Rich Lowry asks where the next Jack Kemp is — that is, a policy wonk who can reach everyday Americans. Well, I think there are lots and lots of such innovative conservatives and am a little puzzled by the down-in-the dumps attitude.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press) House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker reformed public-employee bargaining, cut taxes and is revamping health care.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has an innovative plan for higher education, which he talked about at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal just eliminated state income tax, making way for a consumption-based tax system.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has an array of plans for “making life work,” ranging from revamping labor laws to K-12 education reform.

I don’t think Lowry approves, but comprehensive immigration reform is a really big idea and multiple Republicans are advancing their proposals.

And every few months Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) seems to come out with another speech on market-based health-care reform or increasing upward mobility.

Ideas, of course, don’t have to come only from members of Congress.  In think tanks there are innovative health-reform proposals and good ideas about breaking up the big banks. GOP governors have buckets of reforms ranging from education to taxes to Medicaid.

Maybe I am missing something, but it seems there are dozens of Jack Kemp-types, many of whom are implementing their plans in states around the country. The entire GOP, in fact, seems to be focused, as Walker said at CPAC, on being “relevant,” that is, bringing conservative ideas to ordinary people’s lives.

Yes, it is problematic when innovators pop up with ideas that old-guard Republicans and their media outlets don’t like ( on marriage, immigration, taxes, civil liberties, etc.). The latter bludgeons them way too often and too quickly, but that goes with the territory. The stable of conservative old bulls and their imitators in the New Media are loathe to offend the true believers who view innovation as an affront. Too often they see themselves as guardians of party orthodoxy instead of incubators for new policies. Most unfortunate is the determination to toss aside an entire idea or undertaking because of suspicions about ulterior motives of the spokesman. Sometimes a good idea, even one surrounded by silly ones or a problematic figure, is worth nurturing.

Ideas are not lacking; what is missing is an environment on the right that enjoys the give-and-take of ideas and the daring to advance them. Must every innovation in the last couple of years be met with cries on the right that it defies some orthodoxy declared in the 1980s?

Now certainly there can be more daring and comprehensive reform platforms. And I would agree that a great deal of rethinking about foreign policy and national security is required, but at least on the domestic front there is an awful lot going on for a party that doesn’t control the White House or the Senate.

Lots of people talk about policy entrepreneurs, but the rubber hits the road when some entrepreneurs advance ideas that challenge the 40-year-old agenda of conservatism. I see little joy in too many conservative outlets in the debate and too much readiness to pounce, excommunicate and renounce. Gee, when the Republican National Committee is more innovative than, and then attacked by, flagship conservative publications and conservative bloggers precisely because it wants to connect policy to people, isn’t the problem something other than lack of policy innovation?

I sure would like to see more on the right with a twinkle in the eye and greater delight in intellectual repartee and a whole lot less ” ‘Shut up,’ they explained” from the conservative hall monitors.



Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.