The tax bill currently being worked through Congress’s reconciliation process contained a couple new taxes on and the withdrawal of a couple exemptions or subsidies for various educational institutions, mostly colleges. As far as I know, no Republican legislator or conservative media outlet defended these changes along the following lines:
“A number of recent studies suggest that college education may be overvalued in our society, and that many would be better off pursuing other fields of interest and career paths. We’ve decided to take some steps to scale back artificial subsidies which make it too easy for people to fall into what’s really an unsuitable life for them.
“Additionally, it seems probable that ‘getting a degree’ really proves a reinforcement of class distinctions, and that the college-bound lifestyle is primarily a status indicator. We think it’s reasonable to ask institutions of higher education, especially the richest ones primarily associated with this class and lifestyle, to give something back towards the rest of society.”
This statement I created purely as a hypothetical example. I have no idea whether it would accurately apply to the effects of this particular tax bill. However, the ideas referenced about the place of higher education in our society appear to be actual effects which have received fairly mainstream – if limited – attention. Even if their effects in this case were completely fabricated, or required some creative accounting to make plausible, rhetorically this message would provide a serious problem for any answering liberal. Either the factual claim has to be shown incorrect (and government math is notoriously fuzzy), or he has to riposte on unfamiliar territory (perhaps limited government, but polls seem to indicate that the GOP’s supporters – to be polite – think higher education is insufficiently responsive to the actual public good), or concede the point.
It is a tremendous problem in terms of public image that conservatives rarely talk openly in terms of fairness and propriety. I suspect at times – especially with regard to the Republican party as such – that this reflects negatively on actual factional priorities. We are very strong on rights and laws, and rightly so, but these are means to an end. Conservatives are often afraid of “sounding liberal”: but the problems with liberal ideas of “social justice” are merely that their particular goals are not actually just and the society resulting if their ideas were implemented fully would be untenable and inhuman. That “merely” is fully meant: in that they are openly concerned with the good of the civilization, liberals are correct, and being wrong is, in this world – human. Neither society nor justice are things that can or should simply be abandoned – as they often are in conservative rhetoric – because somebody else has bad ideas about them.