March 7, 2006 | Commentary on Political Thought
How did it come to this? How did conservative leaders lose their
way? And what must be done now to get America on the right path
before it's too late? You'll find all the answers in "
Getting America Right," a new book co-authored by Ed Feulner, a
key figure in the Reagan revolution and one of the most effective
leaders of the conservative movement for more than three decades in
his role as president of The Heritage Foundation.
Feulner draws on his years of experience and diagnoses the malady like a master physician: Too many conservatives are failing to stick to their principles. They're ignoring crucial tenets of the governing philosophy that brought them to office in the first place.
Like any job, governing can't be done effectively without the proper tools. Would a boat captain set sail without a compass, a police officer patrol without a badge or a preacher prepare a sermon without a Bible?
By the same token, politicians must stick to their principles. Otherwise, they risk becoming a weather vane -- twisting this way and that, following the wind.
Often, politicians think they have principles. But they haven't been tested. They may honestly intend to do a good job, but they haven't had to withstand the crushing pressure those in office feel to go along with the status quo. So many -- not all, but many -- fall into line.
Small wonder, then, that voter dissatisfaction often runs rampant. The current rumblings among conservatives illustrate this perfectly. Voters look at the politicians they elected based on vows to govern like conservatives and try to reconcile those promises with record amounts of spending and a confusing, expensive Medicare drug entitlement.
The latest CBS News poll shows that, among all voters, only 28 percent approve of the job Congress is doing; 61 percent disapprove. Among the GOP voters, 31 percent approve, while 59 percent disapprove.
Sounds like Washington is home to too many weather vanes these days.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
Conservatives need to reacquaint themselves with their principles. There's a reason that conservatism has survived as a popular movement for so many years -- because it's grounded in reality and proven wisdom. Unlike liberalism, it isn't based on wishful thinking, shallow reasoning and good intentions. It works.
That's where "Getting America Right" comes in. Written by Feulner and Doug Wilson, chairman of Townhall.com, it's packed with the insights today's conservatives need if they're to reconnect with the only political philosophy proven to expand freedom, limit government, promote prosperity and increase security.
Feulner and Wilson present a six-question test that politicians should apply to any policy proposal to see if it's truly conservative:
1) Is it the government's business? "We believe that federal involvement in the lives of American citizens should be minimal, with Washington being the last resort when no other alternative can be found," they write. Decisions should be made as close as possible to the people who are affected by them.
2) Does it promote self-reliance? Government should provide assistance to its weakest members, they say, but welfare must be a two-way street, with an individual getting help from society at large in exchange for becoming a self-sufficient individual.
3) Is it responsible? "A responsible government lives within its means," they write. "Irresponsible behavior breeds irresponsible citizens, fueling a vicious cycle that threatens freedom."
4) Does it make America more prosperous? Our most productive citizens struggle with the burden of too many regulations, heavy taxation and stiff trade barriers. Yet, in view of the clear link between economic freedom and prosperity, it's largely government's job to get out of the way.
5) Does it make us safer? A strong national security must be Washington's primary concern. "We must fight terrorism at home and abroad, with force when necessary and with unceasing efforts to spread democracy around the world," they write.
6) Does it unify us? America enjoys a rich diversity of peoples, but our basic national identity and values bind us together, Feulner and Wilson note. We must restore citizenship to its rightful place as a privilege to be earned and teach all Americans what it means to be citizens of this great nation.
As this list shows, conservatism isn't some pie-in-the-sky ideal -- it's the essence of common sense. And the best way to make it more common is to read "Getting America Right" and share its timeless wisdom.
We can't just sit back and hope that our elected officials will change. We're Americans. It's our job to make that change happen. " Getting America Right" points the way.
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.