Last night, as I listened to Newt Gingrich’s victory speech after winning the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary, he made several statements the caught my attention—but none more than his nod to Governor Perry’s endorsement and their shared commitment to the 10th Amendment and returning power to the states. As he discussed this point he said that one of the reasons he was asking voters to be “with me not just for me” was because as “we shrink the federal bureaucracy” we must “grow citizenship back home to fill the vacuum.”
I could not agree more strongly. As I’ve tried to challenge fellow Republicans over the last few years, if we are successful in electing Republican majorities at every level of government and a Republican President, in 2012; and if we are successful in passing the legislation needed to limit the size and scope of the federal government and balancing its budget—what then? The needs of our fellow citizens that the left has tried to address through federal-government schemes over the last 50 years won’t miraculously disappear. The divisions that Charles Murray discusses in this new article, The New American Divide, which culturally exist within every racial and ethnic community in this country, won’t magically dissolve. No, the paradox of our victory will be that it only will start our job to fix this country, rather than end it.
For our victory to last, we must use our political freedom to re-assert our liberty, which includes our reciprocal responsibilities as citizens—responsibilities to govern ourselves, our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our states. This renewal of self-governance will require our active participation in the life of our communities, rather than continuing to delegate such participation to faceless bureaucrats in distant capitals. This active participation is the growth in “citizenship back home to fill the vacuum” that Gingrich is championing. If we don’t accept this responsibility, the activists of the collectivist left will re-emerge and re-take control of government from us—and our unique system won’t survive another spasm of leftist policies.
Now for those who think this is just another “off the cuff” idea from Gingrich, you’re wrong. In fact, he has been tremendously consistent about the relationship between limiting the federal government and a re-assertion of citizenship for many years. He made this point in his first major speech as Speaker-elect to the National Press Club in late 1994, and in the “American Civilization” college courses he taught in the mid-1990s. Nor is this idea new and revolutionary—it formed the heart of our Settlers’ and Founders’ view of America that de Tocqueville observed in action, and it formed the foundation of Reagan’s blueprint for his “New Republican Party” in 1977.
In fact, in a uniquely Gingrichian way, his widely derided critique of Paul Ryan’s budget proposal last year was consistent with his view of the need for citizenship. His point was not that he disagreed with the ends or the means of that budget, but that such broad and fundamental reforms contained in that budget would not work unless and until the people were ready to re-accept their responsibilities at the local level—it was putting the cart before the horse. To force such a sweeping change on people until they are persuaded to accept what that change means to their lives, would be “social engineering” from the present status quo that depends on federal involvement.
Now, I agree that Newt’s choice of words was wrong, but his point was correct. As we fix the federal government, we must persuade the American people to re-assert their citizenship and to accept the responsibilities that citizenship will require from all of us. Like you, I want, and the country needs, Paul Ryan’s approach to fixing the budget and the federal government, but it won’t work, and it will only delay the day on which we become a European welfare state, if we don’t become real citizens of this great nation again. In fact, look in the mirror and ask yourself—isn’t this re-commitment to citizenship what the Tea Party movement was all about? I can tell you that this re-commitment to citizenship is what forms the basis for the “Renewing the American Community” plan that I and others have been working to develop for the last two years.
So, whether Newt, Rick, Ron or Mitt becomes our nominee, we must dedicate ourselves like our forefathers did—with our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor—to not just taking back the government from the left, but to rebuilding the bonds of citizenship with each other in order for our reforms to work and for America to remain the exceptional and indispensable nation—and Reagan’s ideal of a Shining City on a Hill.