The Conservative Movement at the Crossroads
a half century, the conservative movement has been a dynamic,
defining force in American politics and government. But now at
the very moment that members of the movement are in control of
the White House, the House and Senate, and many governorships
and state legislatures, the conservative movement finds itself
at a crossroads.
elected officials increasingly find themselves caught between
two impulses: the revolutionary ideas that brought them into power
and the need to explain and defend the institutions they inherited.
And the longer these good men and women stay in office, the more
likely they will be to defend the very bureaucracies and policies
against which they once campaigned. The goal to transform government
will be gradually overwhelmed by contentment with merely presiding
So in 2005,
in the wake of another in a string of electoral victories, the
conservative movement faces a choice:
a grassroots movement dedicated to the transformation of government
into an institution capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st
century within the values of smaller government, lower taxes,
stronger national security, greater individual freedom and strengthening
American civilization as a unique “Creator endowed”
system of human liberty?
Or, is conservatism
a national and state capital-focused system of defending whatever
compromise with the old order of liberal, big government is required
in order to keep people we support in office?
OFFICE OR TAKE POWER?
THE FOUR PRINCIPLES OF TRANSFORMATION
movement must reaffirm its commitment to transforming government
and insist that elected conservatives be held to a very high standard
of bold, dramatic change.
It is a defeat
for conservatives to hold the House, Senate, White House, and
most of the governorships and then accept as our standard only
modest marginal improvement of the liberal bureaucracies and liberal
laws we campaigned to transform. The values and goals of the conservative
movement require that we be on permanent offense with a continuous
sense of dissatisfaction about the current government.
It is possible
to create bold, dramatic transformation with four principles:
1. Transformative movements start first in the country and
then gradually impose their values and their expectations on
are conspiracies of timidity and caution, bastions of the status
quo and the old order that breed cynicism and complacency. Capitals
confuse pork barrel projects with progress and meeting the daily
demands of governance with meeting the historic demands of governing.
Capitals applaud presiding in an orderly manner and are shocked
by determined efforts to force transformation. This makes it
almost impossible to create momentum for bold, decisive change
from inside the capitol.
requires following Prime Minister Thatcher’s rule that
“first you win the argument; then you win the vote.”
Reagan proposed welfare reform at the National Governor’s
Conference in 1970 and no one supported him. By 1996 the New
York Times reported that 92% of the country favored welfare
reform, including 88% of the people on welfare. It was virtually
impossible for the Congress to avoid passing it or President
Clinton to avoid signing it.
the argument we have to first pick the right arguments. I wrote
the Future as a handbook for 21st century conservatives,
to help them win arguments. That is why I began the book with
a set of 10
questions that Americans overwhelmingly agree with but the
left generally opposes. The elite media and the interest group
defenders of the status quo will consistently try to get us
into arguments we can’t win or arguments that will not
resonate with the American people. We must avoid these traps
requires that you develop a pattern of clarity, simplicity,
Reagan understood that if you did not explain new ideas in clear
understandable language you could not inspire and educate the
American people. That is why he called for “bold clear
colors and no pastels” in his description of the need
to offers the American people real choices. Since defending
the past is much easier than explaining the future, the burden
is on the conservative movement to be much clearer and much
more compelling than the left.
requires courage and commitment.
Reagan spent 16 years advocating conservatism from his first national
speech in 1964 to winning the Presidency in 1980. For most of
that period he was ridiculed by the elite media and his views
were distorted and derided by his opponents.
us who believed there could be a House Republican majority were
attacked from within our own party from 1978 to 1994. Many in
the media scoffed at the idea of a Contract with America and dismissed
the possibility that we could win (even the weekend before the
1994 election) while also deriding any thought that we would actually
achieve our legislative goals. We developed the term ‘cheerful
persistence” to remind ourselves of the only attitude that
would let us continue to work for our goals despite the opposition
from within the GOP and from our natural opponents in the Democratic
Party, the liberal interest groups and the elite media.
21st century conservative movement is going to need the Reagan
level of courage and the Contract level of cheerful persistence
for it to succeed.
PROPOSE A 21ST CENTURY CONTRACT
must be the cornerstone of 21st century conservative activism,
both for the life of the movement and for the good of the country.
The challenges facing America in the next generation cannot possible
be met by timid reforms of archaic government institutions and
marginal modifications of obsolete policies. Transformation is
imperative for America’s survival.
