Aspiration nation: Can we hear more about this from the candidates please?

by Ryan Streeter on February 17, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

My Indianapolis Star column today focuses on the three pillars of our “aspirational culture” here in America: our entrepreneurial habits, personal independence, and family resources.

My contention is that the three pillars were each in various states of disrepair before the recession started. After providing some supporting claims, I finish this way:

We have always been an aspiration nation. We still can be. Political leaders should advocate for: more entrepreneurship education in schools; clear regulatory and tax reforms that benefit new, small enterprises; health care and entitlement reforms that scale back our growing welfare state, freeing up more dollars for productive activity; higher education reforms that emphasize quality and tie assistance to performance.

This is only the start. Proposals exist for allowing homeowners and banks to work together to unwind mortgage debt without bailing out either party. Ideas abound, such as tax reform proposals that strengthen married parenting.

Unfortunately, President Obama released a budget this week that largely ignores the foregoing issues while adding $10 trillion in new debt over the next decade to pay for spending he can’t bring himself to control. The GOP candidates play with some good ideas in their tax and entitlement reform plans, but they have yet to they understand our crisis of aspiration and what to do about it.

My hunch is that governors and individual members of Congress will be the best proponents of an “aspiration agenda” in coming years, and their collective efforts will ultimately push us to do the right thing. Here’s to hoping (and aspiring).

It seems that our national political class is largely disconnected from America’s aspiration crisis. It’s pretty much up to governors, and perhaps some members of Congress (i.e., using the Jack Kemp model of influence).

Paul Ryan is about the only guy in Washington who regularly speaks of upward mobility and frames his policy ideas around that concept. For instance, on Kudlow the other night, he said:

We want an upward mobility society. We don’t want a safety net that turns into a hammock that lulls people into dependency in this country. We want people to get up on their feet and grab that higher rung of the economic ladder. We believe in upward mobility. We don’t believe in class division. We believe in growth and prosperity, helping people when they are down on their luck get back on their feet, and pro-growth economic policies that put America in the lead, that make us competitive, that stop tearing people down in this zero-sum thinking. We reject it. 

We could use more of that on the presidential trail. And we could use more specific policy ideas that energize the electorate about how to get more upward mobility in this country.