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Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Blueprint for Getting America Right

Republicans have controlled the White House, the Senate and the House for several years now, right? So why is federal spending going up at a dizzying pace? Why are there more pork barrel projects being approved than ever before? Why is Big Government getting bigger?

Ed Feulner, President of The Heritage Foundation, and Doug Wilson, Chairman of Townhall.com, have the answers in their new book, "Getting America Right."

An era that ought to be "conservative nirvana" has become anything but, Feulner and Wilson contend, because too many Washington politicians in both political parties have forgotten "the core values and beliefs that built this great nation in the first place."

But Feulner and Wilson spend only a little time describing what's wrong with America because they are much more interested in providing a simple, straightforward plan of action for getting the nation back on the right course.

The plan has six questions, which together ingenuously provide a measure that anybody can apply to any proposal. I say the plan is ingenuous because the six questions represent the core values that constitute what Thomas Jefferson called the "American Mind."

Here's how Feulner and Wilson describe those cores values:

"Despite our hotly contested elections and increasingly rancorous partisan disputes, Americans still share fundamental principles. We still support free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, a strong national defense and the rule of law."

Feulner and Wilson add that:

"Most Americans still believe in the Ten Commandments as guides for our individual lives. We still stand for such traditional American values as fairness, volunteerism, the primacy of family, the freedom to worship as we see fit, self-government and the defining faith the least among us can rise to the top but that no one is above the law."

The six questions at the heart of "Getting America Right" neatly encapsulate those core values and provide us with a measuring stick indexed to them:

* Is it the government's business?
* Does this measure promote self-reliance?
* Is it responsible?
* Does it make us more prosperous?
* Does it make us safer?
* Does it unify us?

In recommending the six questions, Feulner and Wilson address all of the major issues confronting the nation today. Chapter six, for example, focuses on national security issues and asks does it make us safer?

Feuler and Wilson pull no punches in calling for a new seriousness and resolve about defeating terrorism, containing rogue states and dealing with the reality of the emerging colossus in China. The problem is Congress destroys resolve with measures like those contained in the Defense Department appropriation bill two years ago:

"Many Members of Congress still find it difficult to distinguish between pork barrels and gun barrels. On August 5, 2004, for instance, President Bush signed into law a $416 billion appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Defense.

"He said the measure would make sure 'our armed forces have every tool they need to meet and defeat the threats of our time.' In fact, the bill actually slighted the needs of our fighting men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"After loading it up with a record $8.9 billion in amendments bankrolling pork projects around the country, Congress voted to cut funds the military needed to maintain combat readiness."

Clearly, that DOD spending bill failed the measure and should not have been approved by Congress or signed into law by the Chief Executive. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the bill was bad news. All that was required was asking the question posed by Feulner and Wilson.

While the focus of "Getting America Right" is on programs and issues, the book also puts current affairs into the needed context of technology and its impact on the public policy debate. For example, in Chapter Four - "Is it Responsible?" - the authors recognize and elaborate on the implications of an oft-heard maxim.

"'Information is power' and bureaucrats - both in federal agencies and departments and on Capitol Hill in the offices of senators and representatives - guard their turf by keeping secrets. Most government secrets serve no other purpose than turf guarding, but they have the effect of setting up roadblocks to reform, perpetuating outmoded and overlapping programs, and keeping us all in the dark about what our government is really doing."

The solution, Feulner and Wilson, argue is a big dose of sunlight:

"Luckily, technology gives us the means to shine light into the nooks and crannies of the bureaucracy. We must require all government agencies to disclose what they are doing, in clear language, on web sites accessible to all comers."

The authors also note the postive effect of posting on the Internet the complete text of proposed legislation at least 24 hours before Congress votes in terms that instantly make sense to anybody who has read "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki:

"That one small step would open the measure to public scrutiny, which (as Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek might have pointed out) is always smarter than one person."

Feulner and Wilson have written an important book and in the process provided the anchor for what they hope blossoms into a national movement of recovery. It appears their timing may be impeccable because "Getting America Right" shot to the highest rungs of the Amazon.com sales chart within hours of its official release by publisher Crown Forum.

There is also a "Getting America Right" web site, the authors are embarked on a 50-city promotional tour and they will be writing op-eds, delivering speeches and generally talking up their action plan in coming months.

Although I've not yet had the pleasure of meeting Wilson in person, I've known Feulner for longer than either of us cares to remember because we first met way back in our respective congressional staff days, he as the brains behind the Republican Study Committee and me as press secretary to a succession of GOP legislators in the House and Senate.

That is why I consider him an immensely respected colleague and trusted authority whose many achievements over the years are now exemplified in the extraordinaryily influential institution where I've had the honor of working since 1999, The Heritage Foundation.

Which is why "Getting America Right" is for me the newest entry on a rapidly growing list of reasons why, as President Reagan so often said and I yet believe, America's best days truly are still ahead of her.


Steve Muscatello at Townhall.com is finding much to like in "Getting America Right." He points to this praise for blogs from Feulner in a recent interview in The Washington Examiner:

"Bloggers nowadays are one of the great institutions of civil society. They didn't come about because of a planned intervention by government. They have prospered because there is a need for real accountability in Washington and for alternative voices from the so-called mainstream media, on college campuses, and so forth."

You can read Steve's complete post here and the full Feulner interview with the Examiner here.