- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

This past August, I held town-hall meetings across my home state of South Dakota. Through all of the heat and frustration, two main themes emerged as my constituents fundamental concerns: costs and control.

Their worries about unrestrained federal spending and expanding government control were rooted in the massive government-run health care takeover plan being debated in Congress, proposals to raise energy prices in the name of fighting global warming, the governments runaway debt, and the unprecedented intrusion by Washington into the private sector.

Some may think things have cooled down since then, but if those of us who are conservatives are to regain our footing, we need to understand what is at the core of this frustration and apply the solution.

Fortunately, we conservatives have a legacy built around the timeless pillars of personal freedom and individual responsibility.

Traditional conservative principles call for the individual to retain as much freedom as possible, and for government to have as little control as possible. Translated, this means we need to rein in government spending and work to rein in government itself.

To many Americans, the highest purpose of government is to create an environment where entrepreneurs and hard-working people have the opportunity to strive and succeed. Unfortunately, Washington seems more and more intent on substituting its judgment for that of the people, and replacing the creative spark of American ingenuity with the dull plodding of government bureaucracy.

The American people are looking around, and they see record deficits piling up and government encroaching into every corner of our economy. They worry that their government is growing hostile to individual responsibility, liberty and free enterprise.

They see the federal government suddenly owning car companies, banks, insurance companies, an enormous piece of the mortgage industry, and soon the student-loan and health care industries.

While most Americans view a tough economy as a reason to tighten their belts, the federal government has seen it as an opportunity to pull out the credit cards and go on a shopping spree.

As families and businesses struggle to find things they can do without to save a few pennies, the White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress are spending tax dollars and piling up debt at an unprecedented pace.

As a result, between the stimulus package, double-digit increases to the budgets of many federal agencies and other spending, President Obama will increase the public debt by 2019 to a staggering $188,000 per household.

Just as the foundation of the conservative movement is aligned with the foundation of this great country, the solutions to our growing problems can be found in our collective experience and beliefs.

Elections come and go, but the soundness of these time-tested conservative ideals remains:

Conservatives believe in empowering individuals, rather than increasing the size and power of government.

Conservatives believe that real change comes by offering the American people incentives, rather than government mandates and more red tape.

Conservatives believe in the power of the free market, rather than government control over the markets.

Conservatives believe that the American people can spend their money and resources more wisely than Washington bureaucrats can.

Conservatives believe it is irresponsible for one generation to steal from the next by passing along trillions of dollars of debt to future generations.

When it comes to the relationship between the American people and their government, the differences in governing philosophies have never been clearer, and never more important.

The solution to our problems is not to reinvent conservatism, but to reapply it. Americans know that many of the challenges we face today can best be addressed by reducing, not increasing, government spending and reducing, not increasing, government control. They know that formula has worked to get us out of trouble before, and they are fighting mad for us to apply it today.

• John Thune is a Republican U.S. senator from South Dakota. He is a former Senate aide and three-term U.S. House member who in 2004 made history by defeating, for the first time in 52 years, a sitting party leader, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

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