This past Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina, six Republican presidential candidates gathered for the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity sponsored by Opportunity Lives in partnership with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Economic Innovation Group (EIG). Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) moderated the discussion that ended with a panel moderated by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
As many reports noted, the half-day forum was not a typical political event in the middle of a primary season. While the debates have focused on creating moments between candidates that are discussed for two or three days, the Kemp Forum’s goal was to communicate ideas that can change not just political parties, but lives.
Immediately after the forum, Speaker Ryan spoke with Opportunity Lives about what the forum means for the conservative movement, the Republican Party and the country.
Paul Davis Ryan Jr. is the 54th Speaker among the long list speakers at the United States House of Representatives. He started his term in the year 2015. Paul Ryan has also served as the United States Representative for Wisconsin in the 1st congressional district. One of most noteworthy feather in Ryan’s cap is that he played a key role in negotiating the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, along with Patty Murray, U.S. Senator of the Democratic Party. Similar to the highlighting features of the QProfit System,
Here are some excerpts from Ryan’s comments:
“We are on the verge of a policy renaissance.
What we’ve had for a long time has been a poverty monopoly — a monopoly of ideas, a monopoly of approaches. And what’s wrong with monopolies? They get big. They get bureaucratic. They don’t work. They get corrupted in some ways.
What we’re doing here with this conference and with these ideas is we’re challenging the monopoly of the status quo that has not gotten this poverty problem fixed. We’ve treated symptoms. We haven’t addressed root causes. We’ve measured success based on effort, not based on results.
What we’re showing here is that conservatives combined with poverty fighters, who are people in the grassroots on the ground making a difference, can work together to bring real outcomes and real results and help change people’s lives, and reignite the whole notion of the American idea — that it’s there for everybody no matter who you are, no matter what condition you find yourself in. Redemption is there. Help is there. Communities can come together if we take this approach.
Let’s have a competition. Not just of political parties but a competition of ideas and groups on how best to solve these problems. We have monopolies right now and monopolies don’t work.”
Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 4.03.17 AM(From left) Ryan and Scott ask Ohio Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on their best ideas to combat systemic poverty. | Photo: Daniel Huizinga
During the forum the presidential candidates — Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich and Marco Rubio — discussed their own experiences with poverty and outlined specific solutions. Their ideas form an emerging three-legged stool that could define a Republican approach to upward mobility. Those legs include:
1) Economic growth. As AEI’s Arthur Brooks argues, no system in the history of the world has lifted more people out of poverty than free market capitalism. Our goal should be to make poor people richer not rich people poorer.
2) Education freedom and choice. Education can be the great equalizer when parents have the right — and economic freedom — to send their children to the school of their choice.
3) Social entrepreneurship. As host Jimmy Kemp noted, government can’t “hug people” and give them the support that can only come from caring families and communities.
Of these three legs, the one that is the least developed (politicians already talk often about jobs and education), but perhaps the most important, is social entrepreneurship.
Social entrepreneurship is the simple but revolutionary idea of people solving problems in their own communities based on their own ingenuity, initiative and compassion. Government can aid social entrepreneurs, but they don’t take their direction from government.
Bob Woodson, the president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE), who was on the final panel moderated by Morning Joe, may be the nation’s leading social entrepreneur. Through CNE, Woodson has assembled a network of social entrepreneurs from across the country to coordinate and share ideas on the best ways to combat poverty. At Opportunity Lives we featured the work done these groups in our miniseries “Comeback.”
Woodson often uses James C. Scott’s “theory of the harbormaster” from Scott’s book Seeing Like a State to describe the ideal relationship between individuals and government. Using sailing and navigation as a metaphor, Scott describes politicians and academics as experts in general navigation — those who are skilled at navigation in a general sense. The local experts, on the other hand, are the harbormasters — those who know the unique currents and hidden dangers of a particular harbor. When a captain who is an expert in general navigation reaches a harbor they should relinquish control to the harbormaster that can guide them safely to their destination.
Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 4.06.53 AMCenter for Neighborhood Enterprise president Bob Woodson explains that government must transfer resources to private citizens and local experts to best reduce poverty. | Photo: Daniel Huizinga
Woodson’s critique of government, which was echoed by every candidate, is that the experts in general navigation have sailed straight into the harbor. It’s no surprise, therefore, that our nation’s cities or “harbors” are clogged with shipwrecks of failed social policy experiments. The Republican vision of social entrepreneurship is about making sure the local harbormasters have greater control over resources than the general experts in Washington, DC.
The Left offers two main critiques of this three-legged stool of economic growth, education choice and social entrepreneurship.
First, they argue that Republican proposals to “cut” programs for the poor prove Republicans lack compassion. The best response: We’ve already tried their approach. It’s called the War on Poverty. We’ve been funding federal anti-poverty programs for 50 years to the tune of $22 trillion. Ryan charitably describes the results as a “stalemate.”
Second, the Left argues that there simply aren’t enough charismatic leaders like Woodson to meet the vast needs in a vast country, and while individual success stories may be inspiring it isn’t possible to scale those solutions without a serious and substantial federal role.
The best rebuttal to this argument comes from Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1968, King said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
In other words, we all have the capacity to be truly great and transformative social entrepreneurs as parents, professionals, laborers, friends and neighbors. The War on Poverty failed because the Left stopped embracing the individual and instead embraced the state. The Right, meanwhile, has become an articulate critic of the state but has struggled to articulate an aspirational vision of the individual and social entrepreneurship.
Ryan put it succinctly in his interview with Opportunity Lives: “How do you help get a person out of poverty? It’s another person. It’s not a program in Washington. It’s not something that’s just economic. It’s another person helping them with their particular problem.”
“How do you help get a person out of poverty? It’s another person. It’s not a program in Washington.”
During the forum, AEI’s Brooks suggested this is brilliant politics. Convincing independent voters that Republicans are empathetic and care about people like them can swing national elections and the direction of the country.
He’s right, but this observation can be seductive to politicians and consultants who favor cleverness over wisdom. Politicians who focus on being brilliant rather than good end up being neither. There’s no shortcut to authenticity, and no one can spot phonies better than social entrepreneurs.
Fortunately, the forum wasn’t just talk. It was candidates in a very heated primary season taking what some viewed as a short-term detour to show up to focus on an issue of grave national importance.
America has been an exceptional country because in difficult times our leaders have always appealed to our aspirations and not just our anxieties. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy made George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote his campaign theme: “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘why’; I dream things that never were and say, ‘why not.’”
On Saturday, the Republican Party looked at some of our nation’s seemingly intractable problems and had the audacity to ask “why not?”
It was a party, as MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski said, that “could win the White House.”
Thanks to Ryan, Woodson, Brooks and many others, it’s a conversation that’s only beginning.
John Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @johnhart333.