(Scripps Howard Syndicate) Just maybe, possibly, conceivably we've come to a non-violent revolutionary moment in America, and here's one reason I think so: A Denver area conference. Called the Western Conservative Summit 2010, it impressed me not just because of the recitation of principles to which I subscribe -- individual liberty, limited government, constitutionalism, strength in the face of our enemies -- but because of the mood conveyed by both the audience of some 600 and more than a dozen speakers. Their disposition struck me as cheerful, positive and informed more by an idea of mission than anger at the other side. Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host, told the crowd that liberals were mostly good people, that many people in his own family were liberals. Don't attack them, he said. It's their fallacious arguments you want to deal with. He spoke of the great slogan on coins, "E Pluribus Unum," meaning of course that out of many different people, we are still one as a nation. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota talked about self-sacrifice, unity and dedication to one another as Americans. She ended her speech with the true story of four chaplains in World War II, a Jewish rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest and two Protestant pastors. Aboard a ship that was hit by a torpedo, they did everything they could to help the men aboard survive, even taking off their own lifejackets to give to others. They went down with the ship, their arms linked together. Putting such earnestly conveyed feelings of purposes beyond the narrowly partisan together with various acute analyses, I had an image of an emotionally balanced, powerful, alert, energized, morally informed, widely inclusive force awakened from slumber by an overly leftist administration and marching toward something pretty big. I don't mean just possible conservative control of the House after the November election, but rather long-term, significant efforts to subdue the threat of runaway statism while maintaining this country as "the last, best hope of earth," in the words of Abraham Lincoln. Of course, one regional gathering does not a revolution make. In and of itself, it proved nothing, though quite a bit, it seems to me, in the context of the town hall and Tea Party protests, of radio, cable TV and Internet commentary coming on top of what is being said in more traditional media and of polls telling us that increasing numbers of Americans are frightened about the direction of government. It is extraordinary to see the Tea Party rallies involving everyday, middle class Americans. Bashed, of course, as racists -- unlike Prager, many liberals cannot live without the ad hominem slur -- they are nothing of the kind. What set them off as much as anything was a new, ill-conceived, vastly controlling, misrepresented health-care entitlement that will cost hundreds of billions over the years on top of other entitlements that could be economically ruinous all by themselves. If you think the Tea Party represents just a tiny slice of America in its disenchantment with almost all things concerning Barack Obama, check out a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll saying close to six in 10 voters think the president is more apt to be wrong than right in policies. Most would agree with the Tea Party that the president's handling of the economy is better described as a mishandling of the economy. The public has even less use for both parties in Congress, as it should, given the irresponsibility of so many Republican and Democratic members. Some might think conservatives are still too unrepresentative of the whole to have long-term sway. But consider, first, that the latest Gallup poll says 42 percent of Americans call themselves conservatives while only 20 percent say they are liberal. Then consider estimates that no more than 40 to 45 percent of American colonists were clearly behind the independence movement while 20 percent remained steadfastly loyal to Great Britain. Remember who came out on top? (Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.)
(CCU Faculty) The fantastically successful, 1st Annual Western Conservative Summit is over. Some of our country’s leading thinkers and policy-makers joined concerned citizens from ten western States to reflect on where we are, where we need to go, and how conservatives can lead the way. Here are a few summary thoughts from the distinguished speakers who addressed the Summit:Our current situation is indeed bad: In his closing remarks during the final presidential debate of 1980, Ronald Reagan famously asked the American people: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" If we consider where we are today, as compared to where we were just 18 months ago, the challenges facing our nation have grown worse. When we consider the major difficulties facing our country – the economy, national security, protection of liberty, and America’s international standing – it is exceedingly clear that since the inauguration of President Obama, these conditions have not improved. Our economy continues to struggle. More people are out of work and many of the jobs that have been created during past 18 months are government jobs (including many temporary census jobs). National debt has skyrocketed, borrowing has increased, and the printing of new money has hurt our long-term chances of recovery. Turning to foreign affairs: Iran has increased their production of nuclear materials; our relations with Israel are strained; North Korea has sunk a South Korean ship and suffered no consequences; and the situation in Afghanistan is increasingly unstable. Conservatives are realists: If we fail to recognize legitimate threats to our homeland and our economy, we will indeed fall prey to interests who seek to do harm to our nation and our way of life. Pointing out the great challenges facing our nation is not done out of a desire to be negative; it is done to accurately describe the situation so that the process of correction can