Finding the "right" way back

Rebecca Hagelin
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Posted: Nov 15, 2006 4:24 PM

“We did not just lose our majority. We lost our way.”

That was Mike Pence talking in the wake of last Tuesday’s election. He has represented Indiana’s 6th District since 2000, and he was re-elected last week to a fourth term. Friday, he will be on the ballot for the post of Minority Leader in the 110th Congress.

He’s one of the clearest thinkers on Capitol Hill, and his post-election vision statement ought to be required reading for each and every conservative lawmaker.

Critics may call the election a referendum on Iraq or a reaction to various scandals, but Pence sees something else: a political party that, for all the good it has accomplished, strayed from its principles. “Somewhere along the way we lost our willingness to fight for limited government, fiscal discipline, traditional values and reform,” Pence said. “And I believe that millions of our most ardent supporters figured this out.”

Did the political scandals inflict some damage? Certainly. According to Pence, though, “the real scandal in Washington, D.C., is runaway federal spending.” Which, he reminds us, is a dramatic reversal of what brought many conservatives to power in 1994:

“After 1994, we were a Majority committed to a balanced federal budget, entitlement reform and advancing the principles of a limited federal government. In recent years, our Majority voted to expand the federal government’s role in education by nearly 100 percent, created the largest new entitlement in 40 years, and pursued spending policies that created record deficits, national debt and rampant earmark spending.

“This was not in the Contract with America. Our opponents will say that the American people rejected our Republican vision. I say the American people did not quit on the Contract with America -- we did. And in so doing, we severed the bonds of trust between our government and our most dedicated supporters.”

Pence echoed this message at a meeting with conservative bloggers held at The Heritage Foundation on Tuesday. He also laid out his top two priorities if he is elected Minority Leader. The first is “to challenge Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and her big-government colleagues at every turn.” Conservatives will face an aggressive liberal agenda, he predicted, and they therefore should be “cheerfully pugilistic” -- a phrase he used twice to indicate a need to vigorously oppose big-government lawmakers, but to do so constructively.

Cynics may scoff, but it can be done. As Pence notes in his vision statement, “There are Blue Dog Democrats [who] want to balance the budget, address our nation’s abounding debt, strengthen Social Security, and protect life and marriage. Our Minority will look for opportunities to work with them when there is agreement, and our hope will be that these occasions will not be few and far between.”

His second priority as Minority Leader relates to the White House. “I will stand with this president when he’s right and oppose him when he’s wrong,” he told his Heritage audience.

What’s needed, according to Pence, is a restoration of the Reagan ideals that inspired many conservatives to seek public office in the first place. Conservatives don’t need to go back to the drawing board and figure out what they believe. That’s been established for some time. At this point, he says in his vision statement, we need to remember and implement those ideas:

“We came here to promote freedom and opportunity. We came here to allow American families to keep more of their hard-earned money and spend it on their own priorities rather than Washington’s, a reality that only can be accomplished through less government, lower taxes, less federal spending and economic prosperity. We came here to rekindle the fires of men, material and morale that warm the warriors who stand on freedom’s ramparts in far-off lands. And we came here to assert again the constitutional rule of law, an unalienable right to life and the traditional values shared by millions of Americans.”

What matters, in the end, are not just your principles, but whether you’re willing to stick by them, especially when the political winds blow hard against you. What matters is not becoming the very thing you set out to conquer. As Pence put it, “We must take a page from the playbook of President Ronald Reagan, who taught us that it is not enough to believe great things, we must effectively communicate great things to the American people.”

Mike Pence communicates conservative principles by living them. While it took an election beating for some Republicans to “get religion,” Mike Pence has always kept the conservative faith, carried the flame and stayed the course. Although many in the Republican Party lost their way, Pence never lost his. He knows, as Reagan put it, that “either you will control your government, or government will control you.” That’s why, as many big-government liberals prepare to take over Congress, conservatives look to Pence as their best hope.