CPAC Turns Focus Away from Washington, Toward Communities

This year’s CPAC reminded me of the final scene in Doctor Seuss’ holiday classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  The Grinch sitting atop Mt. Crumpet, looks down at the Whos, and waits, hoping to hear their tears as they wake up to find no presents underneath the Christmas tree. He longed to hear them cry and whine. They didn’t. They celebrated.

And although Democrats may have stolen this election, Republicans didn’t gather around to lament their losses. We came to celebrate the opportunities that lie before us. We came to plan for the future. We came to figure out how to win. And we left knowing we can.

The bid idea of this year’s CPAC is to put a smaller focus on the federal government.

“If you landed from outer space and read the news and watched TV for a week you would have to conclude that Washington is the hub of America and what happens in Washington is what drives and dictates the success or failure of America,” Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said. “This is not the idea of America. But this is what America will become if we do not reorient our way of thinking right away. As government grows ever larger, it will become what America is all about . . . if we let it.”

Many of us are guilty. We are a bunch of rubberneckers unable to turn away from the wreckage in Washington. But as we ogle the damage traffic is piling up behind us. By turning so much attention to government – the success of stimulus, the benefits of bailouts or the sanity of the sequester – we are forgetting the real engine of progress in the United States – businesses, communities, entrepreneurs, and the like.

To be fair, many of us are guilty. When you’re so deeply enmeshed in the Beltway debates it’s hard not to get sucked into just how apocalyptic it all seems. The size of our debt is at dangerous levels, Democrats continue to refuse to reform entitlements, ever-higher tax burdens appear to be on the horizon and it takes every bit of Republican political capital to merely slow the growth of spending.

“If you look at our government, you have a right to be pessimistic,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio said at CPAC. “But there’s the good news – our government has never been America. With all the bad news out there you can still find tremendous promise of tomorrow in the everyday stories of our people.”

And when you think about the people, not the government, you see reasons for optimism. Worker productivity it soaring, educational attainment is growing, and civic engagement is once again taking hold. Unfortunately, listening to the debates in Washington you’d forget that we were a party built on expanding liberty. Instead we’ve become the green-visored, number crunchers fretting over our adding machines.

That’s not wrong. After all, someone has to be the adult in the room explaining just how dangerous it is for Washington to spend as if it’s playing with Monopoly money. But as party we need to explain our views on government, not simply by focusing on the number of zeroes in the national debt, but explaining how that growing number hinders American’s ability to pursue their dreams. How a bigger debt and a larger government leads to reduced opportunities and smaller freedoms.

“We belong to one country, but we also belong to thousands of communities. Our vision, our budget, makes room for these communities to grow,” said Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. “When government does too much, it doesn’t do anything well. We need to make this point more often. If we listen more closely to the people, we will find that the answers to our problems lie a whole lot closer to home, a whole lot closer than Washington.”

Overall, it was a weekend marked by hope and optimism. There were no funeral dirges and no eulogies to a party long-gone. Instead, we dusted ourselves off, gathered around the principles that made our party great, refocused on the communities that make us strong, and lit a fire that will, with any luck, carry over until the next elections in 2014