begin. Threats from radical Islam are real. Our borders are far from secure and before any immigration law is enacted, this must be corrected. Conservatives recognize the great threat that living “beyond our means” has on our economic viability. Government programs seeking to stimulate economic growth have proven ineffective. Bailouts and government ownership only enable worse corporate behavior in that they remove the consequences of poor decision-making.What we seek to conserve is important: We are often criticized as being backward-thinking and opposed to “progress.” There are some things that don’t require progress: self-reliance; respect for others; maintaining the tenets of Western Civilization; and reliance on God as the author of our liberties. Each of these is something that doesn’t demand “progress.” Lincoln recognized that the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence could not be made better; rather, they demand protection and cultivation, especially among our youth.Conservatism is a far better protector of liberty than “progressivism”: When the ideals that we seek to conserve are secure, individuals will have far greater protection of their liberties. The programs that Obama has implemented have been harmful to the entrepreneur, adding new taxes and regulations. The policies of the Obama administration have been harmful to individuals, limiting our choices when it comes to how we spend our money, where and when we will be able to access our healthcare, and ultimately, what medical procedures will be available. Through policies such as card check, new financial regulations, gun control measures, and campaign finance regulations, progressives seek to limit how we as citizens organize to influence the government and how we carry on in our day to day lives. Conservatives view each of these initiatives as an improper taking of liberty by the government.America, in spite of her many problems is still great, and indeed the greatest nation: We have an unparalleled record of defending the poor and oppressed, of aiding people in times of crisis, of respect for Judeo –Christian traditions, and of protecting free-enterprise and individual’s rights. We have and will continue to seek relief for those who suffer under dictators. We do not seek to rule over others; rather, we seek to spread the ideals of liberty and equality, that all men might enjoy these blessings. While there are, of course, historical failings, for centuries the clear mission of America has been to spread these ideals. We should acknowledge past and current failings, but recognize that the good done by the United States far outweighs our failures. We are indeed “the last best hope.”Hope and Change are on the way: While we agree that our nation is facing difficult challenges, the current leadership in both the White House and the Congress is incapable of dealing with these problems. The Conservatives, who gathered in Lone Tree the weekend of July 9-11, are not mere complainers, nor are they the “party of no.” Rather, we are people committed to a positive agenda that seeks to restore our sacred faith, protect the entrepreneur, revitalize our nation, protect our fundamental liberties, re-establish our leadership in the world, and effectively defend our nation from those who seek her harm.As we come down from the “summit” weekend, we must maintain the momentum. Conservatives first must seek to impact electoral change, then must hold these newly-elected officials accountable. It is clear that previous Republican administrations and Congressional leaders have failed to uphold these ideals while holding power. As conservatives, we are committed to electing those who share our ideas as well as holding them accountable once they hold office.
(Denver Post, Mar. 21) Political inexperience was the gold standard among 30 of my neighbors at a precinct caucus in Centennial last week. Fellow Republicans viewed the 2010 contenders for senator and governor with the hard eyes of swindle victims or jilted lovers. The less involved a candidate had been with our party’s time in state and national office over the past dozen years, the more acceptable he or she seemed for nomination this year.
Caucus night in March was only the first step on a long road to election night in November, 225 days from now. But it dramatized the “once burned, twice shy” distrust of government that will shape the choices made by Colorado voters in GOP, Democratic, and independent ranks. Trust when broken is hard to restore. That’s the penalty box our whole political system is in right now. Unpredictable new forces are in play as this campaign unfolds.
The Tuesday meeting at a school library near our house was older, white, and mostly men. Rainbow America we were not, but we gathered with a love for this land of liberty and a desire to make a difference. Before things started, there was laughter and applause when someone pointed to a presidential book display featuring Barack Obama and George Washington and quipped, “The goal is a government with less of him and more of HIM.
In the precinct straw poll for a nominee to regain the US Senate seat from Democrats Michael Bennet or Andrew Romanoff, Sedalia businessman and former state Sen. Tom Wiens took 40%, followed by former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton with 37% and district attorney Ken Buck with 23%. In the trial heat for governor, Evergreen businessman and rookie candidate Dan Maes got a notable 44%, trailing former congressman Scott McInnis, the prohibitive favorite, who had 56%.
Our tiny sample largely tracked the statewide Republican tallies, though it was Ken Buck who ran close with Jane Norton in the overall count. More striking to me than the percentages was the mood in the room. A burly guy named Larry spoke for many with his warnings of the tax-and-spend taint attaching to an ex-congressman and an ex- lieutenant governor. Countering him with the case for McInnis and Norton was the more youthful and smooth-spoken Cole, but you could see many skeptical frowns.
