A slew of conservatives including GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) will go before the Value Voters summit today. They will say many things the audience likes to hear and get much applause, but they won’t be honest. They aren’t about to level with the crowd — or they wouldn’t have been invited.
Here is the speech they should give, that the audience and the conservative movement, I would suggest, dearly needs to hear:
Friends can be honest with one another. They can intervene when those they love go off track or are pursuing self-defeating behavior. A good coach who cares about his team makes changes after a string of losses; a bad one tells them they lost because of lousy calls.
So here goes some unvarnished truth. The country is facing an economic crisis of low growth and unsustainable debt. We have robbed from our children’s future prosperity. We have neglected our international obligations, endangering ourselves and our closest allies and abandoned innocents facing repression. But we have also suffered a crisis in conservatism.
What do I mean by a crisis in conservatism?
We have convinced ourselves that a majority of Americans think just like we do, rather than understand our job is to find commonalities with those who don’t form the core of the movement.
We have listened to hucksters, promising unrealistic results who have used our money to attack fellow conservatives.
We have been dismissive of our fellow Americans who are not enjoying the American dream, calling them moochers and declaring them afflicted by a dependency mentality. We have been ungrateful toward Americans who work in government, assuming they are all lazy, incompetent and immune to financial suffering like the rest of us.
We have disregarded inconvenient facts, twisting polls and coming up with elaborate justifications for failure. We haven’t learned from electoral failures and we have ascribed defeat to fellow conservatives’ weakness.
We’ve been unsympathetic toward and unrealistic about illegal immigrants who came and have lived in America for years, working to try to provide a better life for their families. We have peddled racist notions that Hispanics are dumber, less ambitious and less productive than those of us whose ancestors immigrated to America in past generations.
We have failed to remember that in politics, as in life, we don’t get everything we want.
We have not been emissaries of the conservative message, but have instead turned inward to congratulate ourselves on ideological purity.
We have forgotten that conservatism is about freedom and about improving the lives of all Americans. We are driven to fight against ideological opponents instead of for our fellow citizens.
We have been blinded by the temptation of isolationism, imagining that America is not needed in the world and that we don’t need a peaceful, stable and free world. We adopt catch phrases like “We can’t be the world’s policeman” without comprehending that America is the sole superpower and the last, best hope for the world.
We’ve confused exhibitionism with effectiveness and ignored sober, experienced advice.
None of this is the fault of the mainstream media or even of the Democrats. These are self-inflicted wounds, errors of hubris. Pride goeth before a fall, my friends. But the good news is that we can always reflect, make amends and chart a new course that is true to our values and can resonate with a majority of Americans.
The first step is to decide if that is what we want to do — to persuade and to govern. If it’s not and the point is simply to burnish our ideological armor, then you can disregard what I’m going to say. There’s glory and money and fame to be made doing that, so I understand why many would choose that path.
But if you do want to succeed, we have to provide conservative solutions that ordinary Americans want and need. We have to embrace compassion as a conservative value, and understand that conservatism is not reactionary — about going back to an imagined past — but the hard work of conserving what is good and reforming what is not. We have to emulate and support the politicians who are doing it right — broadening our appeal and governing well, thereby helping more Americans to enjoy the promise of our country. We need to repress the desire to demonize our opponents, even as they demonize us. We know about turning the other cheek. We have to understand that our constitutional system does not allow for instantaneous and dramatic shifts in policy and that unless we win elections we will fail to solve America’s problems. And we have to live up to our obligations to act in defense of freedom and of free peoples, not always by force, but by force when necessary.
If you are willing to do all that, if you love America enough, believe deeply enough in the conservative message of limited government and believe that free markets are the best antidote to poverty, ignorance and suffering, then we can set out to revive American greatness and restore the soul of conservatism. If we don’t, conservatism as a political movement and as a governing philosophy will wither, and I fear America will wither with it.