Thomas Jefferson wrote that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” Little in recent history shows him to have been wrong. Which is why the outcome of the 2012 presidential election has many conservatives worried over the future of the country.
It’s hard not to conclude from the outcome that a critical mass of voters have bought into the notion of ever-increasing transfer payments from others. The U.S. has reached a tipping point where about 50 percent of Americans do not pay federal income taxes. They have no skin in the game, yet they can vote themselves an increasing share of government benefits at little or no cost to themselves. This situation has the potential to create what amounts to a permanent ruling party, a deadly recipe for a never-ending spiral of spending that will inevitably bankrupt the nation.
Some government assistance is necessary to help the truly needy. But programs often intended as temporary “safety nets” for people who fell on hard times have become for many a way of life.
Headed down wrong path
The November election cemented in place higher spending and debt, increased regulation and federal control over our health care. Many fear the sluggish economy, high unemployment, falling incomes and rising poverty of the past four years are also here to stay.
And what did we get for all this spending? Full employment? Robust growth? A surge in business and consumer confidence? The exact opposite. Six trillion dollars in debt and not much to show for it. That ought to have been the central fact of this election.
Instead, we got the politics of envy, class warfare and “You didn’t build that” from Obama and “The 47 Percent” from Romney. But anti-business rhetoric won’t pay down the debt and jacking up tax rates on “the rich” to even confiscatory levels will still get you nowhere near balancing the budget. And Republicans complaining about our growing entitlement state will not help fix matters.
Stay out of the bedroom
That’s why America needs a true conservative party that can offer a viable alternative to the rampant liberalism we’ve seen the past four years. Most Americans apparently agree. By an 8-point margin (51-43), exit polling revealed that Americans believe that government does too much in our country.
But to change that, the Republicans must become relevant again on a national basis. The party needs to win countrywide elections and to do so it needs to get out of the bedroom. Divisive social issues are just that – divisive. Litmus tests on abortion, gay marriage and other culture war issues lose elections in today’s increasingly diverse America – and rightly so. If conservatives are truly for limited government, then we need to limit government’s interference in these issues as well.
Vision of limited government
A strong conservative party would offer a different vision from today’s reality. A vision where merit and hard work are rewarded and where neighbors – not the government – help each other in tough times. It would strive to shape a government that acts for the common defense, while leaving free enterprise and private philanthropy to thrive. It would be a party of conservative values – traditional American virtues of individual liberty, hard work and personal responsibility – principles that have been eroded by five decades of growing government dependence, courtesy of both political parties.
We need a real two-party system. We do not need a Republican Party that is Democrat-lite, that favors a growing entitlement state, unrelenting spending increases and debt as far as the eye can see – just not as fast, as unrelenting or as far as the Democrats.
The vision the Republican Party needs to present is one of limited but effective government. An environment where individuals and businesses are free to deploy their talent and capital. A system where investment is rewarded, a well-educated labor force is available, regulation and taxes are reasonable and legal outcomes are predictable and fair. Fiscal restraint and a balanced budget. A path to citizenship for undocumented workers coupled with strict border enforcement. An end to crony capitalism favoring government-selected companies or industries.
Without a viable opposition party to convince a skeptical America that there is an alternative to big government cradle-to-grave entitlements, the country will be in real trouble. A government that grows faster than the economy’s ability to support it tends to end in crisis. Just ask the Italians, Greeks and Spainards how that turned out. Or recall the quote from Star Wars, “So this is how liberty dies … with thunderous applause” as the central government snuffed out freedom.
Frank Dowd IV is the chairman of Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Company, a 111-year old domestic manufacturer.
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