Con­ser­va­tives must speak truth to the youth

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Sen. Tom Coburn

Like most con­ser­va­tives, I wish we had a dif­fer­ent out­come Nov. 6. It’s im­por­tant to talk hon­estly about what hap­pened, and what we can do to get our na­tion back on track. The hard re­al­ity is this: When the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans re­ward the pol­i­tics of bailouts and ben­e­fits ahead of the prom­ise of hard work, free­dom and op­por­tu­nity, con­ser­va­tives must ques­tion not just the vi­a­bil­ity of our mes­sage, but the vi­a­bil­ity of our coun­try.

To get back on track, I would sug­gest we fo­cus on a few sim­ple points: truth, over­sight, ac­tion and accountability.

One of the lessons from the 2012 elec­tion is that we’ve failed to tell the Amer­i­can peo­ple — par­tic­u­larly, young vot­ers — the truth about where we are.

The truth is, on our present course, the av­er­age young per­son in this coun­try is go­ing to in­herit a lower stan­dard of liv­ing than his par­ents. That is un­ac­cept­able. Amer­ica is al­ready bank­rupt. Our debt, which is 103 per­cent of our gross domestic prod­uct, now ex­ceeds the size of our en­tire econ­omy.

We’re on the cusp of an­other down­grade.

If in­ter­est rates go up 1 point, we add at least an­other $160 bil­lion to our deficit ev­ery year.

If rates re­turn to his­toric av­er­ages, we’ll add about $640 bil­lion to our deficit ev­ery year, which is more than our de­fense bud­get.

In two years, the So­cial Se­cu­rity dis­abil­ity trust fund goes bank­rupt.

In five years, Medi­care Part A — the hospi­tal in­surance trust fund — may be bank­rupt.

In 10 years, the costs of en­ti­tle­ments and in­ter­est on the debt alone will con­sume all avail­able tax rev­enues.

That means our en­tire mil­i­tary and dis­cre­tionary bud­get will be fi­nanced en­tirely on bor­rowed — or printed — money.

Our first task is to tell the truth. The sec­ond is over­sight, which has to hap­pen be­fore set­ting pri­or­i­ties and get­ting spend­ing un­der con­trol.

Over­sight isn’t very pop­u­lar in Washington be­cause politi­cians on both sides pre­fer to cre­ate new pro­grams in­stead of look­ing at whether the pro­grams we’ve al­ready cre­ated are work­ing. Yet over­sight res­onates with fam­i­lies be­cause that’s how they live their lives ev­ery day.

In the real world, peo­ple look at their bud­gets and make choices. In Washington, we make ex­cuses and de­fer choices to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Over­sight is about me­thod­i­cally and re­lent­lessly build­ing the case for lim­ited government. It’s also about rec­og­niz­ing that big changes of­ten hap­pen in small steps.

That’s why I re­lease re­ports on all ar­eas of the government.

In my lat­est an­nual Waste­book report, we found fed­eral fund­ing from ev­ery­thing from robotic squir­rels to cli­mate change mu­si­cals to caviar pro­mo­tion.

Here are a few more. You can’t make this stuff up. We found fed­eral fund­ing of:

• $27 mil­lion for Moroc­can pot­tery classes.

• $505,000 for the pro­mo­tion of spe­cialty sham­poo and other beauty prod­ucts for cats and dogs.

• $1.3 mil­lion in cor­po­rate wel­fare for the world’s largest snack food pro­ducer, PepsiCo Inc.

• $350,000 for a gov­ern­ment­funded study on how golfers might ben­e­fit from us­ing their imag­i­na­tions to en­vi­sion the hole to be big­ger than it ac­tu­ally is. Really? Maybe we should have stud­ied how to help politi­cians imag­ine a smaller hole in the bud­get.

The list goes on and on. The point of th­ese re­ports is to help the pub­lic have an un­der­stand­ing of government that re­flects re­al­ity. We could re­duce the size of government by one-third to­day and no one out­side of Washington would be able to tell the dif­fer­ence.

Over­sight, again, isn’t just the re­spon­si­bil­ity of those of us in elected of­fice. It’s the me­dia’s re­spon­si­bil­ity as well.

The last two tasks for get­ting back on track, ac­tion and accountability, go to­gether. Per­haps the great­est prob­lem I’ve seen in the Repub­li­can Party since be­ing elected in the class of 1994 is the gap be­tween our words and ac­tions.

We have two forms of con­ser­vatism in Washington.

Cheap con­ser­vatism treats par­tic­u­lar ar­eas of the bud­get as sa­cred based on po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency.

Costly con­ser­vatism treats ev­ery tax dol­lar as sa­cred based on the prin­ci­ples of lib­erty and self-government. We have to strive for costly con­ser­vatism — it’s the only one worth hav­ing.

Many want to blame our set­backs in the Se­nate in par­tic­u­lar on the Tea Party.

I agree we need to do a much, much bet­ter job of can­di­date re­cruit­ment.

The prob­lem in Repub­li­can pol­i­tics isn’t the chal­lengers — it’s the in­cum­bents: ca­reer politi­cians who say they are for lim­ited government and lower taxes but make de­ci­sions that give us big­ger government and higher taxes.

Vot­ers will for­give us for try­ing and fail­ing, but they won’t — nor should they — for­give us for not try­ing. We must never give up. We must be spe­cific, me­thod­i­cal and re­lent­less, ex­pos­ing ex­cess and tak­ing ac­tion.

If we align our ac­tions with our words and reg­u­late our­selves with term lim­its, we’ll cre­ate the kind of lead­er­ship Amer­ica needs. Sen. Tom Coburn is an Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can.

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