Con­ser­va­tives as the loyal op­po­si­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Con­ser­va­tives should es­tab­lish a “loyal op­po­si­tion” to pro­vide the Amer­i­can peo­ple with thought­ful pol­icy al­ter­na­tives to the lib­eral pro­pos­als of­fered by the ma­jor­ity party, which con­trols the leg­isla­tive and ex­ec­u­tive branches of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

A good start would be the cre­ation of a mod­ern day Grace Com­mis­sion, which Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan launched in 1982 to in­ves­ti­gate waste and in­ef­fi­ciency in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The com­mis­sion of­fered provoca­tive and thought­ful rec­om­men­da­tions to make gov­ern­ment more ef­fec­tive and less ex­pen­sive.

Con­ser­va­tives to­day can do the same.

As “loyal” op­po­nents, con­ser­va­tives would avoid the “pol­i­tics of per­sonal de­struc­tion,” which suc­cess­fully de­mo­nized in­di­vid­u­als for their prin­ci­pled con­vic­tions dur­ing the past 15 years but con­se­quently eroded Amer­i­can’s faith in the abil­ity of all elected leaders to solve the press­ing prob­lems fac­ing our coun­try. Con­ser­va­tives will need to band to­gether to de­fend one other to suc­ceed in chang­ing the tone of the de­bate.

This “loyal op­po­si­tion” should base its poli­cies on the two pil­lars of con­ser­vatism — a bedrock be­lief in lim­ited and ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment and a pas­sion for re­form of the ser­vices gov­ern­ment must pro­vide. Our guid­ing prin­ci­ples should be that gov­ern­ment should not grow faster than peo­ple’s abil­ity to pay for it, that it is im­moral to in­debt the next gen­er­a­tion to pay for things in the here and now, and there is al­ways a bet­ter, im­proved way to de­liver gov­ern­ment ser­vices.

Putting th­ese prin­ci­ples into prac­tice isn’t easy when so many are clam­or­ing for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to “do some­thing” about ev­ery prob­lem that ex­ists, re­gard­less of how it was caused or who is re­spon­si­ble for fix­ing it. It re­quires an end to earmarks to gar­ner the sup­port of con­stituents back home. It re­quires a re­newed com­mit­ment to bal­anc­ing the fed­eral check­book without dip­ping in the bank ac­counts of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. It re­quires a will­ing­ness to re­or­ga­nize, re­duce or abol­ish pro­grams that have com­pelling names but lit­tle mea­sur­able suc­cess.

Bluntly, tax­pay­ers should not be forced to aban­don their per­sonal goals — whether it is sav­ing for col­lege, pay­ing off the mort­gage, start­ing a new busi­ness or tak­ing the va­ca­tion of a life­time — to pay for a sky­rock­et­ing growth in gov­ern­ment just be­cause elected of­fi­cials didn’t have the courage to say no.

A be­lief in lim­ited gov­ern­ment should not be con­fused with elim­i­nat­ing gov­ern­ment al­to­gether. Where gov­ern­ment plays a role, it needs to get a lot bet­ter.

De­vel­op­ing a zeal for re­form will rein­vig­o­rate the con­ser­va­tive move­ment but, more im­por­tant, our suc­cess in trans­form- ing gov­ern­ment will usher in an era of pros­per­ity that will im­prove the qual­ity of life for all Amer­i­cans.

Thank­fully, gov­er­nors such as Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jin­dal, Ha­ley Bar­bour, Rick Perry, Mark San­ford and Sonny Pur­due, among oth­ers, are ad­vanc­ing con­ser­va­tive agen­das that are re­form­ing fis­cal, health care, en­vi­ron­men­tal and ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies. In Wash­ing­ton, new leaders are emerg­ing with pol­icy-based al­ter­na­tives to Pres­i­dent Obama and his lib­eral al­lies in Congress.

For ex­am­ple, rather than of­fer crit­i­cism of over­reach­ing ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tives, con­ser­va­tives should ad­vance pro­pos­als that en­hance ac­count­abil­ity for stu­dent achieve­ment, pro­vide more choices to fam­i­lies and re­ward teach­ers when stu­dents show mean­ing­ful im­prove­ment.

Sim­ply op­pos­ing the mas­sive en­croach­ment of gov­ern­ment into health care won’t solve the prob­lem of af­ford­abil­ity of health in­sur­ance for many Amer­i­cans. Con­ser­va­tives need to of­fer sub­stan­tive al­ter­na­tives that re­ward qual­ity, pro­mote preven­tion and con­trol costs by dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing the need for more ex­pen­sive med­i­cal treat­ments that come from chronic and pos­si­bly pre­ventable ill­ness.

Con­ser­va­tive ide­ol­ogy is not what cost Repub­li­cans con­trol of the House and Se­nate in 2006 or the White House last Novem­ber. In fact, many Democrats won by talk­ing like con­ser­va­tives, while many Repub­li­cans lost be­cause they didn’t act like con­ser­va­tives.

With a “loyal op­po­si­tion,” con­ser­va­tives will re­gain the con­fi­dence of the Amer­i­can peo­ple by of­fer­ing creative, 21st cen­tury, re­form-ori­ented poli­cies that ad­here to our long­stand­ing prin­ci­ples of lim­ited and ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment.

Jeb Bush is the for­mer gov­er­nor of Florida. This col­umn for The Wash­ing­ton Times’ was on the theme: “Rein­vent­ing Con­ser­vatism”.

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