Sunday, February 5, 2006

Ronald Reagan, it has been said, was elected on six words: Strong defense, smaller government, less regulation. With that, came a moral compass, happy nature, septuagenarian’s sure stride and an unwavering will to make the world safer for freedom and America’s destiny.

As a party, we would do well to reset our bearings by his North Star. If we allow ourselves to forget, we will drift into dangerous waters.

House Republicans have just elected John Boehner, from Ohio’s 8th District, as their new majority leader. He will now be No. 2, under the seasoned leadership of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. The new team offers a new start.

That said, 2006 be a decisive election year, and 2008 will be upon us before we know it. It is time to throw open the barn doors and take a hard look inside.

Today, the Republican Party inherits the legacy of Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. These are lamps that lit our way here. We must see the stakes, define our mission and communicate our values.

With enlightened leadership, Americans of every stripe win. If we shrink from hard reassessments, defend anything that starts with R, or make wrong choices, we will find ourselves on the outgoing tide.

The hopes and worries of America cluster in constellations. Here are six:

(1) National security — including a “strong defense” in the context of stable international relations, integrity at our borders, and post-September 11, 2001, protection.

(2) Role of government — including a return to “smaller government” and “less regulation.”

(3) A sound economy — including a healthy trajectory for job growth, trade relations and reduced taxes.

(4) The family — including respect for the institution, a return to parental and individual responsibility, and healthy, well-educated, drug-free children.

(5) A sustainable environment — including methodical, nonhysterical measures to protect what we value for those who will follow.

(6) Being American — including greater effort at teaching civic duty, appreciating America’s noble past, celebrating true sacrifice, harmonizing race relations and reaffirming our core identity as idealists — all of us.

We must embrace bold ideas, like those that have won two world wars, ended countless diseases, racked up Nobel prizes, led to inventions like the telephone, car, television, airplane, computer, microchip, the Internet, and even placed men on the moon and steered humanity toward institutions of mutual respect. That is our collective calling, to lead and to care.

We must be clear in our disdain for government control, and must support individual choice so long as no harm is done to others or to human dignity. We should bristle at injustice and strive to eliminate it. We should bridle at federal regulation, and favor local answers. We must think more about the future, and less about re-election.

Serious questions pierce the air. Are we living up to Lincoln’s conviction? Attracting all those who value education, hard work, and are proud to be American? Do we struggle daily to end racial differences, to plow common ground?

Are we visionary, like Theodore Roosevelt, about preserving The Wild for those who will follow us? Are we creating incentives for environmental protection, or are we disinterested? Do we take the long view, the road less traveled, or take refuge in complacency?

While the economy is strong, are we allowing government spending to quietly overtake fiscal discipline? Where is the commitment to state and local control, individual freedom, independence from government?

Are we content with executive restrictions in wartime without meaningful oversight? Is it wise to shift civilian functions to military control when we have coveted separation? Do we discuss our hide our differences?

Yes, the shadow of September 11 is understood. But federal power over the individual has always left us uneasy. Since Ronald Reagan dedicated his life to this tenet, perhaps there is something worth reviewing here.

That brings us back to national security. Throughout the Cold War, Republicans kept this flame. We must not falter now. Our borders need to protection; that does not make us racist or indifferent. Our military needs resources and moral leadership to encourage recruitment, retention and vision.

We must see world leadership options between isolationism and democracy-promoting intervention. Strength without idealism is weakness. Colin Powell has written leadership is about inspiring people, defending principles, exercising patience, inviting different opinions, making the hard decisions. Are we doing this? Reagan did.

On this, his birthday, what would Ronald Reagan say? Surely, he would bear our party’s burdens with sobriety and perspective. He would help us see the endgame, and believe in it with him. He would have that eternal spring in his step, enduring twinkle in his eye.

Reagan would help us see the two legacies — one we inherited, one we must leave. In Reagan’s absence, the burden is on us. As Republicans, we must reset our bearings by Lincoln, TR, Eisenhower and Reagan. If we do not, we will have lots of time to gaze at stars and think — in the wilderness.

Robert Charles is president of the Charles Group in Washington D.C. and Gaithersburg, Md. He is a former White House staff member for the Reagan and George H.W. Bush (41) administrations, former Counsel to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005.

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