I’m uncommitted in both races, and cast a secret ballot that night. Any of the GOP contenders, whatever their shortcomings or the party’s past lapses, would obviously work harder for limited government – the imperative right now, before our country goes bankrupt – than would a Sen. Bennet, a Sen. Romanoff, or a Gov. John Hickenlooper as liberal Democrats. That’s why my party must not self-immolate in the 2010 primary as we did in the 2006 gubernatorial bloodbath. The prize is November.
Dems actually face a tougher task with this year’s fed-up electorate than my side does. Their Colorado ticket will be a pair of entitlement-peddling, union-bought insiders by whatever names. Our nominees can definitely take outside position against that. Whether Republicans are ready to use power more responsibly this time, if trusted with it again, is another question. Bluntly acknowledging that question would be a good start; frontrunners take note.
Nothing can be taken for granted. Lent is a far piece from Halloween. What if an autumn house of horrors found America at war with Iran? The incumbent party might benefit decisively from a rally to the flag. Half a year is an eternity in politics, we’ve learned again and again.
“I’m giving the Republicans one more chance,” Doug told our caucus. Bitterly disillusioned by McCain after 2008, he’s back as a delegate this spring. As buyers’ remorse with Obama deepens, will voters similarly gamble and grant the GOP a do-over?
(Denver Post, Feb. 7) “Both ends of the political spectrum are disgusting,” said reader Bill Hoppe in an email after my Jan. 24 column on bipartisan irresponsibility. “It becomes increasingly difficult to believe in our legislature at any level.”
Deborah Kelly’s letter to the editor, published here on Jan. 31, was equally despairing: “I can’t afford health insurance, and after the Supreme Court decision regarding campaign financing, now I can’t afford to vote either.”
As we watch the messy process of self-government in a free society, disgust and discouragement may tempt us all. While the reaction is only human, the answer is not to drop out. Rather the American way is to pick an entry point and plunge into the process for our own good. Its openness is a marvel, too little understood.
Deborah should consider that she can’t afford not to vote. And maybe with her ability to turn a phrase, she could help fellow dissidents argue down the political ads big business and big labor can now run. Bill should realize that the responsible center is wherever he is. As for “believing in” our legislators, why? They aren’t deities, just people. Motivating them is possible for that very reason, though.
We the people employ every public official in the land. Through our votes we can hire and fire them all – even the judges, who can be removed directly by state retention elections or indirectly by federal impeachment. It happens seldom, only because citizens have been lulled into forgetting our own power. Does last year’s wave of protest signal that this year we’ll finally awaken? The red tide for Brown in blue Massachusetts suggests we may.
Many of the state senators and representatives I served with were easily motivated by reminders of the next election. In some cases, too easily – it was said of Rod the Republican and Don the Democrat (not their real names) that they quaked before a few phone slips from constituents as if it were a full-on lobbying campaign. More’s the pity if good folks like Bill and Deborah yield to discouragement instead of phoning in their concerns.
One of my greatest pleasures since leaving the legislature has been getting to know a constant stream of such patriots-in-the-making who come around seeking either entry into the process or encouragement to plunge. I should have one of those “Doctor Is In” signs like Lucy in the comics. Her nickel fee wasn’t nearly as enriching as the satisfaction this over-the-hill politico gets from nurturing the new crop.
Businessman Tom wanted an introduction to tea-party leaders, which I made – along with arrangements for him to help a congressional candidate. Retired teacher Mel brought an inspirational article about the Constitution that we’ll place with a local blog. Consultant Claire had ideas for small-business activism but no audience; she’s now on the GOP breakfast circuit. Undergrad Kim and executive Joan both aspired to the foreign service, for which I tried to give age-appropriate counsel.
Candidates also come knocking, of course, and doing my bit for them feels good. But it’s the “wanna make a difference” private citizens who inspire me most. If some aim awfully high – such as Cliff from church with his health care agenda, or lawyer Mike with his plan for drafting the next president – all partake of the minuteman spirit that is America at its best. None are bogged in despair.
My friend Francisco, an American by choice and an engineer turned artist in midlife, quotes something Van Gogh wrote when all seemed hopeless: “I shall get over it, I shall pick up my pencil, and I shall draw again.” Our hope for 2010 comes not from the White House, but from citizens of all parties more ready than ever to pick up that pencil and participate.