President Ronald Reagan summed up the importance of big ideas in his farewell address in 1989. I believe it has special meaning for the Republican Party in 2007. Reagan said:
“[I]n all of that time I won a nickname, ‘The Great Communicator.’ But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full blown from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation – from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.”
One of the reasons Republicans lost in November was that we failed to communicate how Republican policies can make life for American families better. And frankly, we failed to offer enough bold new ideas. The Republican brand became diluted, and too many Americans went the other way.
We need to rebuild Americans’ confidence in Republicans’ ability to deliver a government that is limited, honest, accountable, and responsive to their needs. Our goal should not be to “take back” the majority – it should be to earn the majority by reclaiming our position as the party of limited government and big ideas.
Some people might ask: why do Republicans need new ideas? Aren’t our old ones good enough? The answer is simple. Our basic principles are sound, and they are the right principles: reforms based on low taxes and limited government. But we need to do a better job of identifying today’s problems and crafting bold, modern solutions grounded in our enduring principles.
Reagan talked about bold outcomes: promoting economic growth at home and defeating totalitarian communism abroad. And he pushed big ideas to help make them happen.
House Republicans need to do the same.
The recent debate on the popular Medicare Part D prescription drug program is an example where Republicans did just that. Republicans want to help provide seniors lower prices and more choices in their prescription drugs. While private sector competition has delivered a valuable benefit and effectively reduced costs in Part D by 30 percent, the underlying bill called for a bigger and growing role for government. The Republican proposal was rooted in private sector competition and free market choice.
In the debate we drew clear distinctions between the two parties on the future of health care in the United States. Most people don’t care which party controls Congress, but they do care whether the government denies them access to their neighborhood pharmacist; or their right to critical prescription drugs they rely on every day.
In short, we stayed true to our principles and we talked about real outcomes that affect families throughout our country.
Critical issues like this will dominate the 110th Congress and beyond.
The battle of ideas in the U.S. House must take place, for the good of our nation – but it can take place respectfully.
Democrat leaders ought to adhere to regular order and guarantee both sides of the aisle an opportunity to have their input on legislation. I chaired the Education and the Workforce (now-Education and Labor) Committee for five years, and I moved a large amount of legislation through the committee during my time there. I think even those Democrats who served in the minority on our committee would agree it was done in a fair and open process. By working in an open manner, Democrats and Republicans changed a committee once notorious for its partisanship into an effective panel that got things done. Neither side compromised on its principles. But by constructing a fair process, we ensured the battles between Democrats and Republicans were battles about ideas, rather than battles about process.The opportunity to battle for our ideas is what Republicans need, and must seek. During his farewell address, Reagan said his presidency seemed “like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.” Republicans now need a similar rediscovery – a recommitment to our vision of a smaller, less costly federal government, and a new stock of modern ideas rooted in our enduring principles. I am confident we will rise to the occasion.
John Boehner is the House Republican Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.