I happen to think that in our heart of hearts, America is by and large a conservative nation. Certainly there’s a few pockets where those on the Right are few and far between, but in general the principles of lower taxation and less government interference in our lives score well among most Americans. (We do need to work on the part about the idea that’s seemed to take root that things from the government are “free” and also channel class envy from the idea of revenge to the idea of it being a motivational factor, but I’ll use this post to work from what I think we do have.)
At a recent dinner in South Carolina, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, who is a leader among the conservatives in the House, opined on “The Way Back to a Republican Majority.” You can read the entirety of his remarks at the Human Events website, but this was the portion which appealed to me:
A lot of people want to write the obituary for the Grand Old Party in 2008 but I believe the reports of our demise are “greatly exaggerated”.
I believe that conservatism will continue to define American politics in the new century as much as it did in the last.
But when I look back at Election Day 2006, I am convinced that we are in the most perilous and yet the most promising time in the history of our party.
It is a perilous time because we have wandered into the wilderness.
It is a promising time, because every great political movement in our history has come out of the wilderness.
The late William F. Buckley, Jr. often admonished that “despair is a mortal sin” and I do not invite it, but the facts are not encouraging.
The Republican Party lost control of Congress in 2006. And in the three special elections in Republican districts this year, Democrats have won every time. And every national poll shows our president and our party as historic lows. We are in the wilderness.
But there is a way out. The author Mark Helprin wrote, “the way out of the wilderness is the truth; recognizing it, stating it, defending it, living by it”. Here’s the truth as I see it.
I believe the Republicans in Washington did not just lose our Majority; I believe we lost our way.
After 1994, we were a Majority committed to a balanced federal budget, entitlement reform and advancing the principles of a limited federal government.
In recent years, our Majority voted to expand the federal government’s role in education by nearly 100 percent, created the largest new entitlement in forty years, and pursued spending policies that created record deficits and national debt.
This was not in the Contract with America.
Now, our opponents will say that the American people rejected our Republican vision.
But I say the American people did not quit on the Contract with America — we did.
We walked away from the limited government principles that minted the Republican Congress. And the American people walked away from us.
To start our way back, to find our way out of this wilderness, we have to admit that Republicans are in trouble for a reason.
And it has nothing to do with Democrat spin or their vague campaign generalities about hope and change and liberal utopia. It’s about Republicans forgetting what they believe and why they believe it. It’s about Republicans acting like Democrats.
Another of the many reasons I could never be a legislator is that I have little concept of compromise. For me, there’s not a whole lot of gray – things are either black or white. It may turn off a few readers who think I’m quite brash, but based on my understanding of history and the principles in the Constitution that created our nation and should still serve as our guide to government, I believe in every idea I espouse and every word I write. My job at monoblogue is to advocate for the point of view that government is best when it is closest to the people and that to maximize freedom the federal government needs to be limited in scope, with state governments slightly less limited, and local government having fewer limitations still. But the largest amount of freedom should belong to the citizens of our great nation.
What Rep. Pence properly points out is that the Contract With America was a small step in that direction. In the early halcyon days after the 1994 election, there was talk about eliminating whole departments and balancing the budget while simultaneously lowering taxes. Unfortunately, President Clinton would have little of that and much of what balanced the budget in the late 1990’s were cuts to military spending (although the welfare reform package that Clinton reluctantly signed and later vowed to “fix” helped as well.) Unfortunately, this revolutionary idea came about 10-12 years too late – imagine if Reagan were President with a Congress elected on a platform such as the Contract With America!
The sad reality, though, is that we’re probably going to spend another four years going backwards away from that concept unless by some miracle the Democrat party absolutely self-destructs between now and November and John McCain comes into office faced with a Congress that’s just left of militia, to a point where the only accomplishments he’ll be able to achieve are finishing our victories on the Iraq and Afghanistan fronts of the Long War and completely eliminating earmarks.
On some other websites, I’ve seen the criticism of Andy Harris based on the fact he’ll be a radically conservative lone wolf in a Congress that’s going to be a Democrat majority for at least the next two years and perhaps longer. (Here’s one example, this author is a devoted Kratovil supporter. It takes longer to convince some people than others.) Again, it comes down to principle: I’d rather have a Congressman that stands up for the idea of limiting government and lowering its burden on the rest of us – even if he’s not generally going to get the majority to go his way – than a Congressman who brings us back a little pork from being in what could be a very temporary majority but also votes for a number of new job- and freedom-killing entitlement programs.
One could compare the first Andy Harris term in Congress to Ronald Reagan’s quest for the GOP nomination in 1976. Reagan didn’t have great odds of winning against the Republican establishment in place at the time, but he had the support of much of the grassroots. It paid off four years later and established a movement that carried Republicans to elective office for a generation.
While the conventional wisdom is that the Democrats will retain their majority in both houses of Congress and perhaps expand it to levels not seen since the era of Tip O’Neill, I don’t believe that we’re in for another long stretch of Democrat domination such as the 40 years the GOP spent in the Congressional wilderness, UNLESS we try to be the not-quite-as-liberal party.
To prove the point that Rep. Pence makes, let me close by returning to our local Congressional race. Frank Kratovil is certainly not running his race on the issues that Donna Edwards, another Maryland Democrat who is running for an open seat, is using. Kratovil is attempting to run only somewhat to the left of Andy Harris and adopt the moderate mantle of current Congressman Wayne Gilchrest. In other words, he’s trying to be more conservative than his party at large because he knows that’s the makeup of this district.
Pence’s message that conservative principles work is one that needs to be heeded by the Republican Party as it heads past the 2008 national elections and begins to lay the groundwork for off-year contests in states like Maryland. We’ve seen the disaster that Democrats run amok creates in our part of the state, so we need to secure our area as a base of operations for future expansion by voting in true limited-government conservatives when we get the opportunity.
Crossposted on Red Maryland.