The politics of immigration in America is deeply dysfunctional, to the great detriment of our political culture. Overcoming that dysfunction would require us to better grasp the actual motivations of immigrants, to see how some of our most intensely held notions about immigration are a function of the politics of civil rights and race, and to understand that the policy nostrums to which many on all sides have been wedded obscure more than they reveal about the challenges and the promise of immigration.
In recent years, liberals have increasingly addressed the costs of higher education by proposing various "free college" plans. Conservatives have tended to focus their critiques of these plans on the costs involved, but they should also take careful note of the kind of federal micromanagement these proposals envision. The 15-year experiment in federal micromanagement of K-12 under No Child Left Behind offers a number of cautionary lessons that should inform conservatives' understanding of the danger.
Free speech is clearly endangered in the academy these days, as demands for "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" have chilled debate. But the focus on free speech misses a more fundamental problem on campus: the insufficient diversity of viewpoints. In fact, the lack of viewpoint diversity may be why threats to free speech have grown so powerful at universities in the first place.
The Constitution rests the power to make laws with Congress, but regulatory agencies routinely claim it for themselves. If Congress is to reassert its authority, it will need to improve its capacity to assess complex regulatory questions and to oversee the work of federal agencies in their particular domains. A new agency modeled after the Congressional Budget Office could help make this possible.
The decentralization of power is crucial to the preservation of freedom in our constitutional system, but it is now increasingly challenged by federal administrative agencies, which are a growing force for the suppression of diversity among individuals, businesses, and state and local governments. Fighting back will require, among other things, a new approach to the role of the courts.
The Social Security program is now an octogenarian, and it has not aged well in every respect. The program's structure and design should be modernized to reflect new economic and social realities. It should be made fairer, so as not to discriminate against working women, the young, and the less educated and lower paid. And it should be integrated with a system of personal retirement accounts to encourage savings.
Judicial confirmation hearings have become a farce, and everybody knows it. But observers usually argue that hearings don't matter because nominees refuse to answer questions about cases and precedents. In reality, however, the problem has more to do with the questions they are asked than their mode of answering. Questions about the Constitution and its meaning could revive the confirmation hearing.
For decades, conservatives argued that the way to respond to "judicial activism" was for judges to exercise restraint. But well-meaning judicial restraint has increasingly led to failures to check the other branches of government. Instead, an appropriately engaged judiciary is crucial to the rule of law and the public's continued faith in the legitimacy of our constitutional system.
Conservatives have long offered not only practical and fiscal but also constitutional critiques of the progressive welfare state. Yet they are loathe to mount these objections forthrightly and declare, say, Social Security unconstitutional. This persistent tension lies partly in a confusion of two elements of modern government: its administrative and ameliorative premises. Distinguishing the two can help highlight the genuine constitutional problems with the modern welfare state.
This fraught election year has highlighted our political divisions yet also revealed an area of profound agreement: On both the left and right, populism is triumphant. Obscured by this populist turn is any sense that representatives and political parties play a crucial role in shaping the public mind, or that democracy depends on political leadership. To recover these forgotten insights, we could hardly do better than looking to America's original and foremost constitutionalist.
Since its founding, the United States has sought to be at once a free society and a good society. This impulse drives our dual commitment to liberty and to shared responsibility. In order to meet our moral obligations to fellow citizens without eroding the precious autonomy and independence of individuals, Americans have evolved a unique culture of community organizations and philanthropy.
It is not quite freedom but the burdens of freedom that are the real center of American life. Freedom is precious not because it liberates us from constraint but because it enlists citizens in worthwhile effort toward life's central purposes. In every arena of life, American institutions work to transmute freedom into responsibility. And that is exactly what a meaningful life requires.