Where Does the Conservative Movement Go from Here?

Senior Fellow
Newt Gingrich

The conservative movement has a simple and almost certainly successful future if it does three things:

1. Advocate first principles with courage, clarity, persistence and cheerfulness.

2. Insist on developing solutions based on those principles and insist on measuring other proposals against those principles.

3. Be prepared to oppose Republicans when they are wrong and side with Democrats when they are right, but always make the decision to support or oppose a matter of first principles and the application of those principles.

This is not "change we can believe in." This is debt you can count on and spending you will have no control over.

Advocating first principles with clarity was the essence of then Gov. Ronald Reagan's 1975 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference. He called for "bold colors and no pale pastels." He believed so deeply in first principles and was so courageous in advocating them that he challenged the sitting (appointed) Republican President Gerald Ford in the primaries in 1976.

Advocating first principles is essential because the American people are very confused about what to do. We are in an economic mess at home. Some of our state governments are in worse shape than the federal government in Washington (note Sacramento, Calif., and Albany, N.Y., for example). A Republican president just presided over a disastrous mismanagement of the economy with massive increases in federal spending and even bigger increases in taxpayer liabilities.

The Bush-Obama big government, big bureaucracy, politician-empowering, high-tax, high-inflation and high-interest-rate system continues to grow and to place the country in greater and greater danger from inflation, bureaucratic control of the economy, political interference in every aspect of our lives and massive debt.

The first job of the conservative movement is simply to tell the truth about how bad these Bush-Obama proposals are. The 2008 $180 billion stimulus program in the spring failed. The 2008 summer $345 billion housing bailout failed. The 2008 fall $700 billion Wall Street bailout failed. That was the first $1.2 trillion, and it was on former President George W. Bush's watch, but all three passed with then Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s "yes" vote.

Now President Obama represents continuity rather than change. The new spending bill (as the president called it in his Williamsburg speech last week) is more of the Bush-Obama continuity and represents more of the same instead of "change you can believe in."

This is debt you can count on and spending you will have no control over. This week, phase five of the Bush-Obama program is being unveiled by tax-evading Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner as he proposes the taxpayers bear another $2 to $4 trillion of potential debt (most of it hidden at the Federal Reserve and never voted on by the Congress).

Simply telling the truth about the big spending has already eroded its support from the American people dramatically. Americans have favored smaller government and lower taxes for two generations. Last week's CBS News poll indicates they still think business tax cuts will increase jobs much better than more government spending.

While telling the truth, we also have to bear the burden of providing solutions and not merely criticism.

The House Republican tax-cut plan would create twice as many new jobs at half the cost of the liberal big-spending bill. George Will's proposal to cut the FICA tax in half for a year would produce much faster stimulation to the economy than a government spending program. Rep. Paul D. Ryan's proposal to eliminate the capital-gains tax would bring much more money into creating jobs than everything the government will try to do through politicians and bureaucrats.

Conservatives need even more bold and comprehensive solutions.

At the Center for Health Transformation, Jim Frogue is developing an anti-fraud program for Medicare and Medicaid, while Dave Merritt is developing a comprehensive new market-oriented health plan for all Americans.

At American Solutions, there is an American Energy, Jobs and Prosperity plan being built that will turn American energy assets (including clean coal, ethanol, more production of oil and natural gas, new technologies from hydrogen to wind and solar and a vastly expanded nuclear-power program, as well as a dramatic modernization of the electric grid and an expansion of conservation) into money that stays here at home.

The next building boom ought to be in America instead of the Middle East, and the future of American energy consumption should be built on paying Americans rather than paying Venezuela, Iran, Russia or any other unreliable foreign country. OPEC's efforts to cut production and raise prices should remind us that the time to invest in new energy resources is now, before the next crisis.

Finally, the conservative movement has to learn to reach out to every American who wants a better future through freedom, hard work and opportunity.

At the 1976 Republican National Convention, Mr. Reagan made a real point of speaking directly to independents and Democrats as well as Republicans. One-third of Mr. Reagan's support in 1984 came from Democrats.

The conservative movement represents all Americans who are tired of big government corruption, big government taxes, big government inflation and big government politicians. That is a much broader audience than partisan Republicans.

The next few years will see a stunning resurgence of conservatism if we simply follow these three principles.

Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.

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