WASHINGTON - It is a line I have used to open speeches on the lecture circuit for years and it never fails to get a laugh: "I'm happy to be here tonight from Washington, D.C., where the only politicians with convictions are in prison."
That's only partially true. Democrats have convictions. They know what to do with power when they get it and how to isolate, even punish, any member of their party who dares to take a different position on an issue. Republicans seem to constantly react to the policies of Democrats or slam each other instead of making a case for the superiority of their ideas. It doesn't help Republicans that they lack the Democrats' uniformity.
President Obama's approval ratings continue to plummet while polls showing that voters think the country is on the "wrong track" seem to be on the rise. Republicans should focus less on scandals and policy failures and begin promoting a positive, inspirational and motivational message that reminds Americans of who we are, where we came from and what we can be again. Rather than settle for a Democratic nanny state, Republicans should feature in their speeches, political ads and conversations the virtues of liberty and the benefits and personal satisfaction that come from the power within each of us to make decisions that can improve any life far better than government.
Telling America's story might inspire a younger generation to reach back and consider the values that sustained this nation in the face of numerous challenges. Good history is worth repeating.
Cynics might say it is too late, that government has grown too big and there are far too many dependent on it to turn the country around and embrace liberty and personal responsibility. What the country needs is the political equivalent of a Rev. Billy Graham to rally the nation. A spiritual revival would be even better, but that's for a Higher Authority to direct.
Americans should never have to "settle," even in the midst of a failed presidency, as this one is by any objective standard. Americans have always believed we can do things better than other nations and we have proved it in the past.
I call it inspiration-motivation-perspiration, rather than the envy-entitlement-greed culture in which we are now immersed. "We can do better," said John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign. Indeed we can. Indeed we must.
As I write in my book "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America," we didn't just crawl out of a cave; we don't have to discover fire or invent the wheel. We have a history of problems that were solved, challenges met and innovation encouraged and rewarded. Why do we continue to conduct political discourse that sounds like stale sitcom dialog and lob the same rehearsed and focus-grouped sound bites at each other to no effect? Why not try something old that worked?
Given their party's deplorable state of disunion and the country's fixation on self, a Republican "revivalist" will have to sell his or her platform based on self-interest, featuring men and women who have overcome by making right choices, if we can still define "right" in a country that increasingly considers all choices equal.
Republicans should promise that if voters allow them to regain control of all three branches of government, an outside auditor will be named to go through the federal government, recommending to Congress which agencies can be reduced in size or even eliminated. Congress would require itself to accept the auditor's findings, as with the Defense Base Realignment and Closing Commission, which has been charged with increasing the Defense Department's efficiency by the realignment and closure of unnecessary U.S. military installations.
This will be a challenge for Republicans. We'll soon know if they can meet it and, more importantly, whether voters will respond to such a message. The time may be right for someone with real convictions and the courage to state them, regardless of what polls say.
Meanwhile, God save us from popular opinion and from politicians whose only convictions come in a courtroom.
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Cal Thomas' latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.