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Anyone who’s encountered (or recalls being) a teenager is familiar with the “Why can’t you just treat me like an adult!?” refrain. It’s powerful because adulthood is associated with liberty and a greater deal of control over one’s life, things just about everyone wants. The catch, of course, is that adulthood also entails greater responsibilities. Most people, however, decide — more or less … eventually … in most things — that they prefer the opportunities of maturity to the coddled safety of childhood.
The values the Right champions — work, family, initiative, ownership, decision-making, responsibility, etc. — share a central theme: they are the qualities of adulthood. We think citizens can manage their own affairs. We think they can deal with hard truths. We think they’re up to the task. Why? Because we assume they’re adults.
In word and deed, in speech and policy, all Republicans should take pains to communicate that we start from the assumption that citizens over the age of 18 are grownups. Sure, we disagree among ourselves over precisely what constitutes an adult life well-lived, and we happily concede that even grownups sometimes need help, but that’s where we start all our discussions. If we realize a system isn’t working properly, our first instinct is to ask whether there are too many controls mucking it up and adjust accordingly.
In contrast, Democrats begin with the assumption that, like children, we generally need to be taken care of and can’t be trusted to make our own decisions. Liberty is provisionally allowed in certain areas, but can be rescinded at a moment’s notice. If something isn’t working, it’s because there must be too few controls, which means we should add new rules on top of the existing ones to better control behavior.
For an illustration, consider how the requirements that we put on insurance drive up the price of healthcare by prohibiting citizens from weighing risks and costs by any standard other than the government’s. Consider further all the ways that Progressives restrict what kind of compensation arrangements citizens are allowed to enter into, as if they have a better grasp on what’s good for us than we do.
There are, sadly, many people who scoff at the idea of taking responsibility for their own lot, and our chances of ever reaching such people in the context of a political campaign are essentially zilch. There are millions more, however, who would respond positively to the prospect of being treated like a citizen to be respected, rather than a child to be condescended to.