- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Like most Americans, I am grateful for Sen. John McCain’s heroic service as a fighter pilot, a prisoner of war and, for nearly a generation, a member of the House and the Senate.

But I am troubled by reports in recent weeks that Mr. McCain has been, as Politico put it, “working behind-the-scenes to reshape the Republican Party in his own center-right image” and has “emerged as a political godfather” to moderate candidates, including my opponent in the race for the Republican Senate nomination in Kansas.

In that spirit, I would like to make Mr. McCain an offer he shouldn’t refuse: Let a new generation of conservative, innovative and people-focused leaders determine the future of our Republican Party.

Our nation has been thrust into a fierce debate as to our country’s direction - a battle of ideas playing out in town halls and tea parties, and a discussion that goes to the very heart of what America is all about and what government is for.

As Washington spins out of control, the American people are finding their voice and making abundantly clear what they think government isn’t for: Not for tossing out hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out banks and Wall Street firms that played fast and loose with investors’ funds. Not for controlling large shares of the auto industry. Not for wasting hundreds of billions more on a cornucopia of liberal pet projects under the guise of stimulus. Not for bankrupting our country in the name of questionable science.

And decidedly not for bringing one-sixth of our gross domestic product under federal authority and inserting Uncle Sam into health care decisions now made by doctors, patients and their families.

This is a conversation America could have - and should have had during last year’s election campaign. As our party’s standard-bearer, Mr. McCain had a once-in-a-generation opportunity both to present and to live out a new vision of limited but effective government for the 21st century.

In September 2008, he actually suspended his campaign to return to Washington and address the economic crisis. Had he, as part of that dramatic gesture, joined forces with the House Republican opposition to the monster bailout bill under consideration, perhaps he would have ignited, and claimed for our Republican Party, the prairie fire that ultimately became the “tea party” movement.

Instead, Mr. McCain blinked. The self-proclaimed “foot soldier in the Reagan revolution” left the mission and meekly joined his opponent in supporting a reckless and unprecedented intrusion in the markets.

Then-Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson’s message of doom, despair and dependency on government won the day, as did then-Sen. Barack Obama and the Democrats weeks later - setting the stage for even bigger government “solutions” to the economic crisis.

Moreover, had he proposed bold solutions, like the elimination of the hated income tax in favor of a “fair tax,” he could have checkmated Mr. Obama’s easily understandable but pie-crust promise of a tax cut for the middle class.

And at the same time, he would have fundamentally recast the debate as to how we might free workers and business alike from the distortions of a system that punishes success and drives jobs overseas.

Were he not in the thrall of the global warming fantasy and captive to a hands-off approach to Alaska’s North Slope and other abundant energy resources, he might have further exposed the Democrats’ plan to extend the Environmental Protection Agency’s arm into every nook and cranny of American life.

All in all, Mr. McCain’s passive campaign of halfway steps and compromise measures allowed the most liberal, least-experienced presidential candidate ever to post a decisive victory - and deprived our nation of a far-reaching national discussion about the size, shape and scope of government.

And now he is meddling backstage trying to recast the Republican Party in the “pale pastels” that led to that crushing nationwide defeat not only for his ticket, but for our entire party.

In the celebrated words of Sarah Palin, “Thanks … but no thanks.”

The American people do not want or need more politicians of convenience. Rather, the Republican Party should present a renewed vision of smaller but smarter government for today’s America, of a society that rebuilds our economy from the ground up rather than from the government down. We want a government that promotes progress instead of subsidizing failure and that liberates the imagination of the innovator and small-business owner.

We need a limited government that delivers full value for every taxpayer dollar, that achieves the highest levels of convenience and customer service, and that is simpler and easier to pay for. We need a government that acknowledges what study after study shows: that real marriage and strong, intact families are the greatest source of stimulus our economy could enjoy.

And we want a country that reclaims our place as the most welcoming place on Earth for investments and job growth while restoring the meaning of the term “sound as a dollar.”

Now is not the time to build moderate fiefdoms eager to make alliances with the party of Obama. Rather, we must restore the meaning of Republican to that identified by our party’s first president: “government of the people.”

Any number of bright, conservative and principled Republican leaders are ready to take up that bold-colored banner. Instead of further diluting our message, Mr. McCain should clear the way for us to build a new, people-focused party for a bright and prosperous American future.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt is a Kansas Republican and is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

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