A New Path to Prosperity

Grace-Marie Turner

When Pennsylvania and later Iowa -- two key battleground states -- turned blue on the maps on election night, the race was over. While other Western swing states eventually turned blue as well, it was clear the presidential election had been decided in the Rust Belt.

Too many people in these Midwestern states are being left behind in the competitive global economy. They have solid work ethics, and many once held high-paying jobs in factories that have since closed. The hope of the last quarter century that their jobs would return has become resignation for many. They feel left behind in the transition to an Information-Age, globally competitive economy.

President-elect Obama today offers them hope, but of a very different kind than President Reagan offered in 1980. Reagan promised to strengthen the economy by providing new incentives to work, save, and invest, setting in place policies that led to 25 years of strong economic growth.

Mr. Obama offers a different kind of hope, based more upon the promise of security assured by a stronger government.

Unless conservatives speak to these disaffected Americans who are being left behind, these important voters will continue to see government security as the preferable option.

America still is a center-right country, one that cherishes freedom and rewards hard work and an enterprising spirit. That was the message of Joe the Plumber that resonated in this campaign.

We need to remind people that if we lose the initiative and self-reliance that are the bedrocks of a free society, we will also lose the hope and promise of what we can be and what America can become. We must find the path to prosperity for people who value the dignity of work but who feel marginalized by limited opportunities. It is naive to think we can close our borders and expect our economy to grow. Government transfers will limit freedom and increase dependency. And an educational system that fails too many children will leave them unprepared for the continuing challenges ahead.

There are disaffected workers in every state, but they are concentrated in these big swing states. We must work carefully to analyze the roots of the economic decline and craft policies that bring them into tomorrow's economy.

And what role does health care play?

Robert Blendon of Harvard recently published a detailed survey of Americans' views toward health care. He finds that more than four out of five Americans say the health care they get is good to excellent. Nearly half believe that, despite its problems, the U.S. has the best health care system in the world.

Importantly, only 18% say that they think the system is in crisis and needs a complete overhaul. About half say it has major problems and needs major reform. But delving deeper, you find that means they think it needs to be changed for other people, not for them personally.

But action will taken by President-elect Obama.

So what are the likely first steps of an Obama administration? Princeton professor and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman gave clear signals in a recent interview:

"There are four pieces to this plan:

  • community rating, to prevent 'cherry-picking' by private insurers
  • subsidies to help lower-income people afford insurance
  • a form of mandatory insurance for children
  • government-run plans so people can opt out of private insurance. Many people think such a federal health insurance system would eventually merge with Medicare and Medicaid to form a larger national system."

I continue to believe that providing equal access to subsidies for private health insurance would provide a new sense of security to millions of people left out of the current system. They would be newly empowered with choices in a market responding to them and their needs, and people with pre-existing and chronic conditions would have new options. Portable subsidies coupled with new protections and purchasing options would lead to more affordable coverage.

We will work to be part of the conversation to give people an alternative to an expanded role for government programs.

I happened to see a quote by Gen. Douglas MacArthur framed in a restaurant as I was returning from a speech in Minneapolis on Election Day. It seems appropriate:

"We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction." 


Grace-Marie Turner is President of the Galen Institute
Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.




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