What Ideas Are Conservatives FOR?

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Elections 2012
Illustration by Emily Metcalf

Many looked at the results on Election Day and saw disaster. At The Heritage Foundation, however, we see opportunity. Americans are asking: “What do conservatives stand for?” This is the opportunity to tell them.

There are important lessons to be learned from the recent election and the current trends in American politics, for sure. But we believe this is precisely the time to reaffirm the principles that guide us and to redouble our efforts to change America’s course.


That’s why, after careful consideration of the political landscape in Washington and nationwide, we’re pursuing bold reforms that meet the demands of the moment and address the magnitude of the challenges before us. But at the same time, we are laying out a compelling vision of a prosperous and secure nation, where the American Dream is within everyone’s reach.

And we’re going to take our arguments to all Americans:

  • Middle-class families struggling in a bad economy.
  • Young people worried about their future prospects.
  • Those stuck in poverty, reaching for the ladder of opportunity.
  • Entrepreneurs and job creators seeking to expand prosperity.

Yes, there are negative indicators. Too many Americans are either out of work or have altogether given up on looking for a job. Overall compensation has been flat over recent years.College graduates are moving back in with their parents as jobs fail to materialize.

High taxes and the crushing weight of endless rules and regulations burden our economy. The federal government operates beyond its proper bounds yet neglects its core responsibilities. Uncontrolled spending and a surging debt are driving America into bankruptcy.

Government in the last half century has expanded, centralized and bureaucratized to the point that it is now the chief barrier to creativity, innovation and economic growth.

However, we still see America as the land of opportunity. That’s because the American Dream directly grows out of the exceptional principles this country was founded upon.

That all are fundamentally equal and self-governing, and that the United States government is limited to core functions, means that we have the liberty and opportunity to live our lives, control our fate, and pursue our happiness. That each has a right to the rewards of his own labor – the promise that you can keep what you earn and that what you save and acquire is your property – creates a dynamic society in which every member can work hard, pursue opportunity, and advance in life to the benefit of all.

Indeed, the monumental achievement of this great country is that it makes comfort and general affluence, safety and security, self-government and the blessings of liberty – all traditionally the province of the privileged few – available to everyone.

Based on the principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution, generations of Americans have created a nation unlike any other in history. Our economy produces almost a quarter of the world’s wealth, and our military forces are the most powerful on the globe. The institutions of civil society – families, religious communities, and private associations – thrive in America, forming an independent people who are among the most hard-working, generous, and forward-looking in the world.

It is the potent combination of political liberty under the rule of law, the endless creativity of the marketplace, and the enduring moral character of the American people that assures opportunity for all and fuels the unlimited promise of America.

Yes, the federal government is bloated and vastly overextended. Yes, we are wrapped in its endless rules and regulations. Yes, a seemingly limitless welfare state is taking a toll on our finances and on our economy, even as it ensnares an ever-larger share of the population into dependency.

But because this trajectory is unsustainable, we know it can and must change. That is the basis for our major new project, America’s Opportunity for All.

We can reduce the size and scope of government and restore economic productivity. We can reform the core programs of government to provide assistance to the deserving and a way out for those who fall on hard times.

All this is possible if we make a concerted effort to change America’s course, making clear the dire problems we face, building a consensus in favor of a new direction, and advancing a forward-looking reform agenda to strengthen free enterprise and eliminate cronyism, fire up the engines of opportunity and upward mobility, provide for our nation’s defense, champion liberty, and rebuild constitutional self-government.

For the next four days, the Morning Bell will cover Heritage’s detailed plan to revitalize America.

Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., is Heritage’s vice president for American Studies and director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics.





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