GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that Republicans “have often lost sight of the fact that our average voter is not John Galt.” The Kentucky Senator, fresh from a primary victory over a Tea Party-backed candidate, was referring to the inventor-hero in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged who favored compl
ete free markets and who rebelled against a government that persecuted him for the virtue of being productive.
McConnell believes that the GOP appears too elitist when it emphasizes policies that seem most to help to rich. But the problem is that, in addition to not understanding Ayn Rand, McConnell needs clarity about the country’s problems and, thus, their solutions.
Lack of freedom
Concerning the Republican Party’s emphasis on free markets, McConnell states that “It’s a good impulse to be sure, but for most Americans whose daily concerns revolve around aging parents …, shrinking budgets, and obscenely high tuition bills, these hymns to entrepreneurialism are as a practical matter largely irrelevant.” He added that “the audience for them is probably a lot smaller than we think.” In other words, freedom doesn’t sell well at the polls.
But McConnell’s desire to appeal to voters will not negate the fact that the reason most Americans struggle is a lack of freedom, that is, too much government control over the economy and our lives, which thwarts the entrepreneurship that is the sparkplug of prosperous.
Just consider a few numbers. By one estimate, the burden of federal regulations alone is $1.9 trillion or $6,200 per American, or about $15,000 per family. Most of this cost is not offset by protection of public health and safety. It simply lowers living standards.
McConnell’s fellow Republicans have identified many specific government chains and offered ways to cut them: Help reduce high prices at the gas pump by removing federal prohibitions on oil drilling. Help ease health care costs plus increase patient choice by allowing more tax-exempt medical savings accounts.
Corrupt to the core
But McConnell must appreciate a deeper truth: The current political system is at root corrupt. The country is in a civil war. Makers prosper by producing goods and services to trade with their fellows. Takers employ political elites expropriate from those producers. Those takers include crony capitalist bankers, auto and “clean” energy companies, and labor unions. The political elites who secure for them special favors and handouts at the expense of the productive class include Republicans and Democrats.
The more political power becomes the coin of the realm, the more the productive achievers—those John Galts—are punished and, therefore, the less they produce. As economic hardship grows, more otherwise decent Americans turn to political elites, further punishing production and plunging the economy into death spiral.
This corrupt system also erodes the ethos of personal responsibility as more and more people come to believe they are “entitled” to housing, health care, you name it, at the expense of their fellows.
Establishment or entrepreneurs
McConnell might resent the label but he represents the GOP establishment. He is one of those who want to appear “responsible” and to win elections by promising to tweak the current system but still keep it in place. He sees the Tea Partiers as impractical extremists preaching to one another and ignoring the need to win elections and actually change public policy.
But establishment Republicans—McCain, Romney—have hardly shined at the polls. And in any case, the system cannot be saved.
The challenge for McConnell and all Republicans is to effectively frame political discussions and campaigns in terms of the need for fundamental reform. It is to offer a vision for a bright future, especially to young people, many of whom are disillusioned Obama voters. It is to articulate policies that will replace, piece by piece, over time, the current corrupt system, giving every American the opportunity to be entrepreneurs in their own lives.
After the 2014 elections, McConnell will likely be the Senate Majority Leader. He should commit to unleashing the John Galt in all of us!
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.