Cal  Thomas

It would be difficult to find a more committed supporter of President Bush than Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). Pence, who is in his second term, is a self-described "Christian-conservative-Republican, in that order." He is the essence of the Bush base, which is why his Jan. 22 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering in Washington ought to cause concern at the White House. After testifying to his pro-Bush (and pro-Reagan) credentials, Pence suggested that the "ship of conservative governance has gone off course."

Pence's indictment included this line: "... many who call themselves conservatives see government increasingly as the solution to every social ill and - let us be clear on this point - this is a historic departure from the limited-government traditions of our party and millions of its most ardent supporters."

Congressional Republicans and the Bush administration apparently believe they can buy the votes of a number of groups - including the elderly (prescription drug benefits) and Hispanics (amnesty for illegal aliens) - but once a federal law or policy is in place it is more difficult to kill than a vampire.

In his speech to CPAC, Pence pointed to the Department of Education as one of many examples of government gone wild: "A decade ago, when I first ran for Congress, Republicans dreamed of eliminating the federal Department of Education and returning control of our schools to parents, communities and states. Ten years later (we get) the 'No Child Left Behind Act' ... our Reaganite beliefs that education was a local function were labeled 'far right' by Republicans and the president signed the bill into law with Ted Kennedy at his side."

About prescription drug benefits for seniors, Pence said many conservatives were prepared for a limited program, "but instead of giving the president what he requested, the Congress - the land of the $400 hammer - (created) the largest new entitlement since 1965, a massive one-size-fits-all entitlement that would place trillions in obligations on our children and grandchildren without giving any thought to how we were going to pay for it."

Pence added, "Conservatives know that if you reject these principles of limited government and urge others to reject them you can be my ally, you can be my friend, but you cannot call yourself a conservative."

Cal Thomas

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Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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