"Where there is no vision, the people perish..." (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)
It was George H.W. Bush who reportedly dismissed an idea from a friend that he should spend time at Camp David thinking about what he might do should he become president. According to a January 26, 1987 article in Time magazine, Bush is said to have dismissed the suggestion with this line: "Oh, the vision thing."
Now comes the new speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan, who is not only embracing the "vision thing," but is accusing his fellow Republicans of not having any vision at all.
Appearing last weekend on "Fox News Sunday," Ryan said, "We've been too timid on policy. We've been too timid on vision -- we have none. We fight over tactics because we don't have a vision."
He's right. Ryan might have also added that for too long Republicans have allowed the left to set the agenda and then spent too much time trying to prove they are not who the Democrats say they are.
Continued Ryan: "We have to have a vision and offer an alternative to this country so that they can see that if we get the chance to lead, if we get the presidency and if we keep Congress, this is what it will look like; this is how we'll fix the problems working families are facing."
That Ryan has to state what ought to be obvious is further evidence that too many Republicans are politically blind. Appearing the same day on "Face the Nation" on CBS, Ryan added: "We've taken plenty of tactical risks here in Congress. I believe it's time to take some policy risks."
An indication of the uphill challenge Ryan faces can be found in a recent New York Times story: "...the two parties do not just disagree on solutions to domestic and foreign policy issues -- they do not even agree on what the issues are."
Here's a radical idea: Ask the people. A major reason for the cynicism in America and the rise of "outsiders" in the current presidential campaign may be that most voters think members of Congress care more about their careers than the people they are supposed to represent.
According to a July Quinnipiac University poll, the most important issues for voters leading into the 2016 general election are the economy, health care and terrorism. Ryan should start with these and propose solutions that have worked in the past and could work again. Republicans have to stop allowing Democrats to set the agenda. There is not a single problem facing this country that can't be solved if the general welfare is put ahead of the welfare of politicians.
Ryan's visionary approach won't be risky if he demonstrates how Republican ideas have solved problems. These ideas work at the state level, where Republican governors and legislators are cutting taxes, streamlining government and creating jobs. He should lead a team off defense and into offense, promoting policies that offer hope, optimism and success, rather than policies that may sound and feel good at the moment. The increasingly (un)Affordable Care Act is just one of numerous government programs that sound good at the start, but don't live up to the hype.
Ryan and the Republican majority can begin with something his Catholic Church teaches: repentance. He should acknowledge the mess politicians have made, apologize to taxpayers and voters and vow -- yes, vow -- to begin to travel a different path. This will also require Americans who have come to expect more from government than it can, or should, deliver also to repent and set off on a new direction.
Too much reliance on government has led to addiction and dependency. Self-reliance is in America's DNA, but it may take the equivalent of 20/20 vision to rediscover it.