How and why we are at this moment? How do we make sure that we keep the GOP focused on what needs to be accomplished in Austin (and Washington) regardless of who wins the Speaker’s race? To answer these questions requires some candor.
The seeds of this current battle were sown over two decades ago, when many of us who revered Reagan split into different factions based on our own long-held views that were re-enforced by those parts of his message that we most preferred. While some of us still embraced the entirety of his “new” ideas, others focused exclusively on his economic agenda, or on his foreign-policy and military agenda, or on his limited-government agenda, or on his embrace of social conservatism and faith. Although Reagan foresaw these fault lines, his hope for “the creation of a new, lasting majority” based on “something new, something open and vital and dynamic” was expressed in his first speech about the “New Republican Party” in 1977:
...[M]ost experts and commentators make a distinction between what they call “social” conservatism and “economic” conservatism. The so-called social issues–law and order, abortion, busing, quota systems–are usually associated with blue-collar, ethnic and religious groups themselves traditionally associated with the Democratic Party. The economic issues–inflation, deficit spending and big government–are usually associated with Republican Party members and independents who concentrate their attention on economic matters.
…When economic and social conservatives meet today, they share one major concern and that is what a big-spending, irresponsible Congress has done to the earning power of American workers. … Let us at least see if it is possible to present a program of action based on political principle that can attract those interested in the so-called “social” issues and those interested in “economic” issues. In short, is it possible to combine the two major segments of contemporary American conservatism into one politically effective whole?
I believe these are the most important questions in American politics today. And my answer to all of them is: yes, it is possible to create a political entity that will reflect the views of the great, hitherto, unorganized conservative majority. … What I envision is not simply a melding together of the two branches of American conservatism into a temporary uneasy alliance, but the creation of a new, lasting majority.
This will mean compromise. But not a compromise of basic principle. What will emerge will be something new, something open and vital and dynamic, something the great conservative majority will recognize as its own, because at the heart of this undertaking is principled politics.
…The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind.
…[T]he principles we hold dear are those that have been found, through experience, to be ultimately beneficial for individuals, for families, for communities and for nations–found through the often bitter testing of pain, of sacrifice and sorrow.
Many of those who focused primarily on Reagan’s embrace of social conservatism and faith over the other parts of his message, are the political descendants of the followers of Democratic populist, William Jennings Bryan, and his “applied Christianity” of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Since the 1970s they helped establish and follow organizations, nationally and locally, which for over 20 years have tried to dominate the grassroots of the GOP and remake Reagan’s “New Republican Party” into their own party. These organizations have created research to support a specific view of our history, and have promoted grassroots efforts to take control of our party organizations and primaries, in order to promote a specific policy agenda consistent with their interpretation of our history and our moral needs. They have dominated the description and direction of social conservatism for two decades, and they are doing their best to usurp and control the Tea Party movement, too. It is the leaders of these organizations, together with the politicians they support, who have poured gasoline on the Speaker’s race.
In the meantime, those whose priorities turned on other parts of Reagan’s message have waged overt and covert battles against these “social conservative” individuals and organizations in party organizations, clubs and primaries since the early 1990s. However, because their interests often were more focused on business and actual public policy, rather than on internecine party squabbles, these battles were almost always won by the better organized “social conservatives”. Consequently, the ranks and power of the other factions have dwindled over the last two decades.
Left bewildered by all of these battles were those, like me, who really embraced the whole Reagan plan: the idea that, if all the factions of American Conservatism would drop their weapons and join forces, “what will emerge will be something new, something open and vital and dynamic, something the great conservative majority will recognize as its own, because at the heart of this undertaking is principled politics.” I’ve spent many of the posts this year trying to articulate what I understood to be that “something new”.
Whether we use the slogan “Renewing the American Community,” or the concept of “Neighborhood,” or the process we labeled the “Tupelo Formula” for civic engagement, what I have been advocating is what I understood to be an approach to government based on those principles drawn from the history of our experiences, which Reagan championed: an approach to re-building our society for the 21st Century based on its original purposes and principles—a society built on the foundational relationships formed in families, neighborhoods, congregations, private organizations; facilitated through the activities of free markets and free trade; and then preserved and protected by local, state and federal governments, each acting within their own sphere of competence and responsibility. It is our adherence over the centuries to these original purposes and principles, which has made us “exceptional”.
Creation of our exceptional society did not happen over night. Instead it arose from the hard work of many generations, who overcame many mistakes. We have been dismantling this society through the aggressive use of government to supply our neighbor’s needs for most of the last century—culminating with the spasm of new government actions over the last two years. The re-establishment of our exceptional society was Reagan’s plan, and it will take a lot work—a lot of joint effort—to rebuild it. To do so, we Republicans need to stop fighting each other, and start fighting for the “New Republican Party” Reagan envisioned.
As I’ve written before, to accomplish this mission, we need to grow-up and take responsibility for our families, our neighborhoods and our communities; we need to fix our own problems and address our own mistakes. That means we need to send men and women to Washington who will not only say “no” to additional requests for more grand schemes and programs, but who will cut the present ones and return the responsibility for them back to state and local governments. It means we need to send men and women to Austin who will do the same, and send as much responsibility back to individuals and local governments as possible. I believe that most of us who voted this past November believed we were electing such people to represent us in Austin and Washington.
But the mission doesn’t stop at the city limits of our capitols. We also have to bring responsibility back to where it belongs—to us and our communities: responsibility for our families, our neighbors, our neighborhoods, our schools, our businesses and employees, our streets and bridges; and we have to elect men and women to school boards, city councils and county governments who will work with us, and with private organizations in our communities, to responsibly address these issues in a cost-effective manner.
Over the next two years, I will be personally measuring the progress of our elected Republicans based on whether they understand Reagan’s original mission for the “New Republican Party,” and on whether and how well they try to accomplish it. That effort—not all of the factional squabbling and scrambling—will be the yardstick with which I will decide who to support in 2012.
To the extent any Republican would rather fight with other Republicans, or promote a narrow agenda, rather than do his or her part to re-build our exceptional society with a limited government as Reagan envisioned, I will expose them and fight against them during the next primary season—or if and when they run for another office. So, to those who wish to use the upcoming Caucus as the first step toward advancing a narrow agenda that, if accomplished, would leave us with the same government structure we started with—you are forewarned.
To the rest of you, Happy New Year.