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Elevation matters

The middle ground for its own sake isn't it.  What we need is to stake out the moral high ground.  A great column by Arthur Brooks in today's WSJ:

The battle over the debt ceiling is only the latest skirmish in what promises to be an ongoing, exhausting war over budget issues. Americans can be forgiven for seeing the whole business as petty, selfish and tiresome. Conservatives in particular are beginning to worry that public patience will wear thin over their insistence that our nation's government-spending problem must be remedied through spending cuts, not by raising more revenues.

But before they succumb to too much caution, budget reformers need to remember three things. First, this is not a political fight between Republicans and Democrats; it is a fight against 50-year trends toward statism. Second, it is a moral fight, not an economic one. Third, this is not a fight that anyone can win in the 15 months from now to the presidential election. It will take hard work for at least a decade.

While Brooks immediately goes on to cite some statistics—it's what we conservatives tend to do—he doesn't waste much time getting to the crux of his argument: that the kind of "tectonic" structural change that is necessary 

...will only succeed if it's accompanied by a moral argument—an unabashed cultural defense of the free enterprise system that helps Americans remember why they love their country and its exceptional culture.

Brooks points out that Adam Smith's greatest book was not The Wealth of Nations but

..."The Theory of Moral Sentiments," a defense of a culture that could support true freedom and provide the greatest life satisfaction.

Free enterprise advocates, Brooks says,

... speak privately about freedom and opportunity for everybody.... [but s]adly, in public, they always seem stuck in the language of economic efficiency.

Brooks' recommendation? (emphasis mine)

If reformers want Americans to embrace real change, every policy proposal must be framed in terms of self-realization, meritocratic fairness and the promise of a better future. Why do we want to lower taxes for entrepreneurs? Because we believe in earned success. Why do we care about economic growth? To make individual opportunity possible, not simply to increase wealth. Why do we need entitlement reform? Because it is wrong to steal from our children.

Read the whole thing.

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