How to Defibrillate an Elephant

It’s not yet winter, and you can’t call it “discontent”. But as of now, for the opposition party — something stinks. A year ago, Americans thought they were voting for a thoughtful, moderate Sidney Poitier and they got… someone else. Even our conservative sages, suckled on Reagan optimism, now wonder out loud if America can last to her Tricentennial.

Worse, we don’t seem to know the way out. Jed Babbin of Human Events notes that, innately, conservatives are not wired to support radical solutions — they are by nature incrementalists. Like some kind of Jared Diamond nightmare, we, the common sense majority, are a biosphere genetically unprotected from the audacity and pace of the changes being imposed on our distracted and challenging lives. Our internal timing and sense of propriety are far too slow to respond to an aggression that knows not from niceties. We are Margaret Dumont, watching the Marx brothers circle us enough times to tie us in gauze ribbon before we ever have the wherewithal to say “gentlemen, what do you think you are doing?”

Against so audacious and fast-moving an opponent, the battle for America will not be won on the field of wonkery. Sure, our ideas are better. Every day the grim news and statistics from Washington makes that more clear.  But as they are fighting to transform America, we must transform the fight.

Given the urgency of the moment, this will require a brief, controlled zapping of conservative sensibilities. It may sting a little, but the benefits will be immediate.

1. Attitude: Replace Moping with ‘Make My Day’: We need to purge from our institutional consciousness the idea any short term legislative victory by Obama begins an inexorable national plunge into the abyss. It just isn’t so. In fact, the very radicalism of his vision clarifies the target and unites the troops. Reagan economist Arthur Laffer says that “I can undo the damage this crowd has done in a long weekend.” All we have to do is win.

2. Tactics: Nationalize the 2010 Election with an Inclusive August Mini-Convention. In addition to delegates from the traditional political hack channels, invite an equal amount of Tea Party types.  These new delegates should be “elected” by online plebiscites in each district. Candidates will be free to use any form of written or audio-visual social media to introduce themselves and make their case. Like all arranged marriages, the first night may be awkward. But the coalition will strengthen. Hacks will learn about social networking – and the newbies will learn about how to fill real party roles come the Fall.

3. Positioning: Promote Agnostic Health Care Solutions.  Show America that our side is less interested in free market theology or even procedural transparency than making sure that all citizens can get access to excellent care. Examples:

 — Project 2020: Create 20,000 Physicians and 20,000 Physicians Assistants by 2020. Put aside for a moment how many more doctors would be needed if the “30 million uninsured” were covered, or if universal mandates exploded medical demand. Even with our status quo, we are critically short of workers. The president of the American College of Physicians says that currently undeserved areas in the U.S. need almost 17,000 new primary care physicians.

We need a moon-shot-type, interstate-highway-level national commitment to, within five years, expand medical education and annually produce an additional four thousand of both Physicians and Physicians assistants. To recruit the best talent, those ages 25-40 would be given a chance to take transitional courses that would allow them to slipstream into the new schools.

Unbundle, Price, and Subsidize the Cost of Insuring “Pre-existing Conditions.” The Colin Powell Pottery Barn Rule (“you dropped it, you broke it, you paid for it”) is at work here. Starting sixty years ago with a screwy tax policy wedding insurance to employment, and then compounded by ludicrously outdated interstate restrictions, the government has been both directly and indirectly responsible for the “uninsurability” of many otherwise responsible Americans. For those caught in this and similar traps, the government should make up the cost difference between insurance for the healthy and for the problematic. (Bundling this risk portfolio together for bid will make it surprisingly affordable.)

No one understood the importance of purpose over policy better than Ronald Reagan. Today, people find his early support of FDR and his later conservatism to be a circle that can’t be squared. Yet, the broad national renewal movement that Reagan conceived and engineered had more to do with Roosevelt’s “big idea approach” than, say, the limited goals of his stated hero Calvin Coolidge.

Now, in these dark hours, we must combat the collectivist, international zeitgeist with as bold a counterforce. We are, after all, a country that has become great by allowing a lot of people a lot of second chances. Through social redemption will come party redemption, and, quickly following, will come springtime.