This op-ed was written by Mike Pence (R-IN) on December 8, 2008. Pence was just elected chairman of the House Republican Conference.
On Election Day, only 22 percent of Americans described themselves as liberal, even while electing the most liberal, one-party government in American history. We remain essentially a center-right nation. So, what happened? I believe Republicans walked away from the principles that minted our governing majority in 1980 and 1994. There is a way out of the wilderness. But it will require humility, vision, positive alternatives and a willingness to fight for what makes America great.
First, Republicans must admit that we lost our way. After 1994, we were a majority committed to a balanced federal budget, entitlement reform and advancing the principles of a limited federal government. But recently Republicans voted to expand the federal government’s role in education, created the largest new entitlement in 40 years and pursued spending policies that created record deficits, national debt and the largest corporate bailout in American history. While Democrats continued and expanded these spending excesses over the past two years, voters were obviously not done punishing Republicans for our departure from principles over the past eight. Big-government Republicanism is a failed political experiment. When Republicans admit this, we will take an important first step toward renewing our credibility with our natural governing majority.
Second, Republicans must propose new solutions to today’s challenges based upon timeless principles. Republicans will succeed when we present the American people a positive, conservative vision in vivid contrast to the big-government liberalism of the new, one-party government. Republicans must return to defending our nation, our treasury and our values with everything we’ve got. We must be the party of open and honest government, reaffirming our commitment to public integrity and demanding the highest ethical standards in the service of the American people. We must again embrace the notion that Republicans seek the majority not simply to govern but to change government for the better. We are the true agents of change.
We must develop new strategies for strengthening our armed forces and homeland security, and be willing to oppose any effort to use our military for nation-building or progressive social experimentation. We must again be the party of economic growth. The American people know we cannot borrow, spend and bail our way back to a growing economy. Republicans must offer alternatives for restoring growth through tax relief, expanded trade, spending discipline and no more government bailouts. We must detail our alternatives to Democratic plans to raise taxes and expand the federal government in education, health care and entitlements. Ideas like a balanced budget amendment, school-choice vouchers, health savings accounts and welfare reform should take center stage in the Republican agenda. And we must have a vision for defending the cherished values of life and marriage whenever they come under attack from the courts, the new administration or congressional liberals.
Third, Republicans need to take our vision and agenda to every American regardless of race, creed or past political affiliations. Our party was forged in a war over the principle of equality of opportunity and we need to return to its vigorous defense. The Democrats offer a vision of hope based on increased dependency and welfare-state politics. Republicans must go to every community and offer a better hope built on equality of opportunity, personal responsibility and the desire of every citizen to live the American dream unfettered by high taxes and government red tape.
Finally, Republicans must be the loyal opposition. We will support the president and his party in Congress whenever principle permits us to do so. And we will respectfully oppose the administration and the liberal Democratic majority every time consistency to principle demands. But we cannot make the next two years merely a battle between Democrats and Republicans. We must make the next two years a debate about what makes America great and whether we are still a land of opportunity for everyone willing to dream big and work hard or whether we have accepted a slow decline into European-style paternalism. We must make the next two years an honest debate over the government’s role in our lives and how we can best preserve the freedom and material blessings of this nation for ourselves and our children’s children.
If Democrats are true to their campaign promises, Republicans will have the opportunity to take a stand on behalf of the American people-to give Americans more access to American oil, to preserve secret-ballot elections in the workplace, to defeat Fairness Doctrine censorship on the airwaves of talk radio and to defeat any effort to overturn reasonable restrictions on abortion at the state level. In these battles, Republicans can be on the side of everyday Americans, fighting to preserve their freedoms, their prosperity and their values.
Republicans have an opportunity to redefine our party with humility, vision, policy alternatives and a willingness to fight for the priorities and values of everyday Americans.