There's been a lot of talk about complexity lately — the complexity of ObamaCare, the complexity of economic recovery, the complexity of immigration, the complexity of Syria and the Middle east, and many more. But I want to talk about simplicity today — the simplicity of three words, three simple concepts: Growth, Peace and Virtues.
Everyone, regardless of political ideology or party identification, talks about jobs. I think we should talk about growth instead. When conservatives talk about jobs, they mean private sector jobs — jobs that are created by businesses. When liberals talk about jobs, they often mean government-created jobs. Some of them may be directly in government, but many of them are claimed to be in the private sector but created through government funding or incentive programs of one sort or another.
This jobs versus jobs argument typically ends in a kind of stalemate. Republicans argue that private sector jobs will produce economic value that will be what sustains them over time, while the Government-created jobs favored by Democrats often require the continual infusion of public dollars to keep them going. But they also take longer to be created. So the argument devolves into one pitting slower-developing private sector jobs against more quickly created government-funded jobs. It's a battle we've all heard many times before — and you'll buy one argument or the other based on your political ideology.
But focusing on growth rather than jobs offers a way to break out of that stalemate. What's the difference between talking about jobs and talking about growth, you ask? Aren't they just about the same thing? Here's the difference: Growth creates jobs — every time. Growth creates economic value. But the reverse isn't always true. Jobs don't always create growth. Hiring more IRS agents doesn't create economic value beyond the wages paid. So if conservatives and Republicans would focus on growing our economy, which the other team cannot really do, there would be a point of real distinction. The other team may flood the economy for a while with deficit spending, but when they stop the deficit spending, no more goods and services are produced by the deficit-funded workers. The economy may actually shrink. And in the meantime, of course, the deficit grows. That's a heck of difference: pursuing a policy of growth produces sustainable jobs as an economic consequence, while pursuing jobs alone may not produce enduring economic value. So the next time one of your friends, or even one of your political favorites on the national stage says that what we need is a plan to create more jobs, respond by saying no — what we need more than jobs is growth. The jobs will follow, and will endure.
The second word is strength. It's almost a parallel argument. I was at a dinner party in Washington last night which featured a structured colloquy among the guests. The subject turned to peace. Now nearly everyone is in favor of peace, just like nearly everyone is in favor of jobs. But peace that is achieved through isolationism, progressive accommodation, appeasement or simple weakness is unsustainable. It's temporary and it's inherently fragile. So it really does little good for both conservatives and liberals to go on yammering about peace when they have such different views of how to get there. The path to lasting peace is what Ronald Reagan called peace through strength. The path to peace that the current administration supports can properly be termed just the opposite: peace through weakness.
In Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, Barack Obama and John Kerry draw red lines, and then back away from them by redefining them. Just as throwing chum at a school of sharks doesn't satisfy their hunger but actually makes them more ravenous, so throwing bones of ceding territory, or claiming that minor weapons disassembly is some kind of triumph or withdrawing troops without having achieved a military mission may result in the temporary illusion of peace, peace through weakness is always temporary. Only peace through strength can actually reduce the incidence of conflict.
Finally, our conservative thought leaders should stop trying to persuade nonbelievers to become conservatives or Republicans. They should stop even using those words, and so should I. Ronald Reagan never tried to persuade someone to declare that he or she had become a conservative. He cast his broadest pacifies in the language of American values, not conservative ones, and certainly not Republican ones. That's how he successfully reached beyond his base. We've largely forgotten the rhetorical value of liberty. The central organizing principle of the American Revolution was liberty. We've forgotten how to use the word. We've likewise forgotten how to use the word virtue. Our founders believed in the virtues of hard work, compassion, generosity, honesty, thrift and humility. We should claim those virtues as American virtues, and use the terms frequently in our public discourse. When we claim them as American, we set the stage for bringing people together.
We should speak of growth, peace and American virtues. That will elevate the dialogue. And lord knows, we could use some of that.
Colin Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring, USA