I can’t say enough good things about this speech on family-friendly tax reform by Utah Senator Mike Lee. It is a beautifully written argument for a Republican tax agenda that prioritizes the interests of middle-class and struggling working parents. Lee’s speech also contains some powerful but very civil criticisms of the ideas underlying Romney’s 47% comment and Rand Paul’s flat tax proposal. Lee’s identity as an insurgent, constitutionalist, Tea Partier allows him to position middle-class-oriented populism as authentically conservative. This is a huge step toward making the GOP a more middle-class-friendly party.
Lee also has also borrowed the right elements from the libertarian populists. The libertarian populists are all about cutting spending and tax deductions that favor connected special interests. Lee gets at what is best in libertarian populist rhetoric when he says:
It is government policies, after all, that trap poor children in rotten schools; poor families in broken neighborhoods; that penalize single parents for getting raises, or getting married.
It is government policies that inflate costs and limit access to quality schools and health care; that hamstring badly needed innovation in higher education; and penalize parents’ investment in their children.
Much more on that in a moment.
And of course it is government policy that gives preferential treatment and subsidies to well-connected corporations and special interests at the expense of everyone else.
What Lee gets is that it is not enough to cut subsidies and deductions for the connected. Most people won’t see it as “populist” to eliminate subsidies for green energy just to cut taxes on high-earners. At best, it just looks like money being shifted around among different groups of elites. The rhetoric of libertarian populism is most effective when connected with policies that will directly benefit people around the median income and Lee just hit that sweet spot.