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Why Conservatives Should Like Unions (If Not Love Them)

David Callahan

Any political movement that is going to succeed in America needs to be able to credibly promise that it can raise living standards for ordinary Americans. For the past forty years, this imperative didn't dog the right as much as it might have because non-material "wedge issues" proved so potent. As long as the culture war was going at full tilt, the right could keep separating working class voters from their more natural allies in the Democratic Party.

Also, parts of the conservative economic message -- especially about lower taxes -- sounded good to many people.

Things are different now. The culture war is winding down and the GOP can't promise any more tax cuts amid record deficits. The best it can do is to try to block tax hikes, which is not the same. 

So it is that Republican leaders like Eric Cantor have begun to focus more on crafting a kitchen table agenda for the GOP. Cantor spelled out the beginnings of such a vision in an AEI speech earlier this month titled "Making Life Work." 

Cantor's speech was rightly dinged by critics who noted the paucity of new ideas. But there is a deeper challenge facing conservatives when it comes to opportunity: They don't know how to deal with the inequality challenge. That's a problem, because until prosperity is more broadly shared in America, it's going to be hard to raise living standards for the bottom sixty percent of the country or so.