We ought to be the party that trusts people. You are about to hear from Bobby Jindal, the governor who has spent the past year fighting for the families in his state who can’t buy their way out of the public-school system and are trapped in failing schools. And yes, he has relied on the power of the state and the tax dollars those families send to their state capital to give them the help they need in the form of vouchers, and in so doing, he is trusting those individuals to make the right choices for their children. That doesn’t just make him a smart Republican, it makes him a conservative Republican to the core. And we as conservatives ought to be waging that kind of fight on behalf of parents all over this country.
Ladies and gentlemen, to be a conservative is also not to be blind about how our values affect people’s lives. There are so many good, hard-working people who can barely see water’s edge, and they vote, in Ohio and Virginia and Florida and Colorado, and we can win their votes if we stand for a conservatism that lifts up people who want to advance, that can change people’s lives.
I want to leave you with an image. Some of you may not know, but I have an interesting relationship to Denver: I was there when Obama got nominated, I was there at the debate when Obama got exposed. Both times coming into town, I passed the same town square. In 2008, that square was full of families with their kids. This fall, it had a section full of homeless men, and yes, they were mostly black and brown. Barack Obama’s reality has given them a T-shirt to wear, and, to his credit, he has given them a politician to care about. But he hasn’t lifted their lives. The world that Obama does not see in his progressive manifesto, the world that he barely acknowledges or addresses, it is the space that we can occupy as conservatives if we will only claim it.
May we build a conservatism that can reach valleys and not just mountaintops; that can reach the hollows and the shadows and not just inside the gated walls; that understands that in the shining city, as Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address, there will be walls but that the walls must have doors for the willing, and that we can help people walk through those doors. If we can, not only will we have power again, we will deserve power.
— Artur Davis is a former congressman who represented Alabama’s seventh congressional district.