The Future of Conservatism
AEI Newsletter

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)
and AEI's Newt Gingrich
The conservative movement of the last fifty years has helped Republicans gain a majority in both houses of Congress, seats in state legislatures, and two-term presidencies for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. At a June 28 AEI conference, Representative Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and AEI’s Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and the driving force behind the most famous conservative agenda of modern times, the 1994 Contract with America, considered how conservatism should proceed and consolidate its electoral gains.

Representative Pence described the current era as a “crossroads” at which conservatives must decide whether to recommit to smaller government, traditional moral values, and fiscal discipline or continue to “sacrifice those principles on the altar of preserving our governing majority.” Although he viewed the president’s 2004 reelection as an endorsement of the conservative agenda, he worried that the conservative movement is currently drifting into “the uncharted waters of big-government Republicanism,” wherein many Republicans now see government as a cure for every social ill. The congressman urged a restoration of the guiding principles that governing best means governing least, that freedom contracts when government expands, that the government should never do for an individual what he can and should do for himself, and that a society is ultimately judged on how it treats its most vulnerable members.

In accordance with these principles, Pence suggested that Congress undo campaign finance reform, claiming that the answer to inequities in political campaigns is greater freedom of participation, not less. He also contended that the Medicare prescription drug entitlement should be reconsidered, as in his view it wrongfully applies a one-size-fits-all solution regardless of the wealth of recipients and the projected costs to the U.S. Treasury. According to the congressman, the No Child Left Behind Act should be changed to reflect that education is properly a function of state and local governance. Republicans in Congress, in his opinion, should support the president’s drive to modernize Social Security, overhaul the internal tax code, and free the American people from the cultural consequences of an activist federal court--by, for instance, supporting a strict constructionist nominee for the Supreme Court.

Gingrich agreed that this is a critical moment for conservatives, particularly with “the inevitable cross-pressures for any president serving a second term as to where the party and the movement should go.” He praised the current administration for the size of the tax cuts it championed, the effort to transform an entitlement society into an ownership society, and the shift from handling terrorists as criminals in need of understanding and prosecution to treating them as enemies who must be defeated.

The former Speaker noted, however, that there is certainly room for improvement. He divided challenges for modern conservatives into three categories: performance, production, and style. On the first of these, he stressed that the public judges the majority party on what it accomplishes. Gingrich noted that too often Republican congressional leaders fight as if still in the minority and that Democrats will continue to try to put them on the defensive. In terms of production, he asserted that while the Left has always said the solution to many problems is a government-granted free lunch, the Right has too often become anti-Left rather than articulating the goal of an “earned lunch,” wherein citizens have greater control over their own lives. In stylistic terms, Gingrich encouraged Republicans to advocate their ideas forcefully and to articulate the reasons why their solutions will work--something he admitted Republicans have not always done well.

On one such issue, the battle to reform Social Security, Gingrich found that the system cannot sustain a simultaneous debate about future insolvency, benefit cuts, and personal accounts. Instead, he urged the administration to focus on the latter and predicted that the Democrats would continue to oppose the idea and thereby risk being seen as the anti-youth party.

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