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Eli Lehrer is president and co-founder of the R Street Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
In many ways, 2022 might seem like it was a pretty bad year for Americans on the political right. After all, the year saw record budget deficits, spending bills loaded with corporate welfare, a legally dubious student loan scheme and disappointing election results for the Republican Party.
Despite all this, the year actually had a variety of genuine triumphs that people who believe in limited government ought to celebrate. The Republican Party learned important lessons in the elections (if it listens), life opened up, markets showed their promise in solving major problems, while federal institutions delivered a few important limited government victories.
Let’s start with elections. Fringe candidates lost while competent, limited-government advocates won. Take Georgia: Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has a long list of conservative accomplishments in areas ranging from electoral reform to a bureaucracy-light effort to help the state’s poorest residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. He handily beat Democrat Stacey Abrams despite her smarts, celebrity and fundraising acumen. In the same state, Republican Herschel Walker — who indulged in election conspiracy theories and drew little interest — lost a winnable Senate race.
The culture-warrior Republicans who won races handily did so because they hadn’t forgotten to govern. Florida’s Ron DeSantis, for example, pursued thoughtful policies on issues ranging from financial literacy education to environmental protection. Voters remembered him for this. Meanwhile, mainstream conservative Joe Lombardo unseated an incumbent Democratic governor in blue-leaning Nevada. Even the one Democratic governor who walked to an easy victory in a purple state — Colorado’s Jared Polis — governs with more than a dash of libertarianism. He supports free trade, stands for civil liberties and wants to eliminate state income taxes.
The recognition that COVID-19 is endemic, rather than a pandemic, also presented a step forward for personal freedom. Since March 2020, the country has spent too much and forced counterproductive “public health” measures ranging from plexiglass shields to mask mandates in uncrowded outdoor areas on many Americans. Even though efforts like vaccination campaigns and short-term lockdowns did good, recognition that “the pandemic is over” weakens the case for restrictive rules.
The year also presented some tantalizing evidence that markets will address major problems without government intervention. Massive new market-driven investments in clean energy — most of which would happen without the billions in subsidies Congress approved — are just one piece of evidence that the market will play a major role in dealing with the serious problem of climate change. Innovative private sector firms are doing everything from writing property insurance to storing nuclear waste. Even the (sometimes rightly) derided movement for improved Environmental-Social-Governance behavior by big companies has produced some promising results in encouraging companies to take their environmental effects into account without government coercion.
This doesn’t even begin to list the other limited-government triumphs that right-of-center Americans can appreciate. The year saw the Supreme Court rule to stop unelected bureaucrats from writing major new laws in West Virginia v. EPA and forbid (in one case unanimously) discrimination against religious organizations. While some new legislation passed that will continue to expand the government’s role, the last major new law to pass during 117th Congress — the Respect for Marriage Act — can rightly be counted as a triumph for personal liberty.
Overall, 2022 should go down as a pretty good year for those on the political right.