Wednesday, October 20, 2010

False Comfort and True Hope

As we approach the 2010 midterm elections, prognostications are everywhere about the extent of the Republican gains and the fractures in the Democratic Party. Of course, two years ago, the Republicans were deeply divided and the Democrats were unstoppable behind their leader of hope and change. Politics is a fickle enterprise and the patience of the electorate is not endless.

The Obama message of hope, change and government spending is facing stiff opposition. His failure to extract US troops from the Afghan and Iranian theaters frustrates his party's anti-military base. Even the Democratic health care victory is Pyrrhic, with most Americans wanting drastic modifications or outright appeal. Attempts to marginalize Tea Party participants as dangerous extremists get only momentary traction before losing ground to the everyday realities of a bad economy and rising global tensions.

For Republicans, this is an ideal opportunity to make real gains, not only in House and Senate seats, but in clarifying their message and policies and helping to set a new direction. Failure to seize this moment could result in the exact opposite of what conservatives are hoping for - a resurgent Left in 2012. The mistakes of 1994 must not be repeated and the false comfort of political gains must not obscure the hard work ahead if the American ship is going to to be put to rights.

I think there is an opportunity for Truman Democrats and Eisenhower Republicans to find their sea legs again and actually govern wisely. Admirers need to remember that President Reagan's success rested upon deep moral and philosophical principles and the ability to connect with people with love and respect. The coldness of former Presidents Bush and the condescension of Obama are not the way forward. We will need character, charisma, competence and cooperation in order to solve the serious issues confronting our nation.

Our problems require reversing the 80-year trend toward federal centralization and control of our daily lives. Actually following the intent of the our Founders and releasing more power to the states, local governments and individual citizens is the way forward. But saying this - even sincerely believing it- is one thing; implementing it is quite another. It is easy to say, "Reduce the size of government!" until thousands lose their federal jobs and millions are affected by a loss of federal funds. It is going to take careful thinking, bipartisan planning and real courage to turn the tide toward local responsibility.

We must get spending under control - including military spending. There is a great difference between weakening our security and finding ways to be more efficient. We must work to privatize public employee pensions - and hold the managers of such funds under greater ethical scrutiny. We must have immigration reform without capitulating either to racism or self-destruction of our citizenship process and the rule of law. We must reassert our uniqueness as a nation and refuse bow to any foreign governing authority or monarch, all while leading the world in peacemaking efforts. We must improve education - through local choices and control, not federal mandates.

Even Reagan failed to reduce the size of the federal government. Much to the consternation of conservatives, it was President "Slick Willy" Clinton, in cooperation with Newt Gingrich and company, that came the closest to a balanced budget (albeit during the boom) and helped four million folks get off welfare. There is no progress without cooperation, sacrifice and temporary traumas.

Republicans need to beware of false comfort and make sure that new power does not intoxicate them and reduce their sensibilities to govern wisely. Just ask Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi how "easy" it is to govern when in power!

Democrats must not take false comfort in their ability to resist the will of the American majority, paralyze attempts at compromise and hope to come roaring back in 2012.

Both parties must work together on deficit spending, infrastructure needs, military strategy, decentralization and re-empowerment of the people, and rediscovering core values that all can agree on for a civil society.

True hope is found in moral and spiritual transformation, not elected officials. True hope is not a new government subsidy, but healthy choices that create a better future. True hope is not wishful thinking, but substantial confidence in God and the principles of liberty our Founders bequeathed to the world. True hope is not libertarian anarchy and narcissism; nor is it centralization and collectivism. True hope is unleashing individual initiative in an environment pf personal and social responsibility guided by the Golden Rule.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, all Americans must reject false comforts offered by power-hungry demagogues in both parties and choose the true hope found in faith, hope and love.