The coming election is a debate defined not only by competing ideologies and policies, but competing ways of governing. There is little doubt that President Obama favors one form of governing, and that is what I call the government of One. One Ideology, One Party, and One Man.
In his first two years in office, with the benefit of supermajorities in Congress, he was able to enact legislation of his choosing and his design. He decided what went in and what didn’t. He delegated to a handful of members of Congress the responsibility to write specific laws — and left other members out.
Now things are different. He no longer enjoys a compliant Congress. Not surprisingly, he has spoken longingly of leading a centralized, planned, command-and-control government.
It is time for the Republican party to offer an alternative. Not just an alternative to President Obama’s agenda of liberal government, which is important to do. We need to present an alternative to his approach to governance in general. An approach that applies to every elected office.
We should be the party of free thinking and free markets. We should be the party of policy experimentation and fresh approaches. We should be the party of competing ideas. We should allow our ideas to be tested and force our ideas to prove their value in practice.
We already have a model for this form of governance, and it can be found in the diversity of our Republican governors. From veterans like Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, to newcomers like Chris Christie of New Jersey we have seen a multiplicity of policy ideas and approaches. Some mirror each other. Some contradict each other. On taxes and spending, these governors often (but not always) agree. On immigration and social policy, they frequently disagree. We have seen a multiplicity of policy ideas and approaches. Some mirror each other. Some contradict each other. On taxes and spending, these governors often (but not always) agree. On immigration and social policy, they frequently disagree.
The animating force of this governance is diversity and creativity of thinking. And that is how the Republican party should always be. We are broad thinkers and confident believers in America. We are serious about finding solutions for the problems we face in our communities. And we will not limit the ideas we consider in helping America reach for greatness.
This does not mean an abandonment of principle. Far from it. We will be guided meaningfully by the first principles of our party and this nation. First above all is our fundamental belief in the individual as the center of opportunity and ideological energy. We do not believe that government creates prosperity or drives it. Like the founders of our country, we know a self-regulating and responsible people is essential to limit the scope and ambition of government. We resist the urge to substitute regulations and governmental directives for entrepreneurial creativity and civic service. We believe that the best government is that which is smallest and the most just government is that which treats all citizens and entities equally, with no special favors and no special sanctions.
We believe that there is no way for leaders to direct the dreams and ambitions of 312 million Americans — and so we believe fundamentally in freedom. Let individuals direct themselves to whatever heights they aspire to reach, and let them enjoy the benefits of their success because they bear significant responsibility for the risks they take.
This is different than the approach of President Obama, as he has made clear through policies that place greater power and resources behind the government at the expense of the individual. So the distinction will be obvious.
But to make sure that we do not lose the advantage of that clear difference, we must not layer onto our fundamental beliefs thick black lines of ideology — black lines that we do not allow ourselves to cross. Those black lines can be comforting, I understand. They provide certainty and stability and ideological purity. But they also restrict the way we think about problems, and make more difficult the kind of reform-minded free thinking that has defined the conservative movement for the last 50 years.
Thick black lines of ideology are good at keeping people in, but they are also good at keeping people out. And our party can’t win if we keep people out. Our goal is not to assemble a small army of purists. We need a nation of converts. We have seen the other way of governing. It has had its day. It has made its best case. It has failed.
Let’s make our best case. And let’s not make the mistake of the other side by closing off debate and ending discussion and abiding the thick black lines of political ideology and special interests.
All of our candidates — from Mitt Romney to candidates for city council — need to have the freedom to bring forward their ideas, regardless of their diversity, provided they are consistent with our core principles: faith in freedom, the primacy of the individual, and the need for restrained government.
Let’s have a good, open debate about the way forward, the way upwards. The Republican party can afford to have these discussions. And I don’t think America can afford for us not to.
— Jeb Bush served as governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.