One way to
develop this transformation is to develop a new 21st Century Contract
with America which gives every American a yardstick against which
to measure government. By creating a resonance with the American
people, we can begin to develop the arguments that over time will
reorient the political process toward transformation.
items would meet the values of the conservative movement, the
interests of the American people and the requirements of keeping
America successful in the 21st Century.
This is a
rough draft, a general direction which will evolve over time.
Each of these items is laid out in more detail in a white-paper
available on newt.org called The Conservative Movement at the
Crossroads which made its debut during my trip to New Hampshire
earlier this week. The paper also expands on the topics covered
above. The intellectual basis for these items can be found in
the Future. The section heading links will take you to
the more detailed section in the newt.org white-paper.
21ST CENTURY CONTRACT WITH AMERICA
1. With the danger of nuclear and biological weapon proliferation,
the United States must control its borders. This requires far
more resources than we are currently investing along with a strong,
open green card program so guest workers willing to obey the law
can enter legally. Simultaneously, tougher laws must be passed
to enable us to deported illegal aliens in 72 hours. The combination
of easy entry for the honest and law abiding with firm penalties
for the dishonest and law-breaking will create a vastly more manageable
2. The United
States must rise to the challenge of what could very well be a
long war (maybe 50 to 70 years) with the Irreconcilable Wing of
Islam. The intelligence community needs to be tripled in size
if we are to have an effective, long-term policy of no sanctuaries
for terrorists. Our national security apparatus has to be expanded
to meet the challenge of providing worldwide leadership in a time
of terrorism. Homeland Security has to meet the real test of intelligent,
determined opponents. In this effort, National Security requirements
should be set by national security needs not by budget strait
3. A virtual
public health system that connects every doctor, nurse, pharmacist,
veterinarian, hospital, long-term care facility and laboratory
could save millions of lives in either a biological or nuclear
attack. We must build this system.
OUR RIGHTS ON OUR CREATOR
In our Declaration of Independence, we declared “we are
endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
In America, our rights come from God and “we the people”
then loan some of those rights to government. This is very different
from the European model of power coming from the state and being
granted to citizens. And without substantial transformation of
the way history and civics are taught in the classrooms, this
uniqueness will be lost.
We must reestablish patriotic immigration. Applicants
for citizenship should be tested about American history and the
tests should be in English. There is an enormous advantage to
America remaining an English first society which respects the
languages of other countries and encourages the learning of foreign
languages but expects American civic culture and American politics
and government to be conducted in English.
COMPETITION, CONTINUED PROSPERITY
For the first time since 1840 the United States is about
to face competitors with markets larger than ours. China and India
are real economic powerhouses and they are going to be very serious
competitors. If America is to remain the most vibrant, creative,
advanced, and most prosperous country in the world, it will require
very profound transformation in our laws, our regulations and
should be reformed to favor saving and investment and to encourage
entrepreneurship and job creation.
2. The regulatory
state has to be completely overhauled.
3. We need
to create a system of Health Courts and other arbitration systems
as a first step to allow conflict resolution to occur quickly
and simply without court actions.
4. We must
take steps to maintain our superiority in Science and Technology
including dramatically changing education to incentivize advanced
math and science excellence and significantly increasing the amount
we invest in basic scientific research.
public management must replace bureaucratic government administration.
6. We must
learn to treat health not as a liability but as an economic opportunity.
THE BUDGET AND TRANSFORMING THE HEALTH SYSTEM
There are persuasive economic arguments for why a balanced
federal budget is preferable to deficit spending, but the most
powerful argument is moral: without a balanced budget, politicians
in Washington have no reason to say no to any special interest
or pork-barrel project with which they are presented.
The key to
balancing the budget for both the federal government and the state
governments is to transform the health system. Health is 26% of
all federal spending and it is going to go up dramatically as
the Baby Boomers age. It is the largest (now 15%) and the most
complex part of American society (about 30 times more complex
than national security).
health will require the largest most complex intellectual effort
in American government in our history. It has to be approached
as something far different than politics as usual. This is such
an important part of our future that we founded the Center
for Health Transformation just to begin working on these solutions.
Every day we fail to give younger Americans the opportunity
to choose a personal social security savings account we cheat
them of a lifetime of compound interest on their own money. The
Ryan-Sununu bill would give every younger American the right to
have a personal Social Security Savings account, allowing them
the opportunity to accumulate three to four times as large a retirement
income as they will get by staying trapped inside a transfer payment
Click here to view the complete white paper
Conservative Movement at the Crossroads
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