Renewing Our Call for Reason in Government

It is tough to be a centrist in the current political environment. The only centrist candidate in the recent Santa Barbara mayoral election finished 4th. Senator Feinstein faces a primary challenge because she often favors pragmatism over dogma. As a result, it’s easy to understand why many centrists trade civic engagement for cynicism and discourse for silence. We hope to reverse this dynamic and improve both civic life and the quality of life in our community by renewing our call for “Reason in Government.”

Our call for reason stems from a belief that the rancor and divisiveness so evident in political discourse today results, at least in part, from the outsized and increasingly unchecked voices of the “far left” and the “far right.” We believe that a renewed emphasis on civil discourse, shared principles and goals, and thoughtful consideration of facts and data would enable reasonable people from the “left” and “right” to achieve far more consensus than our current political climate suggests. Sometimes this consensus will favor positions traditionally associated with the “right”; other times those often associated with the “left.” In some instances, neither ideological prism will promote reasoned government as we see it.

So what do we mean when we call for more reasoned government? First, we believe government should be dedicated to increasing the personal and economic liberty of citizens while simultaneously improving its effectiveness and efficiency. This means that government should do a better job of maximizing the freedom of its citizens in all spheres of life. When the government exercises its powers to achieve a desired end, its actions should be more effective and efficient, minimizing the economic and other burdens it imposes on its citizens. Ultimately, we believe the phrase “close enough for government work” should be banished from the popular lexicon.

Second, in modern political parlance, we believe that governments should be “fiscally conservative” and “socially liberal” in outlook and action. We believe that governments should adopt more prudent budgets with less reliance on debt, and limit taxation to support the efficient delivery of core government responsibilities and functions. This is “common sense” rather than “anti-government” fiscal conservatism. We are, however, strongly inclined against government intervention in questions of religion and conscience. The role of government is to protect the freedom of individuals to resolve such questions as dictated by their own conscience. We also believe in a vibrant marketplace of ideas and recognize that personal privacy is a cornerstone of individual freedom. For these reasons, the government faces a very high burden when it seeks to justify intervention in matters of religion, conscience, speech or private conduct that do not harm others. We reject both the “nanny state” and the “culture wars.”

Third, we believe government should act with restraint. This means, among other things, that government should focus on core responsibilities and favor informed decision making and personal responsibility over paternalism. The less a person’s conduct affects others, moreover, the greater a government’s justification for regulating or proscribing that conduct must be. But this does not mean that government should ignore indirect or incidental costs. Indeed, we recognize the government’s important role in correcting market failures. Even when there is a strong case for government action, however, it should regulate in the least intrusive and most narrowly tailored way that will achieve the desired end.

Fourth, we believe that government action should be guided by reason. In our view, reasonable government actions are grounded in realism. Goals must be achievable, historical precedents must be understood and applied, forecasts and assumptions must be conservative. These principles apply equally to establishing environmental policies, setting pension contribution levels, and considering overseas military action. In addition, reason demands that decision makers find facts, develop options, analyze the costs and benefits of those options, and then make a clear assessment as to the best “tradeoffs” as they balance protecting personal and economic freedom with other legitimate government interests. We believe that difficult public policy problems are rarely addressed by only one “solution” that neatly conforms to a particular political philosophy or value. Instead, there are typically ranges of solutions “within reason” – solutions that defensibly balance one value (e.g., economic freedom) against another (e.g., preventing environmental harm). Governing is the process of developing and then adopting such solutions.

Fifth, we do not believe in compromising the prosperity of future generations for the near-term benefit of the current generation. As President Theodore Roosevelt reminded us long ago: “Of all the questions which can come before this nation…, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”

We believe these principles place us firmly in the center of American politics in 2018. But they are radical in today’s political climate, not only because neither party adheres to them, but also because our centrism is rooted in picking the best (i.e., the most reasoned) policy consistent with our principles, regardless of whether it originates from the “left” or “right.” Put more simply, we put principle above party.

And we are radical for one additional reason: We are willing to act on our centrist principles rather than tacitly accept the status quo. So, please join us in the radical center, get engaged, and help us restore reason in government.

The Board of Reason in Government
January 2018