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Articulating the philosophy of conservatism

By Scott Tibbs, October 16, 2008

A caller to the Afternoon Edition earlier this week mentioned that Republicans, from the top of the ticket down, need to articulate a conservative vision for this country in the same way Ronald Reagan did. We can debate policy or specific political issues, but Republicans in general have done a poor job articulating the philosophically conservative vision.

Let me use tax cuts as an example. Republicans argue that we need to cut taxes in order to stimulate the economy. Democrats respond with their own public policy arguments. What Republicans need to do is explain why tax cuts, independent of public policy, are the right thing to do.

What Republicans need to tell voters is this: "You work 40 or more hours a week for your pay. The money in your check is there because you earned it. It is a payment for the work you have done. We in government have done absolutely nothing to earn that money. One of the trade offs of this society is that we need to take some of your money by force in order to fund the essential functions of government. However, because that money, first and foremost, belongs to you. we are going to take as little of it as possible and only for essential government services."

In other words, Republicans need to make the moral case for tax cuts, that the money earned belongs to the people who worked to earn it. We need to make the philosophical and moral case for smaller, less intrusive and less expensive government. And we need to tell the voters that we trust them with their money far more than we trust the government. We need to show humility by telling voters we do not know how to spend their wages as well as they do.

The same case can be made for devolving federal power to the states, something that the Republican Congress tried in 1995 but had difficulty getting much of it past President Clinton's veto pen. We need to make the case that the government closest to the people is best. The individual voters have much more influence over their Governor than their President, and they also have more influence with their state legislator than with their member of Congress. Republicans should articulate that want to give the people as much control over their government as possible by moving government's power closer to them. The closer that government is to the people, the better.

The problem is that Republicans at the national level, with a few principled exceptions, have abandoned the philosophically conservative vision articulated by Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. Republicans have passed a brand new federal entitlement program with the Medicare prescription drug benefit; Republicans have significantly increased the federal government's role in primary and secondary education through the No Child Left Behind Act; Republicans have passed a "campaign finance reform" act that actually regulates the content of political speech, and Republicans have pushed through a number of new law enforcement powers for the federal government in the name if fighting Muslim terrorists.

If the Republican Party is to be successful, the GOP needs to embrace those philosophically conservative principles once again. Republicans need to tell voters that we trust them more than the government, and we will empower them by letting them keep more of what they earn. If we do that, we can bounce back in 2010 from what is increasingly looking like a significant defeat this November.