Rhetoric v Reality: Jeb Bush Edition


Jeb and George

Perusing the FrumForum page I noticed this piece by Frum himself on Jeb Bush’s Op-Ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Titled “Capitalism and the Right to Rise,” Bush argues that the the right to rise, a term he credits to everyone’s favorite right-wonk Rep. Paul Ryan, should be thought of as a right alongside the ones we’re intimately familiar with in the Bill of Rights. He explains it thusly:

Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn’t seem like something we should have to protect. 

But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. People understand this.

One thing I routinely hear from people on the left is the need for a coherent vision from their leaders. What they want from someone like the President is a style of rhetoric that embodies the values they cherish and promotes a positive ethos in a time of economic doldrums. Yet they don’t seem to be satisfied with speeches like the one he made in Osawatomie, Kansas. Or his previous State of the Union speeches, where for all the rhetorical flourish liberal still seem disappointed.

I think they’re disappointed because the real world rarely reflects rhetorical visions. The reality of governing means compromising, figurative “deals with the devil,” and not always getting what you want. The wave election of Tea Party candidates in 2010 have had to come terms with this same reality, where for all the militant talk about scaling the federal behemoth they’ve instead run into the constitutional wall of divided government.

My litmus test for rhetorical flourish – whether right or left – concerns the practical effects of such visions. In Bush’s case, it’s this:

The right to rise does not require a libertarian utopia to exist. Rather, it requires fewer, simpler and more outcome-oriented rules. Rules for which an honest cost-benefit analysis is done before their imposition. Rules that sunset so they can be eliminated or adjusted as conditions change. Rules that have disputes resolved faster and less expensively through arbitration than litigation.

In Washington, D.C., rules are going in the opposite direction. They are exploding in reach and complexity. They are created under a cloud of uncertainty, and years after their passage nobody really knows how they will work.

Yup…regulations. Uncertainly. For the fancy talk, the compelling painting of rights and economic freedoms, we get the same old regulatory uncertainty shtick. David Frum:

Fewer, simpler and more outcome-oriented rules would all be welcome! But how relevant are such improved business regulations to the “right to rise”? Denmark has more regulations upon business than the US, but nonetheless manages more upward mobility.

When the prescription doesn’t match the vision – especially when it’s a solution searching for a problem – I doubt both.


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