Listening to some establishment Republicans grousing about the field of GOP presidential candidates should serve as a warning. Republicans, if they are not careful, are in danger of catching the same virus that infected Democrats in 2008.
That would be a messiah complex, the belief that one man (or woman) can deliver us from our collective economic, social and foreign policy "sins" and bring redemption to a nation from the consequences of too many wrong-headed choices.
Perhaps a Republican president with a 60-vote, veto-proof Senate majority and an expanded House majority might be able to revolutionize government, but only if squishy Republicans in both bodies went along, which seems problematic, especially on big issues.
Even if they did go along, does anyone believe Congress -- even with a large Republican majority -- would dismantle the Department of Education, as Ronald Reagan called for in 1982? Would Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid finally be restructured in a way that allowed current and soon-to-be retired people to stay on these programs, while offering a market-based, choice alternative to younger workers? Maybe.
Would the hard left and their acolytes in the media stand for this? Unlikely. Would Republicans, who too often have cowered at their own shadow, retreat from doing the big things because of demonstrations in the streets? Quite possibly. Would the amoeba wing of the party retreat in the face of charges they are "heartless" and "cruel"? Predictably.
There is a way to accomplish all of these things and more. The strength and heart of America is not in Washington. It is in "we the people." Where is the Republican presidential candidate who will say, "I am not your savior; I can't do more for you than you can do for yourself"? Why aren't they telling the stories of Americans who have overcome difficult circumstances with hard work and right choices, urging us to follow those examples? Ron Paul gets close, but he's the crazy aunt in the attic on too many other important issues.
We must re-learn the virtues that prospered previous generations. Forgetting them has contributed to a growing underclass and bloated government. No politician, no government, can shape a life better than the individual living it. Class envy doesn't start a business, or grow one.
Tearing down the wealthy and successful because they lived by principles that made them that way is not a prescription for building up others so they might become wealthy and successful. Why don't more people understand what politicians are doing to them and how they are harming their chances to achieve their American dream?
We know what works. History has taught us, or would, if we paid attention to its lessons.
Republican presidential candidates should be talking about what they will not do and then speak of plans to clear a better path to success for those who would get up and walk it. Tell people to stop waiting for the government bus that will drop them off where they started with little to show for the journey; build wealth, don't steal it from others; eliminate unnecessary regulations; reform the tax code so that everyone contributes something to America because we all benefit from freedom; learn again to live within our means and stop envying others. All these are good for starters.
They should also promise, if elected, to require every agency and program to justify its existence. If any work currently being done by government can be done better and at less cost by the private sector, it should. If any are outdated, inefficient or unnecessary, they should be ended and the money saved applied to our crushing debt.
Most of all, Republican presidential candidates should tell Americans they can't save us. Only we can save ourselves, at least in the secular sense. The Founders gave us a great document -- the Constitution. Now the question is, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, can we keep it? You people aren't messiahs, anymore than President Obama, but you might be apostles of the Constitution.
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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