A war is being waged for the soul of American governance. It is not a war of steel and cartridge. It is a conflict of ideas, played out in the popular conscience of a free people. Instead of cannonades, there are editorials; instead of bombs, there are speeches.
This book is for the warriors…
I had the mixed blessing of serving in the “trenches” of the House and Senate for several years before becoming president of The Heritage Foundation in 2013. In Congress, I experienced the elation that comes with hard-won legislative victories and the agony of more than a few defeats.
Through each struggle, my conservative convictions were tested and clarified. I learned that to win hearts and minds, it is not enough simply to believe in something: To prove your point, whether to hostile media, undecided voters, or friendly constit-uents, you need the ability to articulate why you believe it.
Solutions 2014 contains invaluable policy recommendations by the brightest experts and analysts at The Heritage Foundation. Their goal, as always, is to provide Americans with intellectual ammunition to address the numerous problems facing our soci-ety—ammunition that is grounded in the core principles and traditional values that have made America great.
I would like to suggest to the reader both the proper frame of mind with which to approach the policy prescriptions laid out in this book and, I hope, how to articulate those prescriptions in a way that resonates with the American public.
Our Constitution created a Congress with limited and enumerated powers, but the federal government today has acquired an all but unquestioned dominance over most areas of American life. It acts seemingly without constitutional limits, restricted only by political expediency.
What is more, much of today’s governance takes place not in Congress or in the state legislatures but in the government’s unelected fourth branch—the administrative state. Unshackled from the constraints of elections and the separation of powers, bureaucrats in the vast array of federal agencies and departments operate with near autonomy, largely unaffected by what happens in the political branches, free to enact and enforce regulations and even adjudicate their own rules.
Members of Congress have a responsibility to reestablish proper boundaries for the reach of the federal government and to ensure that government is indeed based on the consent of the people. A common misconception is that the responsibility to uphold the Constitution is the exclusive prerogative of the Supreme Court. Officials in all three branches of government, at both the state and federal levels, swear an oath to abide by the Constitution, as stipulated by the Constitution itself: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.”
Naturally, any dedicated constitutional conservative elected to congressional office must oppose additional legislation that allows bureaucrats to fill in major details of the law and must also judge policy by whether it keeps power in the hands of Congress—and, thus, in the hands of the people—or diverts it.
More important, worthy legislation must merit federal intervention in the first place. We have become so inured to the all-encompassing federal state that many now erroneously assume that Congress is justified in mandating a solution to the nation’s every problem, no matter how parochial. The Constitution, of course, was written with quite the opposite viewpoint: The national government was to be comparatively limited in scope and reach, not simply to safeguard against tyranny, but also to allow the very different communities that make up this vast country to govern themselves.
A one-size-fits-all approach to governing cannot work in a country of more than 300 million souls that spans a continent; only federalism can accommodate the diversity of contemporary America. The federal government should not act unless it has a clear constitutional mandate to do so and the states cannot act effectively.
Ultimately, true self-government requires more than merely shifting bureaucratic authority to states that are themselves often bureaucratic and increasingly dependent on federal largesse. Vast areas of life should be administered not by either the state or federal governments, but by local communities, neighborhoods, families, and individual citizens. Responsibilities and activities that are not inherently public should remain the domain of private individuals, free markets, and civil society. If a government function is also performed by someone listed in the phone book, it should be a candidate for privatization.
In addition to getting its own house in order, Congress must also vigorously defend itself against encroachment from the other branches of government. Congress alone holds the power of the purse, enabling it to fund or defund ventures conducted by the executive branch—including those unwisely or unconstitutionally authorized by previous Congresses. This includes everything from the disastrous Obamacare rollout to expensive and unscientific regulations by the EPA. To tinker, bill after bill, with institutions that are corrupt at their core is to attempt surgery on a zombie. Money is the lifeblood of all programs; defunding them is their destruction.
Congress also has the ability to fight against activist federal judges who find it easier to rewrite law through judicial fiat than to apply it as written. The Constitution vests in Congress the power to establish federal courts and define jurisdiction, within specified limits.
The ability to set foreign policy, negotiate treaties, wage wars, and conduct any international affairs necessary to secure our sovereignty and national interests is, beyond question, within the realm of the federal government. In some ways, this is a far less ideologically contentious area than domestic affairs, as few of any political persuasion dispute Washington’s role in engaging with and defending against other nations.
