democracy, the greatest threat to freedom is not that the government will take it away but that the people will give it away, in return for a promise of security. The parenting class's demands for security are not unreasonable, and the challenge for a conservative governing movement is to use public policy to help families obtain some of that security in ways that sustain freedom and strengthen traditional values.

Because key voters want it, because the conservative movement needs it, and because the cause of limited government requires it, conservatives need to see the parenting class as the crucial constituency of the future, critical to the well-being of both the American family and the American economy. This would make Republicans neither exactly the party of social conservatism nor quite the party of fiscal conservatism, but the party committed to balancing the two, and defending both by easing the tensions between them: the party that sees the moral imperatives of economic freedom and grasps the economic anxieties of the traditional family.

Black conservatives should also look beyond the horizon and see that long-term care for the aged is about to become the next major concern of the parenting class. The demographics of the baby boomers, and medical advances that will enable them to enjoy longer lives but also suffer longer periods of decline and debility, will soon present an unprecedented challenge for middle- and lower-middle-class families. This it not a crisis--longer lives are, after all, most welcome--as much as it is a challenge to these families' aspiration to do right by their parents. Conservatives need to find ways to encourage long-term care insurance and to reward family caregiving for the elderly.

As far as education, it is well past time to force Governor Granholm to raise the cap off charter schools, which can appeal to the parenting class both as a solution in their own children's lives and as a call to conscience. By highlighting failing schools in underserved areas , while making clear to parents that their own children need not be thrown into a confusing new system of choices and options if their schools are working, Black conservatives can build a middle-class case for helping lower-class children escape failing schools.

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