Sen. Mike Lee said Monday that conservatives cannot surrender the idea of community to the political left.
Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Mr. Lee, Utah Republican, said that conservatives need to remind voters including some Republicans that their message is one of social unity, not division.
“Ours has never been a vision of isolated, atomized loners,” Mr. Lee said. “It is a vision of husbands and wives; parents and children; neighbors and neighborhoods; volunteers and congregations; bosses and employees; businesses and customers; clubs, teams, groups, associations and friends.”
“The essence of human freedom, of civilization itself, is cooperation,” Mr. Lee said. “This is something conservatives should celebrate. It’s what conservatism is all about.”
Mr. Lee became a powerful symbol of the 2010 tea party insurgency, winning his seat after ousting three-term Sen. Bob Bennett, a fellow Republican, at the Utah GOP convention.
Since then, Mr. Lee has bolstered his credentials among tea partyers and conservatives, including last week when he helped defeat the Obama administration’s push for tighter gun-control laws in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Mr. Lee also supported Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster of the nomination of John O. Brennan to be CIA director.
Mr. Paul, Kentucky Republican, threatened to block the confirmation vote until the Obama administration clarified that it will not use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.
Mr. Lee said Monday that the conservative vision of freedom hinges on “two separate, but mutually reinforcing institutions: a free enterprise-based economy and a voluntary civil society.”
“Freedom doesn’t divide us. Big government does,” Mr. Lee said. “It’s big government that turns citizens into supplicants, capitalists into cronies, and cooperative communities into competing special interests.”
Mr. Lee said that contrary to liberal belief, the free enterprise economy “is the only economic system that does not privilege the rich” and is responsible for giving birth to “the middle class.”
“Progressives are equally dismissive of our voluntary civil society,” he said. “They simply do not trust free individuals and organic communities to look out for each other, or solve problems without supervision. They think only government only they possess the moral enlightenment to do that.”
Mr. Lee said that “a new conservative reform agenda” should aim to make sure that everyone is playing by the same rules and should promote federalism by pushing back against more Washington control of everything from transportation to education and health care.
“Conservatives should seize this opportunity not to impose our ideas on these systems, but to crowd-source the solutions to the states,” Mr. Lee said. “Let the unique perspectives and values of each state craft its own policies, and see what works and what doesn’t.
“In the past, conservatives given federal power have been tempted to overuse it. We must resist this temptation,” he said. “If we want to be a diverse movement, we must be a tolerant movement. The price of allowing conservative states to be conservative is allowing liberal states to be liberal.”