January 17, 2008 | Commentary on
The Big Three
In deciding who would make the best president, conservatives
should elevate a few issues above the others. Here's my
- Winning the war on Terrorism: After
September 11, President Bush found himself in much the same
position as President Truman at the end of World War II. Each faced
the daunting task of deciding what was needed to fight -- and win
-- a "long war."
In the long war against international Communism, much of what
served us so well was created under Truman during the first five
years of the Cold War: the Truman Doctrine of containment, the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization of mutual defense, the Marshall
Plan of economic assistance to beleaguered postwar Europe, and the
economic liberalization that resulted from the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Subsequent presidents embraced and
improved upon these long-war instruments, which had tremendous
effect throughout the next 40-plus years.
Since 9/11, Bush, too, redesigned and created institutions and
policies: new ones. The Patriot Act; the Department of Homeland
Security; a more aggressive approach to dealing with terrorists;
updated surveillance laws; fresh standards for the special federal
court overseeing foreign intelligence gathering -- all were
promulgated to help win the new "Long War."
The difference between the Truman and Bush eras is that most of
the tools the latter sought to deploy (almost) immediately fell
victim to partisan political warfare. It has been a long time since
partisan differences threatened to redirect the war strategy of a
commander-in-chief. One must think back to the election of 1864
when the Democrats nominated failed Union General George McClellan
to oppose President Lincoln on a platform calling for the immediate
cessation of hostilities and a negotiated settlement of the war.
Needless to say, much is at stake. And I haven't even mentioned
The terrorist threat is real. My Heritage colleague James Carafano has
documented 19 attempted terrorist attacks against America and
American interests, since September 11. In total, Carafano reports,
27 terrorists have either confessed or been convicted and another
45 are awaiting trial.
- Confronting the coming fiscal crisis:
On January 1, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling became the first baby
boomer to turn 62. She opted to retire early and cashed the first
Social Security check ever issued to a boomer. In three years she
will lead the Boomer stampede to the most unsustainable entitlement
program of them all: Medicare. Eventually 78 million boomers will
retire -- an unprecedented demographic shift that will see
America's Biggest Generation move (in the immortal words of former
Sen. Phil Gramm) from "pulling the wagon" to "sitting" on it.
The fiscal gap between the health and retirement benefits promised
to boomers and the tax revenues anticipated to pay for them can
only be measured in tens of trillions of dollars. That's a huge
problem. Reuters reported last week that Moody's Investors Service
said the United States's "triple-A" government bond rating will be
jeopardized if Medicare and Social Security are not reformed.
"These two programs are the largest threats to the long-term
financial health of the United States and to the government's AAA
rating," a Moody's spokesman said.
Conservatives should ask which candidates are willing to confront
this looming catastrophe head-on. Are they willing to speak the
politically unpopular truth that the big three entitlement programs
-- Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid -- require a fundamental
overhaul and that it will be impossible to deliver all of the
promised benefits? Are they willing to acknowledge that neither the
problem nor the answer is on the revenue side? Our current tax
burden is already high and poised to grow to unprecedented levels,
thanks to the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts and
explosion of the Alternative Minimum Tax. The route to fiscal
sanity lies in radical spending reform, not in insanely high
- Making the case for pro-growth economic policies and
smaller government: America needs a leader literate in
the language of free markets, one who understands the wisdom of
free enterprise. Today, too many lawmakers blink and accept more
governmental intrusion into our lives rather than extol the virtues
of individual initiative and responsibility. Families and
individuals are best suited to make the most important decisions in
their lives, not condescending government bureaucrats, activist
judges, or bottom-line-obsessed employers.
Liberals are poised to extend nanny-state guarantees and subsidies
well into the middle-class. Exhibit A: Efforts on Capitol Hill and
in many states to provided subsidized health coverage to families
earning over $80,000.
Efforts, too, are underway to hike taxes to unprecedented levels.
Too many candidates speak casually of "paying for" one or another
plank in their platforms by taxing the "rich." But The Index of Economic
Freedom shows U.S. workers and businesses already pay
some of the highest tax rates in the world. The only direction to
go on taxes is down, down, down.
A candidate whose instincts are correct on these three
uber-issues, will usually please conservatives on most other issues
-- be it health reform, education policy, or international
is vice president of government relations for The Heritage
First appeared in the National Review Online