A lot of people want to write the obituary for the Grand Old Party in 2008 but I believe the reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated. I believe that conservatism will continue to define American politics in the new century as much as it did in the last.
But when I look back at Election Day 2006, I am convinced that we are in the most perilous and yet the most promising time in the history of our party.
I believe the Republicans in Washington did not just lose our Majority; I believe we lost our way and we are now in the political wilderness.
After 1994, we were a Majority committed to a balanced federal budget, entitlement reform and advancing the principles of a limited federal government.
In recent years, our Majority voted to expand the federal government’s role in education by nearly 100 percent, created the largest new entitlement in forty years, and pursued spending policies that created record deficits and national debt.
This was not in the Contract with America.
We walked away from the limited government principles that minted the Republican Congress. And the American people walked away from us.
To start our way back, to find our way out of this wilderness, we have to admit that Republicans are in trouble for a reason. And it has nothing to do with Democrat spin or their vague campaign generalities about hope and change and liberal utopia. It’s about Republicans forgetting what they believe and why they believe it. It’s about Republicans acting like Democrats. It begins by admitting that our reputation for fiscal discipline has been tarnished by those who abandoned principle for power and cost this party both.
In the name of "governing" and "compassion," our party in Washington has become what we replaced. The time has come to say at last: the era of Big Government Republicanism is over.
And the good news is, while Republicans may be losing ground, our conservative agenda is still winning.
The 2006 House-cleaning was not a call for weaker defense, more spending, more bureaucracy, more taxes, more abortion and gay marriage. Many of the seats we lost went to those who articulated a conservative message. This wasn’t coincidence. Democrats handpicked their candidates for those races precisely because they knew the power of the conservative message.
We will only defeat the Democrat agenda by presenting a positive, conservative message in vivid contrast to the thinly veiled liberalism of the new Democratic majority. If we are to revive our movement, and regain the momentum we had ten years ago, the future we desire must be earned.
I believe the agenda of our party and movement begins with life and liberty and limited government.
I believe the future of conservatism begins with a commitment to the unalienable right to life. Without the right to life there is no right to liberty or property. Our party must be willing to stand for the unborn and commit to appointing justices to the Supreme Court who will consign Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.
And I believe the future of conservatism demands that we stand for the font of life: traditional marriage. Marriage was ordained by God and instituted in law. It is the glue of the American family and the safest harbor to raise children: it must be defended.
The future we desire requires many things of us. I believe the future of conservatism requires those of us at home to stand with those who defend our liberty overseas regardless of what the polls or the pundits tell us to do. Whether the national media will ever admit it, freedom is winning in Iraq. We must take the fight over Iraq to the opposition and tell the American people the truth. Thanks to our Commander in Chief and tens of thousands of our men and women in uniform, the surge is working, Al Qaeda is on the run, and Operation Iraqi Freedom is a widening American success.
I believe the future of conservatism requires us to defend our liberties at home by opposing censorship, whether it takes the form of the so-called Fairness Doctrine or takes the form of Campaign Finance Reform. Our freedom to speak and listen to who we want when we want is a blood-bought American right. We must not permit the Democrats to bring back the so-called Fairness Doctrine.
The future of our movement demands that we defend our economic liberty and stand for the free market, whether in the freedom of Americans to engage in international trade or the freedom of parents to choose whatever public or private school their children will attend. Conservatives know government has no place standing in the way of commerce or standing in the school house door barring exit to poor children from our most dangerous and failing schools.
And our future requires that we stand for economic liberty and fight for energy independence. We must confront the environmental Left and give the American people more access to American oil. The American people need to know that one party wants America to tax our way to lower oil prices and one party wants America to drill our way to lower oil prices
And, not least, the future requires that we must return our party to the principled practice of limited government. We must again be the party of a balanced federal budget that lives within its means by instituting spending discipline and pro-growth tax relief. We must embrace entitlement reform built on Lincoln’s adage that government not do for a man ‘what he can and should do for himself.’
Its time to get back to standing for the things that matter most to our party and our nation.
As Ronald Reagan told CPAC in 1975, "A political party cannot be all things to all men. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs, which must not be compromised to political expediency, or to simply swell its numbers.”
Reagan was right. The way back to a Republican Majority is to the Right.
But to go forward, we need a champion who will lead our party to a victory in 2008. Now, I know some conservatives are not happy with the nominee our party has chosen. Some have even told me they are considering sitting this one out. Their disappointments are deep, and they are legitimate.
But not liking the choice is not the same as having no choice.
In this election, we will have a clear choice for the American people. And I believe it is a choice upon which the very destiny of freedom may rest.
John McCain and I have differed more than once over the years and still do. I was the House plaintiff in the lawsuit that challenged campaign finance reform all the way to the Supreme Court.
But it was a moment in Iraq last year, traveling with Senator McCain and with Senator Lindsey Graham, that I became convinced that Republican voters have chosen the right man at the right time to lead this nation.
It was spring of 2007. We were at the Marine Corps base in Ramadi, Iraq. We’d been escorted to a small room to meet with Sunni Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, founder of the Anbar Awakening Movement that transformed the Anbar Province and all of Iraq from hostility to U.S. forces to extraordinary cooperation that continues to this day. He was a man who would soon be assassinated by his own bodyguards.
The Sheik entered in flowing robes, a man about my age, with intense eyes and a manner both regal and humble at the same time.
He greeted us one by one. He lowered his head and took my hand, telling me through his interpreter, “It is an honor to meet you.” Then he grasped Lindsey’s hand, telling him the same: “It is an honor to meet you.”
Then he moved to John McCain. The Sheik bowed deeply, then took both of Senator McCain’s hands in his. “It is a special privilege to meet you, Senator McCain,” and then, alluding to McCain’s record as a Navy airman, P.O.W. and upbringing as the son and the grandson of 4-Star Admirals in the Navy, he said. “We know of you and your warrior past and of we know of your proud family of warriors and we respect you.”
In that moment, it became clear to me that Senator McCain possessed a currency in this part of the world that transcended titles and position; a currency of immeasurable value that cannot be underestimated and cannot be manufactured.
And this currency could save American lives.
When I think of the unknowable perils that await our nation in the 21st Century, the rise of communist China, the threat of Islamic extremism, the crushing weight of public debt and the collapse of the family, I believe with all my heart that the times and Providence have called forth the right man to lead our nation “for such a time as this.”
Let us seize upon this moment in history. Let us renew our commitment to life, liberty and limited government. Let us embrace the champion that history has chosen for us. And let us also continue to depend on Him who set this miracle of democracy on these wilderness shores.
If we do that I believe that today’s clouds of peril for our party will break and the dawn of a new day — a day of promise and opportunity will light our way. Every time our people have taken the cause of life, liberty and limited government to the American people without apology, freedom has always won. It will again.