- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

The sixth year of the Bush administration is shaping up to be conservatism’s winter of discontent.

Republicans in Congress recently broke with President Bush on the DP World ports deal. Concerns over the Iraq war, a bloated budget and other issues have produced grumbling across the conservative side of the political spectrum. Combined with the scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, worries are mounting inside the Republican Party as the midterm election season begins.

For Edwin J. Feulner, the irony is obvious. These problems have erupted at a time when the conservative-dominated Republican Party is at its peak of modern power — controlling both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government and adding two conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

“For a conservative, this ought to be the best of times,” said Mr. Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation. “It sure isn’t.”

The veteran conservative activist laments the continued growth in entitlement programs, including the Bush-backed Medicare prescription drug plan. “We’ve added the only real new entitlement program since [President Lyndon B. Johnson],” Mr. Feulner said, adding that pork-barrel spending by Congress is also out of control.

But the Heritage chief isn’t just grumbling. Along with Doug Wilson, chairman of Townhall.com, Mr. Feulner has authored a book, “Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today,” an “action plan” intended to lead conservatism, and the nation, out of confusion.

“Getting America Right” is organized around six questions that Mr. Feulner and Mr. Wilson say “every citizen and every policy-maker should be asking and answering about every government action or policy that comes up for discussion.”

Those questions are:

• Is it the government’s business? “The federal government should do only those things that cannot be handled better by a state, a community or an individual,” the authors write.

cDoes this measure promote self-reliance? “Programs should help individuals stand on their own.”

• Is it responsible? “Lawmakers are unable to see the difference between high-priority spending and vanity projects like the infamous ‘bridge to nowhere’ in Alaska.”

• Does it make us more prosperous? “[I]n recent decades, our government has switched from promoting sound economic policy to dishing out advantages to special interests — and in the process, our economy has become weighted down with handicaps.”

• Does it make us safer? Mr. Feulner and Mr. Wilson call for “a new seriousness in Washington about the perils we face” from terrorists and foreign threats.

• Does it unify us? “When we permit people to become citizens and still think of themselves first as Chinese, Mexicans, Iranians or Nigerians — ‘hyphenated Americans,’ as Theodore Roosevelt put it nearly a century ago — we risk losing the glue that holds us together as a nation.”

Mr. Feulner said the book is not addressed only to Republicans.

“It’s a criticism of the whole leadership in both political parties,” he said.

Yet the former Reagan administration official is clearly unhappy with the direction congressional Republicans have taken in recent years.

“Some of them, I’m afraid, have forgotten why they came here and who sent them here,” Mr. Feulner said. “Others are … trying to placate either loud interests back home or within Washington. … They’re straying from their principles.”

Many of the concerns expressed in “Getting America Right” are the same that Mr. Feulner has been directing at both the Bush White House and congressional leaders for years.

“I think they know where I’m coming from,” he said. “As conservatives, we’ve been sounding the alarm.”

The Heritage Foundation has been issuing report cards on presidential administrations for more than two decades, and the Washington think tank doesn’t grade on a curve, Mr. Feulner noted.

“We go back in this business of being constructive critics certainly back to Ronald Reagan,” he said. “At the end of the first year of the Reagan administration, we put out a book called ‘The First Year,’ which said that Reagan only got a 62 percent in terms of implementing the conservative agenda. … That illustrates that no president is perfect and we’re pretty tough graders.”

Heritage isn’t interested in being a cheerleader for the Republican Party, Mr. Feulner said.

“We’re not here to make politicians feel good. We call ‘em the way we see ‘em.”

Heritage is about policy, not electioneering — “We let other people handle election politics,” Mr. Feulner said — and he has no forecast for November. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t noticed the grumbling in the grass roots during his travels while promoting the book.

“I’ve been in over a dozen cities in eight or nine states in the past two weeks,” Mr. Feulner said. “The conservative base is looking for leadership to get back to their principles. And if not, what I’m afraid they’re going to do is sit home. From my point of view, that’s the worst of all possible solutions.”

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