DIONNE: When Republicans were problem solvers
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:20 p.m.
In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder just proposed a large increase in preschool funding — from $109 million this fiscal year to $174 million in 2014 and $239 million in 2015.
Nobody should pretend that the president has found in pre-K education the key that will unlock bipartisanship. Right out of the box, Andrew J. Coulson of the libertarian Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom told
In pushing universal pre-K, Obama made a shrewd choice in both political and policy terms. There are enough studies to show that early childhood education programs make a real difference, which is why Republicans such as Snyder and Bentley embrace them. And Obama is structuring his initiative to work with the states to build on what many of them are already doing, or would like to do.
There is also the tale of Tommy Thompson, who as governor of Wisconsin in the 1990s tried to broaden health insurance coverage with his
Thompson had to eat those words when he sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate last year in the face of tea party opposition. The rebuke of Thompson from Chris Chocola, president of the conservative Club for Growth, was representative.
Thompson survived the primary but was then defeated by Democrat Tammy Baldwin. While liberals cheered Baldwin’s victory, there was something poignant in Thompson’s losing in part because he traded in his problem-solving past for a new anti-government disposition that didn’t really fit him.
You sense that Republicans such as Thompson and Alexander (there are many others) are exasperated with the view that the only point of seeking public office is to shrink government. But it will take considerable courage for such Republicans to move their party back to a time when conservatives and progressives did not have to disagree on everything — when causes such as helping 4-year-olds to learn and thrive could encourage politicians to lay down their arms at least momentarily.
There are other issues that ought to be like this: training and education programs to restore mobility and ease inequalities; immigration reform; and at least parts of Obama’s agenda to curb gun violence. But progress will require conservatives to give up certain recent habits and remember when they, too, believed that government could successfully remedy some of the nation’s ills.
E.J. Dionne Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post.