Imagine, for a moment, you're back in 2000. A visitor from the present day arrives and tells you that Washington is spending almost $22,000 per household, the most since World War II and one third higher than it was in 2001. Your reaction?
If you're like most conservatives, you'd probably say, "I guess the liberals won."
We know otherwise. And that makes the spending impossible to explain. In fact, some people wind up sounding a bit foolish. They'll sheepishly admit that, yes, budget mistakes have been made. But, they say, we've simply drifted off course.
Sorry, but that explanation (or, I should say, rationalization) won't wash with Mike Pence. The third-term congressman from Indiana and head of the Republican Study Committee recently delivered a hard-hitting address to the Conservative Political Action Committee (C-PAC) that demolishes such misguided thinking. Among the highlights:
It's one thing to drift off course. It's another to continue that course when half the crew and passengers are pointing out that nothing looks familiar, not to mention the tens of millions of Americans lining the shoreline screaming, "You're going the wrong way!"
In short, we're no longer adrift. We might've been when we started, but now "off course" is the accepted course.
The evidence is overwhelming. While President Bush has called for increases in non-defense spending of 4 percent for the last five years, Congress has delivered budgets spending more than twice that each year. Congress has spent $380 billion more than the president requested under Republican control.
We are in danger of becoming the party of Big Government. And for the sake of our party and for the sake of the nation, we must say, "The era of big Republican government is over!"
When I think of the state of our movement in Washington, it reminds me of a story:
There was this construction worker, Mac, who'd bring his neatly and lovingly packed lunch to work each day. Mac would sit down, open the brown paper sack and pull out a cheeseburger, chocolate cake and peanut butter cookies. He'd look at his fellow workers and complain, "I can't believe it! A cheeseburger, cake and cookies again! How am I ever going to lose weight?!"
After about a month of hearing him complain, one of his buddies finally said, "Come on, Mac! If you're so concerned about your weight, just ask your wife to send you off with something different." To which Mac replied, "What you talkin' about? I pack my own lunch!"
The key question to remember is: Who's in control here?
Congress might ask itself the same question. We control the spending and the process ... and we wonder how the things got to such a state?
Fiscal integrity and moral integrity are inseparable issues. You can't complain about the sharks while you're holding a bucket of chum.
We are not, as a party, bereft of ideas, we are bereft of will -- the will to even consider ideas that might touch on the sacred cows of federal spending. If we are still on the wrong course, it is because we choose to be.
Every day, we sail further into the dangerous waters of Big Government Republicanism ... perilous straits for a society built on personal responsibility and freedom. We risk finding ourselves past the point of no return on the Road to Serfdom.
If we must look over our shoulder to see that shining city on a hill, we are sailing in the wrong direction.
The answer is not mutiny. It's not time to abandon ship. It's time for a major course correction!
We need to stop, set anchor and reset our heading based on what we know to be true about the nature of government:
- That government that governs least, governs best.
- That as government expands, freedom contracts.
- That government should never do for a man what he can and should do for himself.
- That societies are judged by their treatment of the most vulnerable: the aged, the infirm and the unborn.
But it's not enough to know these truths. We need to choose to put them into practice.
The conservative movement is at a crossroads. Are we committed to the ideals of limited government, fiscal discipline and traditional moral values or not?
These are hard questions to face. But we ignore them at our peril. The time to address them is now, before the ship drifts so far off course that we find ourselves -- and the future of our country and children -- wrecked on the rocks of Big Government.
Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation and the author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad.