They say Republicans are the “Party of No.” They say that Republicans are the party of opposition rather than solutions. Enter the junior Senator from Utah, Mike Lee.
In his October 29th speech at the Heritage Foundation, Senator Lee laid out a clear vision for the future of the Republican Party, a vision of optimism and big ideas.
Barack Obama enjoyed great success with the popular but non-specific “Forward” slogan, but progress is only meaningful if we have clearly defined goals. If we’re going to go forward, we better know what it is we’re moving towards.
Yet it is also true that we sometimes have to look to the past in order to formulate a vision for the future. We can only hope to see further by standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before. How appropriate, then, that Senator Lee began his speech by acknowledging the thinkers that helped to build conservatism’s current pedigree. In the seventies, we had Milton Friedman, Jack Kemp and Robert Bork espousing the values of freedom and small government. Today, we have Thomas Sowell, Ron Paul and Ted Cruz. The movement has evolved from the ivory towers of academia to the fight on the ground of grassroots activism. We have begun the transformation from a movement of words to a movement of actions.
The biggest question is not what to do, but where to start, as Lee points out when he emphasizes the need to “reform education, housing, immigration, health care, and our criminal justice and prison systems.” Senator Lee breaks down his proposals into three broad planks: mobility for the poor, security for the middle class and an end to favoritism and cronyism for the rich.
The cronyism among special interests in Washington has become criminal. Big banks gamble with our money, profiting from their winnings while we subsidize their losses. We subsidize corn, sugar and tobacco at the same time as the first lady is waging a war on obesity. We subsidize ethanol, wind and solar energy so that they can compete with oil, gas and coal, which we also subsidize. Corporate welfare has to end if conservatives are going to be taken seriously as champions of small government and individual liberty.
To fight poverty, Lee stresses the importance of empowering individuals through increased opportunity, rather than welfare programs and tax preferences designed to keep those same people in poverty for generation after generation. He encourages the development of private welfare systems, reminding us that conservatism is not about one guy living alone in the wilderness; it’s about community.
“We understand that, as it is lived in America, freedom doesn't mean you’re on your own,” Lee says. “Freedom means we’re all in this together.”
The middle class is being held back by government’s bungling of all of the issues that make for strong families and empowered citizens. “Big government,” as Lee says, “creates opportunity for the middle men at the expense of the middle class.” Education is caught in a stranglehold by the teachers’ unions and a student loan bubble due to burst any day now, but the biggest issue for the middle class is undoubtedly health care.
Now that ObamaCare has debuted to a series of catastrophic failures and record disapproval numbers, the need to repeal and replace it is obvious. But Senator Lee was out in front of it, like a town crier of Pompeii announcing the need to stop this train wreck before it could do too much damage. For this, he and Senator Ted Cruz were called crazy and extreme, though I believe history will remember those who stood on principle in a heroic effort to avert disaster for their constituents and their country.
Of course, opposing ObamaCare is not enough, and Senator Lee recognizes that as well as anyone. No one is pretending that the status quo pre-ObamaCare was acceptable or that change is not needed. Right now, a number of Republicans are developing comprehensive health care bills that would remove the damaging elements of ObamaCare, and replace them with something that actually works.
Finally, Senator Lee wants to apply the lesson made so apparent by the disastrous launch of ObamaCare and the Healthcare.gov website—central control of complex systems results in inefficiency, waste and dysfunction. Instead of further centralizing power in the form of Common Core standards, a federal preschool program or the continuation of ObamaCare, Lee wants to return power to the states to manage their own affairs according to the individual needs of their residents.
Senator Lee concludes his speech with what he views as the underlying message of conservatism and his vision for the future:
“For us, optimism is not just a message—it’s a principle. American conservatism, at its core, is about gratitude, and cooperation, and trust, and above all hope.”
It’s a powerful message that we should bear in mind as we enter the Thanksgiving holiday. I am grateful for my country, my freedom and for leaders like Mike Lee who dare to take on the establishment to build a better Republican Party, and move the nation “forward” in the right direction.