In politics today, we tend to define the right and the left over fiscal or social issues. Where one stands on abortion and gay marriage on the one hand and tax and spending policy on the other typecasts a public official as a creature of the left or of the right.
It is time for the right to redefine itself.
Under the influence of President Obama, the social left has grown and the social right has decreased. A majority now favor gay marriage and a plurality call themselves pro-choice. Similarly, Obama has succeeded in changing the fiscal debate, from the original mode of tax cuts versus more spending and higher taxes (in which Reagan cast it) to one that pits those who want reduced taxes for the wealthy and a cut in entitlements against those who want to keep their taxes down but don't mind taxing somebody else who is richer (and all the while getting in on the take).
We can't win with that issue polarization. We need to redefine the right on several key issues. Luckily, Obama's missteps on the following issues may have opened the door for us:
China and trade. The administration's refusal to name China as a currency manipulator, as well as its demand for passage of trade agreements that do not circumscribe China in the least, has opened the door to the right. We must not let our commitment to free trade get in the way of a strong attitude toward China; Beijing's currency manipulation is to blame for much of our loss of manufacturing jobs. By keeping the yuan about 30 percent below its reasonable value, China has, in effect, imposed a 30 percent tariff on American imports and given its own exports a 30 percent incentive. The way is open for the right to occupy this ground. Just as the left has used outsourcing as an issue, the right can cite currency manipulation as a top cause of unemployment.
Fiduciary duty on Wall Street. Obama has coddled Wall Street thanks to his failure to bring any criminal prosecutions in the wake of the 2008 subprime crash and his failure to repeal carried interest tax advantages. Hillary Clinton's reliance on Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street behemoths for speaking fees and campaign contributions effectively bars her from taking on these issues. Republicans should call for the imposition of a fiduciary duty on securities sales and should pledge to proceed with criminal prosecutions against those who defraud their investors.
Income inequality and immigration. Historically, working-class Americans have always seen immigration as a threat to their jobs and wages. Particularly with the vast influx of illegal immigrants, who are willing to work for low wages, the issue is clearly a strong cause of wage and income inequality. The Center for Immigration Studies cites Census data showing that virtually all the jobs created since 2000 have gone to people born abroad whether to naturalized citizens or to legal or illegal immigrants. The center asserts that while the number of native-born Americans holding full-time jobs has only inched up since 2000, the number of those who are foreign-born holding U.S. jobs has almost doubled.
The Republican candidate for the White House in 2016 must redefine conservatism to include aggressive advocacy on these issues. Only by linking conservative positions to economic ones will the right appeal beyond the borders of its ideology and tap into the pain that average Americans feel. Obama has changed the matrix of issues in the United States, and conservatives need to readjust their focus to meet this new challenge.