How the tea party undermines conservatism

Economic mobility has stalled for many poorer Americans, resulting in persistent, intergenerational inequality. This problem is more complex than an income gap. It involves wide disparities in parental time and investment, in community involvement and in academic accomplishment. These are traceable to a number of factors that defy easy ideological categorization, including the collapse of working-class families and the flight of decent blue-collar jobs.

Where are the creative conservative policy ideas to strengthen civil society and private enterprise in places where the playing field of equal opportunity is scandalously tilted? Such a project is not unprecedented. In the 1990s, a cadre of conservative reformers achieved success against three seemingly intractable problems: welfare dependency, drug use and violent crime.

This history highlights the current conservative divide. Many in the tea party and libertarian wings, if left to their own devices, would say almost nothing about these matters. Yet a number of Republican governors and members of Congress — see recent efforts by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) — promise a more constructive spirit of governance.