- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

A core, defining belief of conservatism is that the scope and intrusion of government in our lives should be limited. But, with each passing year the government grows larger and more invasive. Calvin Coolidge once wryly observed that the “business of the American people is business.” Yet today our biggest growth industry is government.

How can conservatives beat Goliath?

First, we must embrace our principles. Republicans cannot again breach their Contract with America. The people of this country loathe hypocrisy and will not long put their faith in any party that engages in it. If we cross sides to secure victory, then exactly whose victory is it?

Second, and the focus of this article, we must learn how to better communicate our principles. We are about to begin one of the most important policy fights of our time: health care reform. It will be decisive for both our movement and our nation. Americans will either gain personal control of their health care or they will lose it to big-government bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, polling data show that the public believes Democrats are better equipped than Republicans to handle this crucial issue. A closer examination, however, reveals that despite this generic preference, Americans actually favor the specific solutions that comprise the Republican plan.

In other words, the problem is not our ideas, but how we deliver them.

Too often, Republicans get bogged down in fiscal language - talking about deficits, budgeting, gross domestic product and the enormous cost of Democrat proposals. The fiscal-discipline argument is a critical one. But, it should be only one leg of a stool.

Consider the recent stimulus debate. Conservatives did a brilliant job explaining how our nation could not afford such a historic transfer of wealth from the private to the public sector. But, how good a job did we do explaining why that transfer will delay recovery and hurt Americans just trying to scrape by?

Put another way: Too much use of green eyeshades obscures our vision.

Conservatives need to become more comfortable with - and place a greater emphasis on - discussing how our ideas directly affect middle-class, working-class and lower-income Americans. And why freedom works best for all Americans, not just some, and why big government does not.

As health care costs and the numbers of uninsured continue to rise, more and more Americans have come to believe the government offers their best hope of relief. Conservatives must explain why the opposite is true. They must explain why government is the source, not of relief, but of the problem itself - a problem that will worsen dramatically if we take even more control away from patients and their doctors and give it to central-government planners.

As it is, half of all health care dollars in America are controlled by the government. Most of the other half is controlled by employers because they can buy tax-free health insurance while individuals cannot. The government has created a third-party system in which Americans’ health care is chosen for them by someone else spending their money. There is no choice; there is only control by third parties - your employer or the government.

Imagine if your employer took money out of your paycheck to buy your car, choose your automobile or homeowners insurance, or pick your kids’ school? How does it make any more sense for your employer to buy something as important and personal as your health care plan or your doctor?

This system has also undermined healthy competition. Instead of tailoring products and prices to meet the diverse needs of a dynamic population, health-insurance companies only have to compete for your employer’s selection, not yours. The yellow pages (businesses that can afford health insurance) are buying the health-insurance plans for the white pages (people). Allowing people to keep their exclusion or choose a health care tax credit would put choice in the hands of the people and force health-insurance companies to compete for our business - driving quality up as quickly as it would drive prices down.

What would this mean for a single mother trying to make ends meet? Instead of being a faceless number in a government plan as Democrats are proposing, wrestling with endless wait lists and shortages, and instead of being told by a Department of Motor Vehicles-style bureaucrat that her daughter can’t have the medicine she needs because the government doesn’t think it’s “cost-effective,” she would have the guarantee of affordable, personalized and reliable private care. She can have the freedom to choose - her doctor, her plan, her priorities for her and her family.

In other words, while both liberals and conservatives may promise universal “coverage,” only conservatives will provide universal “care.” What good is insurance if all it buys you is a spot on a waiting list?

Conservatives must illustrate how their ideas work, not just how much they cost, and they must stop shying away from talk of markets and enterprise and instead explain freedom’s extraordinary power to foster hope and opportunity. If we do this - and if we appeal to the innate human desire to live in freedom - we cannot only win this policy fight, but the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of our countrymen.

• John Shadegg is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, representing Phoenix. He sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is a former chairman of a conservative House caucus known as the Republican Study Committee.

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