Getting Back In The Game

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What Yglesias says here about conservatives and transportation policy - that there are plenty of free-market reforms that the Right could and should be championing, but isn't - applies to a host of topics. I was on a later panel at the NRI event he cites, and I tried to make exactly this point: On too many issues, conservatives have simply avoided the most important emerging debates, changing the subject whenever possible and leaving liberals to argue against liberals when it isn't. This is true, too often, in transportation and infrastructure policy; it's been true for some time in the climate change debate (though I'm hopeful that this changing); and it's often true in education, where the most interesting arguments are between liberal reformers and liberal interest groups, with conservatives sitting on the sideline talking about vouchers and occasionally praising the Michelle Rhees and Corey Bookers of the world.

This problem is not, repeat not, a matter of conservatives needing to abandon their core convictions in order to win elections, as right-of-center reformers are often accused of doing. Rather, it's a matter of conservatives needing to apply their core convictions to questions like "how do we mitigate the worst effects of climate change?" and "how do we modernize our infrastructure?" and "how do we encourage excellence and competition within our public school bureaucracy?" instead of just letting liberals completely monopolize these debates, while the Right talks about porkbusting and not much else.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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