- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Reinventing conservatism” is really about reclaiming conservatism from those post-Reagan Republican leaders who hijacked the conservative movement and paved the way for the Obama administration to come to power.

What passes for conservatism in the post-Reagan era is barely recognizable to many of us who were grass-roots activists in the early days of the modern conservative movement — especially after eight years of a Republican administration headed by George W. Bush, who claimed to be a conservative.

The Bush administration failed to act in time to stem the credit and spending excesses of our “bubble economy.” Spending doubled at the Education Department; and federal mandates increased as well under the George W. Bush/Edward M. Kennedys “No Child Left Behind” legislation. Bush officials completely ignored the warnings of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater in “The Conscience of a Conservative” that federal funding inevitably leads to federal control over education and ideological conformity. The Obama administration has upped the ante by substantially increasing federal spending on education and imposing additional federal mandates.

A conservative reform strategy would turn the Education Department into a small research arm while returning federal tax dollars to the states and communities. Let parents, teachers, principals and superintendents decide how to spend that money to improve education in their diverse local communities. End the “one-size-fits-all” educational mentality along with federal mandates.

No matter the party in power, lawmakers simply argue over how much the federal government will grow — and how quickly — rather than how to do more with less. Conservatives long have warned of the dangers of big government liberalism which is in full bloom in the Barack Obama/Rahm Emanuel administration.

Big government leads to an excessive concentration of power, the growth of a bureaucratic state, deficit spending and the rise of “crony capitalism.” This can morph into state capitalism, with big business and big government forming an axis of power but with the government having ultimate control.

Yet, during the Bush presidency, some Republicans tried to make the case there is nothing wrong with big government as long as their people were in charge. They even coined a term for what they were doing. They called it “big government conservatism.” To me, “big government conservatism” is an oxymoron.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was quoted as saying, “Deficits don’t matter.” To most conservatives (and most Americans), deficits do matter; and the quicker we return to our traditional principles of limited government, balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility, the more likely it will be that we can reduce the negative impact on our economy of the next bubble to burst — the government debt bubble.

For most of our history before 1940, the federal budget was balanced every year. Returning to a balanced federal budget would impose a badly need fiscal discipline on Congress and the executive branch.

As for American foreign policy, neoconservative ideologues, led by then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, with the full backing of Mr. Cheney, persuaded Mr. Bush to back their strategy of a pre-emptive war in Iraq and the use of American military forces to impose democracy on the Middle East.

Neoconservatives are former liberal Democrats who turned Republican and occupied prominent positions in the first Bush administration. The architects of the Bush strategy to defeat militant Islam remind me of Robert McNamera’s civilian whiz kids who planned and oversaw our flawed strategy during the Vietnam war. The McNamera whiz kids had high IQs, but they were brilliantly wrong.

So, too, were Mr. Wolfowitz et al., who launched their pre-emptive war in Iraq over the objections of more knowledgeable and experienced military leaders such as Gens. Anthony Zinni and Norman Schwarzkopf.

Advocates of pre-emptive war in Iraq associate their strategy with the actions the Reagan administration took to win the Cold War. Yet, the Reagan strategy was successful with very little loss of American military lives. One can put together an effective strategy to deal with the threat of militant Islam that does not feature the use of military force in the Middle East as the primary option.

America has lost its way in recent decades, but true conservatives can lead us back by returning to the founding principles that made this such a great nation in the first place.

Tom Pauken is chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and author of the new book “Bringing America Home: How America Lost Her Way and How We Can Find Our Way Back.”

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