On a train ride out of the Northeast corridor between Philly and D.C., I had one of those Jerry McGuire moments. … You know, the kind of moment where some of the big picture ideas in life really crystallize.
Unlike the character in the movie, I was thinking about the future of the conservative movement (not about the life of the uber sports marketing agent).
The timing of my “mission statement” was tied to the tough week conservatives had just experienced in the U.S. Senate. We had a double setback of failing to produce a majority in support of a Marriage Protection Amendment and came up short in an historic attempt to kill the “death tax” once and for all. Additionally, we saw delays and obstruction from our own party on the confirmation of many of President Bush’s judicial nominees.
It was a tough week. But the truth is, no one week is enough to “make” or “break” a movement. Still, I felt it was time to re-examine some things. Thus, below you will find my open memo to the conservative movement. Who knows? Maybe it was the bad pizza.
Five Do’s for Conservatives
- Do push full steam ahead to reverse the liberal activism that has taken hold of the American judiciary. The judiciary is the one branch of government conservatives have been shut out from for decades and fundamentally changing the philosophical make up of the federal bench is vital to long term success. Every moment of the day the U.S. Senate should live and breathe confirming strict constitutionalist judges. Furthermore, never fail to realize that lower bench seats, like Federal Court of Appeals and circuit courts are equally crucial to insuring a long-term success as conservative legislative victories have been struck down countless times by activist liberal federal judges. Time may be running thin on a 55-seat majority and this alignment with a conservative President doesn’t come along every day in the political life of our country. When it comes to our priorities, conservatives must shout: Show me the judges!
- Do scale back federal spending, eliminate federal earmarks and attack wasteful spending abuses like the “bridge to nowhere.” Many fiscal conservatives feel discouraged by the spending priorities of Congress and the White House and it is vital that spending is brought under control. Conservatives should fight for the elimination of earmarks as a method of cleaning up corruption in Washington; the ease and availability of this budgeting loophole has indirectly led to some of the recent scandals facing representatives of both parties.
- Do stand up for the heartland values that millions of Americans again endorsed in 2004 with the re-election of President Bush and ignore the editorial pages of the New York Times. Mainstream America does not support the liberal left’s social policies and conservatives should never be ashamed to fight for traditional values. This should be a constant drumbeat as it forces the left to show their true colors, from abortion on demand to gay marriage; as Rush Limbaugh says, “When liberals are out of power that is when they really get entertaining.” Conservatives should force the left to be themselves and show the American people that conservative values are mainstream values.
- Do secure the borders now! Do secure the borders now! Do secure the borders now! Conservatives need to be intelligent, however, in how we communicate this policy; it is, above all, a national security issue.Conservatives should avoid antagonizing the American Hispanics, a community that is overwhelmingly Catholic, pro-life and entrepreneurial. Conservatives should be for secure borders, period, and not believe the hand-wringing by Beltway pundits that the American people will punish the GOP Congress if there is no immigration bill. The American people will punish the GOP Congress if they pass a bad bill that doesn’t fundamentally secure the border and just exacerbates the problem. Immigration is the single biggest issue with the conservative base today, and elected officials ignore it to their own peril. And while we are it … why don’t we take some pork barrel spending projects and move those funds to border enforcement. Killing two birds with one stone is how conservatives should begin to think strategically.
- Do unite around one conservative nominee for President in 2008. For many Republicans afraid of Hillary, the Jerry Maguire line: “You had me at hello” applies to their fixation on John McCain. In short, they have ordained him just for showing up. The question all conservatives must answer is: Who is the alternative who can stop media darling John McCain from becoming the GOP standard bearer? This candidate needs to have national appeal, likeability, and be willing to take Hillary Clinton on in two years. Obviously, the conservative effort would be helped a great deal if Rudy Giuliani or Condi Rice jumped into the race and thus fractured McCain’s base. Above all, conservatives need to find their contender for President and support them 100% rather than settling on minor or purist candidates who split the conservative base and deliver the nomination to McCain. Thus, we need to decide in the next nine to 12 months if it is Gov. Mitt Romney, Senators George Allen, Bill Frist, Sam Brownback or Rep. Mike Pence who can carry the flag for conservatives in 2008.
Five Don’ts for Conservatives
- Don’t stop and lose heart for tax cuts just because the estate tax lost a recent vote in the U.S. Senate. We must cut taxes at every possible juncture. Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist has a motto that there should be a tax cut every year of the Bush presidency. This is a smart issue for our base, and it plays well for the American people. Tax cuts unite all parts of the conservative movement in important ways and it keeps the conservative movement focused and unified.
- Don’t fall into the old traps of the left via self-inflicted wounds. Often conservatives use bad methods to fight noble causes. When secular corporations pursue profits above conservative values we shouldn’t be shocked; they don’t profess to be a church or a charity ward. For example, recently a number of social conservatives began boycotting Ford for advertising in gay publications, which only achieves the time-cherished liberal caricature of conservatives as ineffective activists working on bad facts. According to Rivendell Media three other car manufacturers, Toyota, GM and BMW all advertise more to the gay community. Not only do conservative boycotts rarely bring desired change, in the end they can hurt natural allies. In this case, it is hurting red-state Ford dealers the most, the guys mostly likely to be on the side of conservatives and most able to push Ford to change. There are other ways to get our message across, especially when conservatives actually have some power in government.
- Don’t forget that traditional marriage is a winning issue that unites conservatives and most Americans while dividing the Democratic Party. Remember that marriage amendments at the state-level are a lot like abstinence and have worked every time they are tried. Even liberal Oregon passed a marriage amendment in 2004. Just because the U.S. Senate has not caught up with the American people and supported a federal marriage amendment doesn’t change the fact that conservatives can lead and win by boldly supporting the protection of marriage and by keeping it out of the reach of radical black-robed judges.
- Don’t forget that the other side has problems, too! The Leadership Institute’s Morton Blackwell made this expression famous among conservatives but we needed reminded from time to time. Whenever you think that the conservative movement seems to be stuck in neutral on various issues of the day remember that the liberals are in their worst shape in decades. The left currently has a civil war on its hands between the far-left Howard Dean and blogosphere and the establishment Hillary Clinton-wing of the Democratic Party. Every time they display their true agenda to the American people they are rejected, and we should stay positive in our message and our vision for America. Part of the reason Ronald Reagan captured the hearts of millions was his sunny optimism, which stood in stark contrast to his pessimistic, leftist critics at the time. Remember, the American people are conservative at the core and we are winning the battle of ideas.
- Don’t forget to pray. There are some things larger at work in this world than the political football of the day. Keep the bigger picture in view and stay grounded by looking up.
Only time will tell if this “mission statement” is accomplished — or if it is really “mission impossible.” While many of these thoughts are not rocket science, our movement must refresh our thinking from time to time and focus again on the basics that continue to attract millions of Americans to our way of thinking. When we keep it simple, the victories in the political arena that elude us in the short term will be ours soon enough. I’m committed. So who’s coming with me?