Wednesday, February 18, 2009


America is not great because of the size of our government, but because of the vision and values of our people. I am convinced that those who believe in big government have little faith in self-governance. Their philosophy says that government should do what a man can’t - or won’t - do for himself.

Perhaps I’m jaded, but I believe that the gush of taxpayer dollars issuing forth from Washington is not driven by compassion, but from an unspoken belief that Americans are not smart enough to govern their own lives, strong enough to take some risk or compassionate enough to help neighbors in need.

Conservatism has gotten a black eye over the past few years, not because our core principles are less true, but because so many of our leaders lost their way. When conservatives forget the values that got them elected and morph into big-spending, favor-trading politicians, voters will simply vote for whoever offers change, and, in 2008, they did.

I don’t think such an outcome dictates a redefinition of conservatism. If anything, it is a stark reminder that we need to return to our fiscally conservative roots. Not just in Washington, D.C., but in every state in the nation.

At every level, we need to find and promote candidates who are true conservatives, committed to defending the rights of the individual. We need leaders who will fight to let Americans keep more of what they earn by cutting taxes, reduce impediments to success by shrinking government size and spending, and invest in the ultimate civil right: educational opportunity.

I know that conservative values lead to the best possible outcomes, because I have seen them transform Texas. In 2003, we found ourselves facing a $10 billion budget shortfall and considering the options that many other states are adopting today. However, we were able to make up that deficit while investing in education and health care without raising taxes.

I’ll admit we had to twist a few arms to get it done and endured more than our share of criticism from the media, but we managed to reduce general-revenue spending in Texas for the first time since World War II. I think the same could happen across the country.

These reforms were possible because conservative leaders did not abandon core principles or waver on our philosophy. We simply did what we said we would do. The results speak for themselves.

Six years later, Texas is one of only six states in the black, and we intend to stay that way. We lead the nation in exports, job creation and Fortune 500 companies, and more jobs are coming to Texas every day as employers flee the increasing taxes and unnecessarily constrictive regulations in other states.

Although Washington conservatives are in the minority and undermanned in their efforts to turn back the tide of runaway spending, we must endure in our commitment to ensuring government does not discourage hard work by punishing success. We must make sure that the price of government does not grow faster than our wages and that government largess is not deemed more important than individual freedom.

Some conservatives need to apologize to their constituents for drifting away from their core values and reconnect with those individuals who make up our nation - the truck driver who is on the road all night, the farmer who puts food on our tables and the small-business owner who meets a payroll.

They are the quiet engine of progress. The men and women who work hard, pay taxes and build communities make the American Dream possible.

At its heart, conservatism stands for freedom to take risks and enjoy the rewards. Conservatives look to create opportunity, but never lose sight of the accompanying responsibility.

In the days, months and years to come, when our country startles awake from its post-binge nap, I am confident that the conservative values that have been discarded by our leaders and pilloried in the press will suddenly become more attractive as the way to restore our nation’s strength.

• Rick Perry is the Republican governor of Texas.

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