The manner in which Washington currently engages with the world should be a matter of great concern, however. The past several years have been marked by astounding ambivalence toward the security of our borders, which remain open to smugglers, murderers, human traffickers, and terrorists. Bungling, indecisive foreign policies have endangered our allies and emboldened our enemies.
Obsequious play-acting at the U.N. has endangered our sovereignty through the farce of international “law” and done less to foster meaningful dialogue between peoples than it has to provide a platform for dictators and office space for a progressive and often anti-American bureaucracy.
Our diplomatic relations with nations across the globe have become mired in mixed signals. The Administration’s deference to supposed international opinion and commitment to saving face rather than working in the best interests of the American people have resulted in tragedy in Benghazi, embarrassment in Europe, and brinksmanship in Iran. It has threatened to suck us into the middle of a Syrian civil war while causing us to turn a blind eye to atrocity when convenient.
We must be evenhanded in diplomacy and honest about our intentions. When it becomes necessary to give an ultimatum, it must be backed by consequences that terrorist organizations and rogue nations know they ignore at their peril. American foreign policy is no realm for half-measures.
But just as empty threats will train bad actors to transgress again, so too will a hobbled military, restrained either by political correctness or by a lack of resources. America’s security and the safety of her citizens are non-negotiable. All the while, conservatives must recognize that the military is a branch of government like any other, and they should remain vigilant so that waste, inefficiency, and abuse do not cripple its mission: Turning a blind eye to such problems helps no one.
Let this be our guiding principle in world affairs: Always seek peace, and always be ready for battle. As George Washington counseled the nation: “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” Let us conduct our affairs with the knowledge that when America is strong, moral, and prosperous, we best shape the rest of the world by our example—not by meddling.
At home, the political fault lines that divide our society are the result of fundamental disagreements about the nature of civil society, the role of the state, and the true meaning of liberty.
Conservatives can easily point to the abundant policy failures of the modern welfare state while exposing the ugly realities behind the lofty rhetoric of liberalism, but all too often, we have a harder time articulating what we stand for. As a result, we are caricatured as nothing but naysayers, tearing down but never building up. This is, of course, untrue. It is up to us, however, to keep proclaiming why, and for whom, we fight.
We are for putting the promises of the American Dream within reach of all Americans. We are for firing up the great twin engines of opportunity and prosperity that allow all people, regardless of the accident of their birth, to pursue happiness as they see fit. We are for shoring up our battered culture of work and marriage to help people achieve this happiness. We are for every precious human life. So we are conservatives.
We are for a renewed patriotism, an enduring love of country and each other that can flow, as it ever has, only from the bottom up, not the top down. This public affection arises from the “little platoons” of society: family, friends, and neighborhood; religious communities, charities, and fraternal orga-nizations. Unity cannot be dictated by a central power: forcing millions to live as other millions desire only creates more division. Instead, harmony is realized when individuals and communities are allowed the liberty to work out their fortune and virtue by their own means. So we are conservatives.
We are for the poor, too many of whom have been condemned to generational subsistence upon government programs; we recognize that livelihood and family are essential to the dignity of every free man. So we are conservatives.
We are for the sick, who need access to inexpensive, simple health care and now face a ruined system that is neither inexpensive nor simple; we hold that their medical decisions belong between them and their physicians. So we are conservatives.
We are for a clean environment that results from stewardship policies that value private property, free markets, sound science, and technological creativity. We are for the entrepreneur who seeks to innovate—free of burdensome fees, regulations, and taxes. We are for the parents who are seeking an education for their children that is free of arbitrary standards and incompetent bureaucracy. We are for the business owner who seeks to make a living according to the dictates of his conscience, free from oppressive mandates. We are for the doctor, the mechanic, the teacher, the janitor, the pilot, and all of those who desperately wish to work but cannot find any job at all. So we are conservatives.
And so, as we prepare for 2014, a year in which we will choose our elected leaders, my colleagues have written this comprehensive guide to the weightiest issues facing our country. It is our sincere belief that the ideas and innovations presented within this volume are faithful to America’s first principles and well-matched to its current challenges.
We are humbled to help guide, in some small way, a new generation to build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish. We hope you will build it with us.