We used to be the party in the front. After the last election, we’re the party in the back. The question is: How do we get to be the party in the front again?
Our federal spending addiction and a lackluster system of public education are the two greatest impediments to achieving our potential in this century.
Conservatives have the solutions to these problems, and liberals have proposals that only make them worse. I know. As governor of Florida I balanced our budget for eight years in a row while cutting taxes every year, and I have dedicated much of my adult life trying to revolutionize our schools so they serve children and parents and not an indifferent bureaucracy.
But you must know this: All of our successes at the state level can be undone if we continue to lose presidential elections. If Watson [a super computer] were to read the blogs, tweets and Facebook posts that mention the Republican Party, it would find that all too often we’re associated with being “anti” everything. Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker — and the list goes on.
Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party.
We must move beyond the divisive and extraneous issues that currently define the public debate. Never again can the Republican Party simply write off entire segments of our society because we assume our principles have limited appeal. They have broad appeal. We need to be larger than that.
For exactly the same reason that millions of immigrants were drawn to our shores from every nation, we need to draw into our party people from every corner of society because conservative principles, and not liberal dogma, best reflect the ideals that made this nation great. We should be united in the principle that everyone should be given the opportunity to rise to the top, to raise a family, and to be free.
Our core principles — greater individual responsibility, more personal freedom, smaller and more effective government — are the only principles that can offer our children the full measure of their potential in the greatest of American centuries.
I’m here to tell you there is no “us” or “them.” The face of the Republican Party needs to be the face of every American, and we need to be the party of inclusion and acceptance. It’s our heritage and it’s our future and we need to couch our efforts in those terms.
As Republicans, we need to get reacquainted with the notion that the relationships that really matter are not made through Twitter and social media.
Real relationships take time to grow, and they begin with a genuine interest in the stories, dreams and challenges harbored within each of us.
We need a transformation of education based on standards benchmarked to the best of the world. We need a system of no-excuses accountability that refuses to accept failure and that rewards improvement and excellence; a culture based on empowering parents with an abundance of choices for their children’s education and a deep understanding of the transformative power of digital learning.
We need to have a government that allows both small people to rise and large businesses to fall. Government should help create a level playing field, maximize the opportunities for the players, and then step back. This doesn’t mean government plays no role in regulating business, but it does mean that government doesn’t pick the winners and losers or create such huge cost that only the large can comply.
And finally, we need to realize that each of us in the conservative movement has a far greater role to play as a private citizen than as a part of government or as its critic. There is a political realm and a social realm, and we shouldn’t confuse the two. We shouldn’t rely on government bureaucracies to instill virtue in people.
Government should fill potholes. It is our individual duty to fill the holes in the human heart. As conservatives, we need to recognize the limits of government and the much more powerful influences of parents, churches, charities and role models.
We can do so much more by setting an example and living by our principles than by merely talking. We need to be out in our communities helping our neighbors, mentoring our children and demonstrating that generosity, compassion, and human potential are immensely more powerful than a thousand government programs.
Jeb Bush served as governor of Florida from 1999-2007. This column is excerpted from his recent speech at C-PAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference.