Republicans have done almost nothing to grapple with and address these deeper structural problems. Tackling them means shifting America’s economic model — tilting the playing field away from consumption toward production; away from entitlement spending and more toward investment in infrastructure, skills and technology; mitigating those forces that concentrate wealth and nurturing instead a broad-based opportunity society.
These shifts cannot be done by government alone, but they can’t be done without leadership from government. Just as the Washington and Lincoln administrations actively nurtured an industrial economy, so some future American administration will have to nurture a globalized producer society. Just as F.D.R. created a welfare model for the 20th century, some future administration will have to actively champion a sustainable welfare model for this one.
Finally, there is the problem of the social fabric. Segmented societies do not thrive, nor do ones, like ours, with diminishing social trust. Nanny-state government may have helped undermine personal responsibility and the social fabric, but that doesn’t mean the older habits and arrangements will magically regrow simply by reducing government’s role. For example, there has been a tragic rise in single parenthood, across all ethnic groups, but family structures won’t spontaneously regenerate without some serious activism, from both religious and community groups and government agencies.