Seven Things to Like about Mike Lee’s Heritage Speech

by Rich Lowry

Mike Lee gave an excellent speech at the Heritage Foundation just now titled “What’s Next for Conservatives,” which we’ve posted on the homepage

1) He warns against a thoughtless nostalgia for Reagan:

Instead of emulating those earlier conservatives, too many Republicans today mimic them — still advocating policies from a bygone age.

It’s hard to believe, but by the time we reach November 2016, we will be about as far — chronologically speaking — from Reagan’s election as Reagan’s election was from D-Day!

2) Instead, he advises that conservatives need to learn from a key lesson of Reagan’s success:

Together, that generation of [Reagan] conservatives transformed a movement that was anti-statist, anti-communist, and anti-establishment . . . and made it pro-reform.

Contrary to the establishment’s complaints, conservatives in the late 1970s did not start a “civil war.” They started a (mostly) civil debate.

Because of that confident and deeply conservative choice — to argue rather than quarrel, to persuade rather than simply purge — the vanguards of the establishment never knew what hit them.

The bottom line was that in 1976, the conservative movement found a leader for the ages . . . yet it still failed.

By 1980, the movement had forged an agenda for its time . . . and only then did it succeed . . .

Yet as the decades pass and a new generation of Americans faces a new generation of problems, the party establishment clings to its 1970s agenda like a security blanket. The result is that to many Americans today, especially to the underprivileged and middle class, or those who have come of age or immigrated since Reagan left office the Republican party may not seem to have much of a relevant reform message at all.

This is the reason the GOP can seem so out of touch. And it is also the reason we find ourselves in such internal disarray.

The gaping hole in the middle of the Republican Party today — the one that separates the grassroots from establishment leaders — is precisely the size and shape of a new, unifying conservative reform agenda.

3) He correctly identifies a crisis of opportunity in America that conservatism must address:

I submit that the great challenge of our generation is America’s growing crisis of stagnation and sclerosis —  a crisis that comes down to a shortage of opportunities.

This opportunity crisis presents itself in three principal ways:

immobility among the poor, trapped in poverty;

insecurity in the middle class, where families just can’t seem to get ahead;

and cronyist privilege at the top, where political and economic elites unfairly profit at everyone else’s expense.

The Republican Party should tackle these three crises head on.

4) He focuses on the struggles of the middle class:

Today, working families’ take-home pay is flat.

But the staples of middle-class security and opportunity – health care, education, home ownership, work-life balance, and children — are becoming harder to afford all the time.

Progressives say we just need more programs to give working families more government money. But as we have seen once again over the last five years, big government creates opportunity for the middle men at the expense of the middle class.

And it only masks the broken policies that artificially raise costs and restrict access in the first place. Instead, conservatives need new ideas to address the root causes of those problems.

5) He says replacing Obamacare is as important as repealing:

Health care [is] right at the center of what conservatives need to be thinking about. And it means our movement has to be intensely engaged not only in the fight to repeal, but in the debate to replace Obamacare.

That debate is not over. It’s only just beginning.

It took Obamacare to get Republican healthcare policy innovation off the sidelines, but we’re finally in the game. And today, conservative ideas are not only superior to Obamacare — they are superior to the old status-quo before Obamacare.

6) He begins to outline a bread-and-butter economic agenda:

Today I want to talk about four pieces of legislation specifically designed to address four leading challenges facing middle-class families today:

the cost of raising children,

the difficulties of work-life balance,

the time Americans lose away from work and home, stuck in traffic,

and the rising costs of and restricted access to quality higher education.

7 ) He warns against giving into frustration and anger (tempting as that is!):

Especially in the wake of recent controversies, many conservatives are more frustrated with the establishment than ever before. And we have every reason to be.

But however justified, frustration is not a platform. Anger is not an agenda. And outrage, as a habit, is not even conservative. Outrage, resentment, and intolerance are gargoyles of the Left. For us, optimism is not just a message — it’s a principle. American conservatism, at its core, is about gratitude, and cooperation, and trust, and above all hope.

It is also about inclusion. Successful political movements are about identifying converts, not heretics. This, too, is part of the challenge before us.