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Policy: Entitlements

The middle class or the middle men?

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Photo - Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, contends "big government is not the solution to unfairness in our economy, it is the cause." (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, contends "big government is not the solution to unfairness in our economy, it is the cause." (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)
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Today, President Obama will - for the eighth time in five years - officially "pivot" his attention back to the economy.

Unfortunately, word is that the president's remarks will not include any new policy initiatives, but merely repackage ones he has proposed before.

In other words, five years into office, four years since the recessions supposedly ended, and three years since his administration declared "Mission: Accomplished" on the economy (remember "Recovery Summer"?), the president's response is not just to give a speech.

It's to give the exact same speech.

Washington has therefore greeted the news of the president's latest "pivot" with a bit of a shrug. The speech will be more of the same we've heard for five long years - tax increases on the wealthy, more spending on green energy and other fashionable special interests, and Obamacare.

All of the above will be presented as an agenda to support and grow the middle class, which of course Republicans will oppose because they are - the president will insist - the Party of the Rich.

It's a shame the speech is going to be so widely ignored. Because the argument the president is going to make - that bigger government is the only thing that can protect the middle class from our unfair economy - is precisely the argument Republicans are going to have to refute if we ever hope to rebuild a national majority.

The good news is that the president's case is utter nonsense.

Big government is not the solution to unfairness in our economy - it's the cause.

There are three great crises in our economy today, each a crisis of fairness and equality - each caused in large part by the very policies President Obama supports.

First, there is the crisis of upward mobility. In America today, people born in poverty are often trapped there. It's not the free market that forces poor kids into underperforming schools, punishes single parents for getting married, and penalizes people for hard work - it's big government.

Second, there is the crisis of cronyism. If the economy seems rigged these days, that's because it is. Big government, big business, and big special interests manipulate the rules to profit at everyone else's expense.

Companies succeed not by serving customers, but politicians and bureaucrats. In Barack Obama's economy, Wall Street gets a bailout, Solyndra-gets a hand out, liberal interests get a carve-out, and everyone else gets left out.

And finally, there is the crisis of the middle class: stagnant wages, inequality, insecurity, and the exploding costs of housing, health care, and education. Contrary to the president's rhetoric, all of the above are directly tied to federal policy.

Wages rise when small businesses grow. But small businesses can't grow when crony capitalism protects large corporations from smaller competitors. And it's not a coincidence that the industries that have seen the worst inflation - housing, health care, and education - are the very industries controlled by government!

It is liberal big government - Barack Obama's government - that today ensnares the poor, privileges the rich, and squeezes the middle class.

It is time for us as Republicans to finally make a pivot of our own. It's time to become once again the Party of Lincoln and Reagan, the party of opportunity, and of ideas.

Rather than just opposing the Democrats' policies, we need to start proposing our own.

We know how to restore upward mobility at the bottom of our economy: reforming welfare policies to stop punishing hard work, marriage, and responsibility; and finally freeing poor kids from failing schools.

We know how to revive dynamism and service at the top of our economy: ending corporate welfare and special interest privilege; regulatory reform to level the playing field between big and small businesses, and putting consumers back in charge of our economy.

And we know how to revive the middle class: tax reform to end discrimination against parents; higher education reform to increase access, lower prices, and improve quality; and infrastructure reform to make sure our highway dollars are going to asphalt and not bureaucrats or special interests.

The president mocks conservative reforms as "you're on your own economics." As if violent progressive basket cases like Greece, Illinois, and Detroit were models of social solidarity!

Freedom, as Americans actually live it, doesn't mean "you're on your own." It means "we're all in this together."

The glory of individual freedom is the heroic communities free individuals form: in a free market economy that allows everyone to earn a good living, and in a voluntary civil society that allows everyone to make a good life.

Let the Democrats be the party of community organizers; we will be the party of actual communities. Let them be the party of Wall Street, K Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue; we will be the party of Main Street. Let them represent the middlemen; we will represent the middle class.

To take on big government, we must first take on big business, big non-profits, and big institutions everywhere. The Democrats are the true party of Big.

A new, pivoted and principled Republican Party can succeed where President Obama has failed. And a new conservative agenda can help the poor climb out of poverty, end special-interest privilege, and restore security and opportunity to the middle class.

As a party and as a nation, we can do better. And it's time we started.

Sen. Mike Lee is a Utah Republican.

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