Govs. Sanford and Perry impressed in Thursday night’s Republican Governor’s Association’s ‘Tea Party 2.0′
Between the refreshing zeal shown during last month’s tea parties, the recent escalation of a dispute between fiscal and social conservatives, and an administration which is not nearly losing political capital and public opinion as quickly as it should be, I have become nothing short of obsessed with the future of conservatism and the Republican Party. I’ve long lamented the GOP’s inability to keep pace with the tech- and grassroots-savvy Democratic Party, and worry that those of us on the right will lack the cohesion and organizational infrastructure necessary to take advantage of faltering political rivals when the time is finally right.
After all, the nonfeasance and malfeasance of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats will inevitably manifest itself in staggering inflation, crushing job loss and the mass exodus of business and industry, not to mention the realistic possibility of another terrorist attack on our own soil facilitated by our new, laissez-faire, détente-at-all-costs approach to foreign policy – the GOP must be ready as an alternative to the big-government Democrats, ready to provide Americans with a feasible plan by which our nation can begin a return to that which our founders intended when they established this great experiment.
The prospect of being properly equipped, adequately prepared and sufficiently organized to reclaim America when presented with the opportunity by a faltering majority keeps me up at night. Last night, however, I slept like I haven’t in a long while, and here’s why.
Yesterday evening, at about 10:00 p.m., I hung up my telephone after listening in on a conference call sponsored by the Republican Governor’s Association. According to Mike Schrimpf, Communications Director for the RGA, I was only one of more than 30,000 people who listened and participated.
The call itself, according to the RGA organizers, was “inspired by the tea parties seen across the country on April 15th” and was intended to “honor what each and every one of those patriotic Americans started anew.” Both South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford—chairman of the RGA—and Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke a bit and answered questions from the crowd; as solid conservatives and part of the solution rather than the problem, both had attended tea parties in their respective states, events where many politicians simply were not welcome. There’s a reason these two men were an exception.
The topics ran along the political spectrum, from the always contentious issue of abortion to the perilous lessons of the Weimar Republic to the new debate over detainee abuse photos, but for the most part the main, overarching themes were fairly simple – the overall role of government, the conservative movement in general, and the importance of upcoming gubernatorial contests.
For a good while now, I’ve been writing and talking about the Republican Party’s need to distill its message down to the vision that Thomas Jefferson had with regard to the balance of power in America. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, instead of focusing on and arguing about taxes and sanctity of life and welfare reform and entitlement reform and responsible spending and cap-and-trade, it occurs to me that, in order to be relevant and connect with a broad spectrum of people while retaining our very core conservative principles, the GOP should approach everything in terms of role and scope of government. It may seem overly simple to ask Americans, before asking anything policy-specific, exactly how involved they want the federal government to be in a particular aspect of their daily lives, but remember that when it comes to simplicity of message, just last year we were handily trounced by the superficial prospect and empty promise of “change.”
Without spoiling a bigger piece I’m working on, what the role-of-government approach essentially boils down to is a way to bring together the currently warring fiscal and social factions of the political right in America. Since well before the election I’ve spoken about how, instead of building a bigger tent to accommodate those in the center and even on the center-left, the Republican Party must patch the holes over those of us on the political right who have been left standing out in the rain and cold, staring in at the dilapidation of our party and degradation of our values. Adopting a straight role-of-government approach would provide for a flexibility in focus and a recurring theme—sorely lacking in campaigns past—without abandoning the core principles of the conservative movement. The RGA conference call was fantastic in that regard. It seemed as though the Jeffersonian idea of governmental size, scope and influence rung true with both Sanford and Perry, and both kept intently focused on the ills of federal government run wild.
Perry in particular spoke about the power of the several states, bringing back memories of his secessionist talk during the April 15th tea party in Texas. Last night, the Texas governor mentioned his own children briefly before stating that he “worries about the young people” when he looks at what is going on in Washington, D.C., at the debt we are incurring, at the ever-expanding scope of the federal government, and at our freedoms, eroding with each passing day. He also touched briefly upon legislation in Texas dealing with the Tenth Amendment which, in Perry’s words, “goes right to the heart of what the tea parties are all about.”
“When it comes to the Tenth Amendment, I look at it pretty simply,” Perry said, cautioning that he was neither attorney nor constitutional law scholar. “The federal government was created as an agent for the states, not the other way around. It’s a simple concept, but it’s been lost on so many.”
Alone in my living room, a cordless phone on the coffee table, I clapped when I heard that.
Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist No. 28, wrote of the pendulum-like nature of federalism and the balance of power in America, warning that the federal government may, from time to time, wield excessive power at the expense of the state governments and of the people just as, at other times, the state governments may wield excessive power at the expense of the federal government and of the people. Either way, drought or deluge, feast or famine, the very nature of this nation and its people will right a government listing in one direction or another.
In theory, Hamilton was correct; in practice, however, he was wrong. The pendulum has swung in only one direction. In the 220 or so years since then, Congress has constantly engaged in activities shifting power further and further away from the people and from the states and into the coffers of the federal government. An overreaching Congress, helped by an activist judiciary and the misinterpretation and perversion of essential measures like the Privileges or Immunities Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, has permitted a power grab of epic proportions. One by one, the Fourteenth Amendment has incorporated provisions of the Bill of Rights against the states. Overzealous legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act has handcuffed the states and enjoined them from pursuing measures that work best for each specific environment, each in competition with one another to establish what fosters success and what does not. Time and time again, the federal power grab has overshadowed the need for a state-by-state, free market approach to governance. Now, considering the goals of the Obama administration and the spendthrift nature of this Congress, America is getting a glimpse of just what such a deviation from Jeffersonian principles will mean.
