- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

(Part of our Reinventing Conservatism series)

Conservatives should establish a “loyal opposition” to provide the American people with thoughtful policy alternatives to the liberal proposals offered by the majority party, which controls the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

A good start would be the creation of a modern day Grace Commission, which President Ronald Reagan launched in 1982 to investigate waste and inefficiency in the federal government. The commission offered provocative and thoughtful recommendations to make government more effective and less expensive.

Conservatives today can do the same.

As “loyal” opponents, conservatives would avoid the “politics of personal destruction,” which successfully demonized individuals for their principled convictions during the past 15 years but consequently eroded American’s faith in the ability of all elected leaders to solve the pressing problems facing our country. Conservatives will need to band together to defend one other to succeed in changing the tone of the debate.

This “loyal opposition” should base its policies on the two pillars of conservatism - a bedrock belief in limited and efficient government and a passion for reform of the services government must provide. Our guiding principles should be that government should not grow faster than people´s ability to pay for it, that it is immoral to indebt the next generation to pay for things in the here and now, and there is always a better, improved way to deliver government services.

Putting these principles into practice isn´t easy when so many are clamoring for the federal government to “do something” about every problem that exists, regardless of how it was caused or who is responsible for fixing it. It requires an end to earmarks to garner the support of constituents back home. It requires a renewed commitment to balancing the federal checkbook without dipping in the bank accounts of future generations. It requires a willingness to reorganize, reduce or abolish programs that have compelling names but little measurable success.

Bluntly, taxpayers should not be forced to abandon their personal goals - whether it is saving for college, paying off the mortgage, starting a new business or taking the vacation of a lifetime - to pay for a skyrocketing growth in government just because elected officials didn´t have the courage to say no.

A belief in limited government should not be confused with eliminating government altogether. Where government plays a role, it needs to get a lot better.

Developing a zeal for reform will reinvigorate the conservative movement but, more important, our success in transforming government will usher in an era of prosperity that will improve the quality of life for all Americans.

Thankfully, governors such as Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Rick Perry, Mark Sanford and Sonny Purdue, among others, are advancing conservative agendas that are reforming fiscal, health care, environmental and education policies. In Washington, new leaders are emerging with policy-based alternatives to President Obama and his liberal allies in Congress.

For example, rather than offer criticism of overreaching education initiatives, conservatives should advance proposals that enhance accountability for student achievement, provide more choices to families and reward teachers when students show meaningful improvement.

Simply opposing the massive encroachment of government into health care won´t solve the problem of affordability of health insurance for many Americans. Conservatives need to offer substantive alternatives that reward quality, promote prevention and control costs by drastically reducing the need for more expensive medical treatments that come from chronic and possibly preventable illness.

Conservative ideology is not what cost Republicans control of the House and Senate in 2006 or the White House last November. In fact, many Democrats won by talking like conservatives, while many Republicans lost because they didn´t actlike conservatives.

With a “loyal opposition,” conservatives will regain the confidence of the American people by offering creative, 21st century, reform-oriented policies that adhere to our longstanding principles of limited and efficient government.

Jeb Bush is the former governor of Florida. He is a columnist for The Washington Times’ “Reinventing Conservatism” series.

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