If you live in the Washington, DC area long enough, you will eventually be visited by droves of relatives and friends; some that you never knew you had. For some reason, the visits come every so often, in two to four year cycles. A visit from family and friends is a good thing. In a town where who you know often can trump other more substantive things, such visits can put things in perspective. If you are lucky, it can remind you that there is a world out there of seemingly normal people who still care about a nation of laws, freedom, the American Flag, and apple pie.
During one of these recent visits, Yleem and I took some very good friends on a “who knows what number” monument tour. At about dusk, we stopped at the Lincoln Memorial. There is really nothing like it in the world, sitting atop the base of the Lincoln Memorial when the sun begins to set. With Lincoln looking over your shoulder, you can take in the National Mall, the World War II Memorial, and the U.S. Capitol. It is well worth the extra effort. It was then that the 11 year old daughter of our friends asked a question one does not expect from a young one: dad says you’re a Republican, why?
Without missing a beat, I replied, ‘every now and then, just look up.’ Really, step outside, look up at the sky, and remember that there are people orbiting the earth at close to 17,000 miles per hour, about 220 miles away. For no matter what may be taking place down here, the future is up there and the United States is leading the way, charting that new tomorrow. You’re likely asking yourself, as did our friends, what does any of this have to do with being a Republican?
Besides our military and a select few other items, one of the greatest of American accomplishments and contributions to the world is our uniquely American space program. Dreams, perseverance, ingenuity, generosity, and charting new pages in the book of history – that is what Americans do well. We can do it, better than anyone else; but when we achieve it, we share it with mankind. The return on taxpayers’ investment in the space program is almost immeasurable. It has not only led to the development of outer space, but contributed to the sciences, health care, engineering, education, as well as created millions of jobs and a budding civilian space program. By the way, we just invest significantly more in our space program.
The point was, and remains, look up and remember that despite all the nutty things that transpire down here, even in this sometimes provincial town, we should keep things in perspective and dream big things. That was the Republican Party I knew as a kid, a party that dreamed big ideas, focused on winning elections, and held on to power. The Party of Lincoln (kept the Union together), Teddy Roosevelt (championed the Panama Canal and a robust role for the U.S. in the world), Ronald Reagan (won the Cold War), and Martin Luther King (a civil rights pioneer). The latter is not a typo, King was a Republican. There are many more examples, but you get the picture.
During a recent lunch with a well-known and witty Capitol Hill reporter, we talked about the usual things we do in this town, politics. Eventually, however, we turned to the space program. Age wise, he and I are about a generation and a half apart. He grew up during the heyday of U.S. space exploration, witnessing the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs propelling Americans, literally and figuratively, to new heights. He also commented how political leaders like John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson impacted him and his family; and on how the space program captured the imagination of millions. I eventually found a way to mix up both the space program and the current state of affairs of the GOP; it was just about the same thing I told our guest a few weeks earlier on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
No matter what political party you’re in, you can only chart those new course if you work with your colleagues on the other side of the aisle. It is easy to be a partisan, it is quite another to govern and lead. Our space program is not a Republican or Democratic thing, it is a uniquely American program supported by millions of Americans from all backgrounds. There is a mission. Everyone has a job to do and does it well. If Republicans want to lead, we best focus first on winning elections and having a solid vision of where we want to take the country, not the Party.
We will remain in the minority if we fail to grasp the basic lesson taught children in civics class: it is the U.S. Congress, not the “Democratic Congress” or the “Republican Congress”. But each party gets to lead it as long as it has the votes to remain in the majority. You only remain in the majority by winning elections. The Party is a means to an end, a practical tool if you will. The Democrats understood this, morphed and re-did some of its ranks to win seats in conservative states and congressional districts. As is evident from the past year, it is not clear at all, however, if they understood that in order to win, they must lead. Remember, it is not a “Democratic Congress,” it is the U.S. Congress.
As a party, leaders need to ask themselves, “What is our mission and our vision for America?”. The different factions that make up the party need to ask that question as well. They should all start by looking and re-learn that innovative mindset that thrust our nation to new heights in a very short span of time and find a way to translate it to every American, no matter the party. And we want to win elections. Being a spectator on launch day is great, but being in the driver’s seat of the Space Shuttle, well, that is so much the better. Either way, and for no reason, look up, there are a lot of good things going on up there …
For a somewhat related story published in today’s edition of Politico, be sure to read “Squishes,” Wackos, and a GOP Majority,” by a former Hill colleague, John Feehery.