ROME -- Our Fox News' "War Stories" team is in the Eternal City making a documentary about World War II. From the headlines and news reports here, it seems as if European clocks stopped in 1992, when global media elites were giddy about the election of William Jefferson Blythe Clinton. Then the potentates of the press were agog about "The End of History," and pundits waxed eloquent about a "New World Order." Today it's all about how the election of Barack Hussein Obama and the prospective appointment of Hillary Rodham Clinton as our secretary of state will assure a "progressive dynasty" in the U.S. and help sweep liberal governments to power around the world. In short: The conservatives' day is done. Or is it?
In 1994, Newt Gingrich, then a congressman from Georgia, organized a Republican resurgence after the rout of '92. In a recent appearance on "Face the Nation," Gingrich recounted: "I've been through the '64 collapse, when the Republican Party was going to disappear, and the '74 Watergate collapse, when the Republican Party was going to disappear, and the '92 defeat of President Bush. And in each case, I watched us within a short time focus on new ideas and new solutions and within a very short time come back as a stronger and healthier party."
According to the "experts" here in Europe and at home, the conservative message no longer resonates with the American electorate -- or most Western democracies. Supposedly, we are in a new era of "redistributing wealth," increasing demand for domestic government intervention and global economic interdependence.
Those who propound these ideas ignore history. No economic system ever has brought about prosperity by discouraging thrift. No society has succeeded in strengthening the weak by weakening the strong; or boosted wage earners by pulling down wage payers; or helped the poor by destroying the rich. It is impossible to keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn or to build character and courage by taking away initiative and independence. Nor has any government been able to help people permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.
These ideas are neither new nor mine. They are actually a paraphrase of the principles of governance applied by the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, in his campaign to preserve our republic. Unspoken in Lincoln's platform was his unequivocal stance against slavery. "Honest Abe's" detractors believed his advocacy for abolition made him unelectable. They were wrong.
So, too, are contemporary critics such as former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. She contends that the Republican Party was "taken hostage" by "social fundamentalists" -- meaning devout Christians who believe strongly in the sanctity of human life. What the GOP needs are more, not fewer, pro-life activists in its ranks.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal understands this dynamic and is urging that his party look to his fellow state chief executives for future national leadership. He's right. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's pro-life, pro-Second Amendment message invigorated conservatives in this year's presidential contest, making it a much closer race than it otherwise would have been. But the Republicans can't just fight for the White House. If Republicans want to make a difference, the party not only must have the right ideas but also must run good candidates at every level -- particularly in the 2010 congressional races.
Today there are only 129 members of Congress who have served in our armed forces. (Since the end of World War II, the ratio of veterans in Congress usually has been closer to 50-50.) The GOP can fix that by reaching out now to the best and bravest of this generation: the remarkable young Americans serving in our armed forces. They are all volunteers, part of the brightest, best-educated and most combat-experienced military any nation ever has had -- and they don't have false illusions about the way things are in the rest of the world.
From personal experience, they know that America is one of a handful of places on earth where you can drink tap water or where you can flick a light switch and the lights will come on. They are aware that in the U.S., you can go to a store and buy almost anything you want -- that when you call the police, you do not expect brutality to show up at your door.
The young men and women who have served our country in uniform know that America is one of the rare places on the planet where you can get in a car and drive anywhere in the country with nothing more than a driver's license and a credit card. They appreciate that every citizen has rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Military service has taught them that competence, courage, integrity, perseverance and compassion are rewarded. Those qualities make them natural leaders.
Recruiting them to fight for what's right isn't just political. For them, it's personal. That would be good for all of us -- even our friends here in Europe.