You don't have to work in Washington for long before you realize how easy it is to succumb to the spirit of pessimism. You run into plenty of people who are disillusioned because the rough-and-tumble world of politics has dashed their hopes and dreams about changing the world. Before long, they figure: Why bother?
Why? Because nothing worth striving for in this life comes easily.
Fortunately, there are still many people across this great land who understand this. Otherwise, America wouldn't be such a beacon to the rest of the world. There's a vital quality in our national character, stretching from the days of our founding right down to today, that says: Never quit. Failure, as the saying goes, is not an option.
Why bring this up? Because I think some conservatives out there are flirting with that spirit of pessimism. Like me, a lifelong conservative who believes in the bedrock principles of fiscal responsibility, they had high hopes when the Clinton era ended. Now they see that government spending, which began climbing under Clinton, has reached new heights ($20,000 per household) despite the presence in Washington of numerous self-styled conservatives.
They also see an experiment with steel tariffs. They see farm subsidies and other corporate welfare. Throw in a Medicare drug entitlement that saddles Americans with trillions of dollars in additional debt, and you have folks throwing up their hands and saying, "Why bother?"
Why? For several reasons.
For one, the cynics are focusing on the part of the glass that's half empty. Let's give President Bush and conservative members of Congress some credit: Taxes have been cut, deeply and repeatedly. The Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty was trashed, and missile defense is being built. A major war against terrorism was launched, and there hasn't been another attack on U.S. soil since 9-11. There's plenty to cheer.
For another, President Bush ran on an unabashedly conservative platform that emphasized limited government, free enterprise and a strong defense. He knows perfectly well that the voters handed him a mandate to govern conservatively. And that's where the rest of us come in: We've got to help him, and the conservative members of Congress, stick with their promises.
That means staying engaged, and I'd like to suggest a very handy way of doing that. The Heritage Foundation has just published a new edition of our "Mandate for Leadership" guidebooks. It offers dozens of useful, plain-English tips for winning conservative victories in nearly every area of government.
This edition differs from the first "Mandate for Leadership," published in 1980. The first one was much longer (the new one's only 156 pages), but then, it had a different purpose: to show, in great detail, how to set our government on a conservative course. And, considering its popularity with President Reagan (the Washington Post called "Mandate" the "bible" of the Reagan White House), it succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.
Today, however, as the 2004 election proved again, conservatism is on the rise. What's needed is a reminder, not a primer - a means of keeping the politicians we've elected honest. As my Heritage colleagues Stuart Butler and Larry Wortzel explain in their introduction, the latest edition of "Mandate" "provides both an overview of the freedom principles that form the basis of sound policy on key issues and a checklist of the main policy objectives that flow from these principles."
And here's another reason not to be pessimistic: We know that President Bush is determined to avoid the mistakes of other second-term presidencies. Long before the balloting was over on Nov. 2, he had commissioned his staff to study past presidents who had second terms and find out what worked, what didn't and why. He's trying to avoid the fate that has befallen presidents who began to drift in their second terms.
That's where "Mandate for Leadership" comes in. You better believe we wasted absolutely no time making sure President Bush and his key staff members had copies. Like the rest of you, we're watching and waiting - and we're ready to lend a hand. "Mandate" is the perfect tool to help us do that - to build, in the words of Heritage's vision statement, "an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish."
Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared on WorldNetDaily.com