As I’ve mentioned so many times before, the Jeffersonian model brings about that essential free market approach to governance, and allows state and local governments to take advantage of insight from other state and local governments confronting and weathering similar situations and circumstances.
I keep coming back to what Ronald Reagan said during his seventh State of the Union address. On that day in January 1988, President Reagan maintained that “some years ago, the federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won.” He suggested that Washington exhibit “a little humility” and extolled the benefits of a Jeffersonian system of strong states and limited federal government. “There are a thousand sparks of genius in 50 states and a thousand communities around the nation,” he told a revitalized nation. “It is time to nurture them and see which ones can catch fire and become guiding lights.”
During last night’s conference call, it became clear that Gov. Perry understood the merits of Reagan’s words, and of those spoken by Thomas Jefferson so many years before.
“We need competition,” Perry said. “I want to compete with Mark Sanford in South Carolina. He’s going to keep taxes low, he’s going to keep the regulatory burden in check, and South Carolina is going to grow and become stronger because of it. That’s the type of competition that the states should be involved with. If this administration has its way, though, we’ll all look the same, we’ll all be a reflection of Washington, D.C., and that would be devastating for America.”
Perry and Sanford both celebrated the virtues of several Republican governors throughout the evening, mentioning how Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty “vetoed a billion dollars in new taxes last Saturday,” how Hawaii’s Linda Lingle “vetoed four different tax increases last Thursday,” and how Republican chief executives such as Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, Connecticut’s Jodi Rell, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and others have all shown resolve in drawing upon the core values of fiscal conservatism in guiding their individual states and citizens through trying economic times.
“Those governors and their reflection of their fiscal conservatism is what Americans will pay attention to,” Perry said. “And when you compare Republican governors in general with their Democrat counterparts, you see that 90 percent of the states considering sales and income tax hikes right now are controlled by Democrats, and that’s one of the reasons we need to do a good job of standing up, defining ourselves in our states as conservatives.”
When it comes to matters of defining the Republican Party, both Sanford and Perry maintained that it all came down to the grassroots. The future of the conservative movement, they said, would come from the grassroots through the states; Washington, D.C. will only change when pressure from the states mount. Sanford, tipping his hat to his Texan colleague, went so far as to say that our nation is at “an Alamo moment,” a time to draw a line in the sand, a “serious gut-check moment in terms of what comes next for the American civilization.” Salvation, he said, would come from a return to first principles.
“If you look at this notion of what we’re really about, in this case I would liken the GOP as really little more than an essential, great brand in the world of business,” Sanford said. “If you think about the great brands, Caterpillar for example produces bulldozers, John Deere produces tractors, and when they find themselves in market difficulty, when they get into trouble, they don’t say ‘I tell you what, we’ve got engineering capacity, let’s go ahead and expand the tent to produce airplanes and boats and, by doing that, we’ll be able to grow our way out of the wilderness.’ That doesn’t make any sense. Instead, they say: ‘No, let’s go back to what made this company great in the first place.’”
In touching upon the need for the GOP to return to its conservative roots, the Palmetto State powerhouse (America’s Right is a big fan of Gov. Sanford) cited Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman’s landmark book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. One of the key tenets, Sanford said, was “sticking to the knitting.” Great companies, he said, stick to the knitting, “and so I think the resurgence of the conservative movement is key, and it goes to the idea of going back to what made us great in the first place.”
And while the key to the success of the Republican Party undoubtedly lies within the reversion to first principles, both Sanford and Perry agreed that the key to growth, prosperity, success and security for America as a whole relies upon the permeation of the conservative movement at the state level. Both cited 38 gubernatorial races looming in the coming 18 months, highlighting Bob McDonald’s race in Virginia and the race against John Corzine in New Jersey, both of which come to fruition this fall. A Republican victory in either state—preferably both—would, they said, send a message to the Democrats that the states and the people are not for sale, and that a state like Virginia may not be the blue state the national media holds it to be.
“What is past is prologue,” said Sanford, quoting William Shakespeare and noting that in 1992, the governor’s offices in both Virginia and New Jersey were up for grabs, and it was a Republican victory in both that paved the way for the Contract for America and Republican resurgence two years later.
Even during the darkest hours of last year’s presidential campaign, I held fast in arguing that a Barack Obama win in November could translate to 2008 being 1992 all over again. Just like during much of the first two years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, I argued, America would see a stagnant economy if not worse, and a revitalized GOP, down to its fighting weight and core values, would be ready to shock the world again in 2010.
Judging from what I heard last night, and considering how I awoke with a smile after a great night’s sleep this morning, this particular conservative is starting to believe. So long as we can find a way to distill our message, unite our dueling factions and present concerned Americans across the political spectrum with bold colors rather than pale pastels, with a choice as clear as Hamilton versus Jefferson, night and day, the right Americans can retake our nation in the names of and with the principles held by those imperfect but brilliant men who fought and bled and died so that we could be free.
Mark Sanford is right. This is an “Alamo moment.” The American people are waking up, and the new American revolution starts now.