Barack Obama’s overwhelming win in North Carolina seems to have ended the lengthy Democratic presidential primary process. Sure, Hillary Clinton’s vowing to fight on, and maybe she’ll keep running all the way to Denver -- but the media, eager to get on with the business of attacking John McCain, have already moved on (see, for example, TIME magazine).
Assuming Obama’s the nominee, there’ll be plenty of time in the months ahead to analyze a race between two candidates who are mirror images of each other in one critical way: John McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination by winning states (Massachusetts, California) he probably won’t carry in the fall, while Obama gained the Democratic nod by doing the same thing (North Carolina, Georgia).
So let’s look at another other national race. Or more correctly, the 435 local races that make up a national race. Things don’t look good for the House minority party going into the fall. In recent months, Republican candidates lost special elections in Illinois and Louisiana, giving up seats that had been in GOP hands for decades.
The congressional majority of President Bush’s first six years lost its way when it jacked up spending, increased the number of earmarks and created an expensive new entitlement plan (Medicare Part D). Not much for conservatives to brag about.
Over the next few months, though, conservative ideas could serve as guideposts for a new “Contract with America.” There are at least three good ideas just waiting to be articulated.
First is a topic near to every American’s heart: gas prices. They’re soaring, with no ceiling in sight. This presents a temptation for politicians to go with a cheap shot, but it’s pointless to say “gas prices have increased $1.50 per gallon since Nancy Pelosi was sworn in.” People see through that as a cheap political attack and rightly dismiss it, the same way they see through the silly claims that John McCain wants us to be fighting in Iraq for the next 100 years.
Instead, conservatives should offer substance. A key reason gas prices are so high is because the world isn’t producing enough crude oil. Supply and demand is pretty simple. If we want the price of something to come down, we must produce more of it.
Here’s where Pelosi leaves herself open to attack. “Drilling is the failed energy policy of yesterday that has brought us record gas prices today,” she announced at a recent news conference. But she’s wrong -- it’s our failure to drill that’s created a shortfall of supply.
The United States is the only country that has placed a good chunk of its domestic energy supply off-limits. The Department of the Interior estimates there are 19 billion barrels of oil and 84 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in our nation’s Outer Continental Shelf. That’s enough for several years of domestic oil and gas consumption. Conservative candidates should insist we drill for those resources.
Next, conservatives should vow to slash federal spending.
The federal budget is like a balloon that only gets bigger. Every new program enacted or federal employee hired becomes a permanent feature on the landscape. Lawmakers seem to think they can only add to, never subtract from, the size and scope of government.
That’s not what voters want.
Conservatives should vow to cut spending, and they should lay out particular programs they’ll put on the block. Farm subsidies would be an excellent place to start. In the last four years, prices for critical crops have increased more than 200 percent. Americans feel the pinch every time they go to the supermarket.
Yet the federal government hands out some $25 billion every year in farm subsidies, with most of that money going to big agribusinesses. Consumers pay for food at the cash resister, and through their taxes. It’s time to let farmers, who are doing very well, sink or swim on their own.
Finally, conservative lawmakers should revive an idea President George H.W. Bush proposed but shelved prematurely. Every tax return contains a box asking if taxpayers want to contribute to the presidential election campaign fund. We should create something similar to allow taxpayers to dedicate at least a portion of their taxes to a specific program.
Liberals seem to think Americans love the welfare state, so let’s find out. Allow Americans to dedicate, say, 10 percent of their tax burden to the program they choose: defense, roads, housing, Social Security, whatever. We taxpayers are the paying customers, after all.
Most of us are relieved we don’t get all the government we’re paying for -- but we’d certainly get less government if people were able to decide which programs were worth paying for (the Army) and which weren’t (bridges to nowhere).
Voters deserve a real choice. Politicians should offer our country real -- conservative -- solutions. Doing so would prove them worthy of our votes.
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