Learning and leadership for the next Congress

Posted: Nov 24, 2006 12:00 AM
Learning and leadership for the next Congress

I'm a businessman. One thing I’ve learned: the customer always teaches me. If I listen carefully, even when it hurts, it’s amazing how much value I can create by learning from my customer. The Republican party has a new opportunity to learn and lead from their customer – the voters. Before leaping into what the Republican party should learn, let me give you an illustration of a humbling learning experience I had as a business person. I am part owner of a homebuilding operation in Salt Lake City. The operation was floundering. We had come in from California and thought we could build a new high- vaulted ceiling product that Californians’ loved. Unfortunately the sales in Salt Lake City went poorly. We finally listened and learned. The customers did not want homes with lots of features and high ceilings. They wanted homes that could accommodate an ever-expanding family with lots of bedrooms and baths. Once we made the correction, the home sales soared. It was humbling to lose a lot of money in our grand start, but we made the corrections and are now the second largest homebuilder in Utah.

Last week Republicans got some very tough feedback from their customer – the people. The question now is, “What’s the lesson?” Joe Klein, from Time Magazine, says the lesson to be learned is to move more to the center. In some respects, especially Congress’s ability to play down partisan politics, I think he’s right. However, before Congress moves too quickly, I think they would be well served to review two very important statistics.

A polling company took an exit survey the day of the election and found that 62% of Americans supported less government and lower taxes while only 25% supported more government and higher taxes. In other words, the country is still conservative by a 12 point margin, which in terms of elections is huge. The voter is not advocating a “move to the center” when it comes to bigger government. Second, when people were asked if they believed Republicans were different in their spending patterns than Democrats, only 25% answered yes. Amazing – only 25% of the American people had confidence in the Republican party to spend less than the liberal Democrats. These two statistics tell us a lot. People want to elect representatives who will keep the budget under control and they don’t think Republicans have done a very good job at it, so it’s time to try something different. The pollster, when asked why she thought the Republicans had taken such a thumpin’, said that voters could not complete the crucial sentence, “I should vote for a Republican because…..” In other words, the Republicans had forfeited what they stood for, particularly since the age of Reagan – limiting the growth of government to crucial services and rejecting big government spending. On both counts, Congress failed. Now we get to see what a new Congress can accomplish.

I love the challenge from the Heritage Foundation to Nancy Pelosi. They essentially said, “Now that your party is in control, please put an end to the pork barrel politics of earmarks, one of the most egregious forms of “spending as usual” the Republican Congress failed to stop.” As Newt Gingrich has pointed out, “Nancy Pelosi is a very disciplined and smart professional.” If so, she will listen to the customer. She knows that the American people are still conservative in the majority of their views about big government. She wants to retain power now that she has it. Perhaps she will listen carefully enough to observe what happened to the losers of this Fall’s election. If she stops earmarks, takes on the problem of major entitlement spending, and at least agrees to not raise our taxes, perhaps the Republicans will face an even more formidable foe come the 2008 elections. However, if the Democrats ignore the wishes of the American people and charge ahead with more spending, higher taxes, and more government, the chances for a Republican victory in ’08 are very good.