President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address will carry about as much drama as listening to a reading of the dictionary on public radio. The speech will outline his perspectives and plans for the nation, and Republicans will undoubtedly disagree.
While President Obama certainly has his detractors, he has aggressively and successfully promoted his priorities throughout his presidency. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Clean Power Plan and his executive actions on immigration are a few examples of a president willing to push his agenda and dare his opponents to stop him.
Many who disagree with President Obama’s policies and tactics still recognize and grudgingly respect the fact that he puts forth ideas and turns them into reality one way or another.
After tonight’s address, conservatives may be offended; they may even be outraged. But are those of us who value limited government, emphasize the importance of family and support a marketplace full of opportunity capable of winning over the Republican Party, let alone a nation?
As a conservative, I hear lots of talk about taking back our nation, about halting Barack Obama’s liberal agenda and how one policy or another is destroying our country and debilitating the next generation. Many conservatives are not happy about the way things are, so they wish them to return to the way they were. If only we could go back to the Reagan administration…
That is not going to happen nor should it.
In his 1985 State of the Union, Ronald Reagan said, “We honor the giants of our history not by going back but forward to the dreams their vision foresaw.” In the same address that he assailed overregulation and taxation, Reagan argued that those at or near the poverty level should pay no federal income tax. As he attacked government welfare programs as reactionary, he highlighted the importance of improving economic power for blacks and Latinos. Reagan even went so far as to suggest that all public housing residents should have the opportunity for home ownership.
Is there any conservative, even in the reddest of red states like Alabama, willing to go after Reagan as a weak political squish?
Americans, and many conservatives, have largely forgotten that conservatism is more than a crude economic theory moving us toward an every-man-for-himself society. Rather than a simple sterile mantra appealing to a desire to keep more of the stuff we earn, Reagan spoke of faith, freedom, family, work and neighborhood. He might not have been a community organizer, but he wanted Americans to know that they were not alone and that together, we could aspire to greatness.
Conservatives must focus on being champions of the common man, not mere protectors of the elite. We must ensure that our ideas and policies create social and economic mobility rather than simply preserving the status quo. President Obama’s policies may not effectively achieve those goals, but many conservatives are not even trying to suggest real alternatives.
Being offended is easy. Winning hearts and minds is not. We conservatives have allowed our ideology, which is fundamentally grounded in a belief that each individual matters deeply, to drift into a dangerous zone of self-protectionism and government antagonism.
President Obama may poke at conservatives, try to rile them with talk of tax increases, more “free” government programs and repeatedly espouse his “middle class” ideas for America. We need to stop reacting to him and start changing ourselves. We should not pine for Reagan, we should learn from his actions and words and move forward.
Conservatives so often like to call upon our founding fathers, but we often fail to remember that they sacrificed their lives, fortunes and families to ensure that others could experience a new dream of freedom. If conservatives want to change the Republican Party and our country, the personal cost will and should be high.
Americans crave leaders willing to consider their interests, who care about their future, and who are willing to humbly explore ideas that will improve prospects for their communities. Instead of the usual outrage at every liberal idea, conservatives give Americans a vision better than “middle-class.” They might just chase after it and prosper a nation in the process.