- - Thursday, February 4, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Talk about divisive politics. The primary campaigns have been full of it.

It’s an odd experience, watching politicians who are usually on the same side argue that their erstwhile allies are firmly in the other camp — or at least not really “one of us.” Yet for weeks, we’ve seen those seeking the Democratic presidential nod arguing over who’s really progressive and who’s not socialist. Meanwhile, those vying for the Republican nomination keep wrangling over who’s the “true” conservative.

I’m not going to wade into those political waters. For starters, there’s no such thing as a conservative ID card. And as president of a conservative think tank, I’m not in the business of making endorsements. But I do work with thousands of men and women across the nation — and a small battalion of policy experts at the Heritage Foundation — who are dedicated to advancing freedom and improving our country through conservative ideas. And I can tell you what the term “conservatism” means to us.

It means building a country where there’s opportunity for all, and favoritism for none. A nation free of roadblocks to prosperity set up by politicians. A nation where all are equal in the eyes of the law, and all may freely choose their own futures.

There are lots of conditions necessary to achieve this. If you want prosperous citizens, don’t overtax them — and don’t burden them with artificially high consumer costs arising from excessive regulation. If you want more people to have good-paying, full-time jobs, then don’t burden employers with mandates that price full-time employment beyond their reach. If you want to treat everyone fairly, don’t tailor laws to help certain industries or hurt others.

You might notice a common theme between these points: they all involve reducing the power of government to dictate the terms of everyday life and giving citizens more power and responsibility for running their own lives. In essence, conservatives want everyone to have more control over his or her own destiny, to give all Americans more control over virtually every aspect of their lives: their finances, their healthcare, their children’s education, their ability to get a job, and much, much more.

The more these choices are made for us — by politicians or a bad economy (the latter often created by politicians’ poor policy choices) — the less free we become. It can start a vicious circle: the less we are able to rely on ourselves, our friends, families and communities, the more dependent we become on getting “help” from Washington.

But Washington’s elite — the lawmakers and the Wise Men and Wise Women who flock to this mecca of power and wealth — are typically far removed from most Americans and the challenges they face. And that makes Washington the place least well-equipped to tailor solutions for them. So the government routinely wastes trillions of dollars, plays favorites, and subsidizes social problems instead of actually solving them.

That’s why conservatives want to pare back the federal government. And yes, that means letting people keep more of their own money, decide where and how their children should be taught, get affordable insurance that makes sense for them, make healthcare decisions with the doctors they trust, and preserve the social institutions that matter to them.

Fortunately, we have an excellent set of guidelines for getting there. It’s called the Constitution of the United States. Conservatives don’t revere the “Supreme Law of the Land” around just because we love tradition. We revere the Constitution because we recognize it as a comprehensive blueprint for a freer society. The Founding Fathers left a lot of power in local hands for a reason: They knew just how bad things could get when a distant, out-of-touch government called the shots.

Throughout this election cycle, you’ll hear many politicians hoping to become the conservative standard-bearer talk about our founding documents and their desire to cut taxes or shrink the government. I’ll leave to your judgment which ones mean it. But bear in mind, truly conservative policies will always work toward a single, common goal: to give all Americans the same opportunities to succeed, craft their own solutions, and create a better life for their families and communities.

Jim DeMint, a former U.S. senator from South Carolina, is president of The Heritage Foundation, which has released “Solutions 2016,” 275 conservative policy recommendations for political candidates.

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