Vol. 40, No. 2

A Note from the Chairman

We have tried to continue that tradition in this issue by focusing on a number of important topics that we believe will have some prominence in the coming weeks and months. We lead off with a discussion of the Suburban Agenda, an effort by a group of House Republicans to craft a positive, issues-oriented strategy […]

The Suburban Agenda

There are two basic truths to mid-term elections in America – they are won on themes, and, historically speaking at least, they are usually lost by the party in power.

Suburban Health Care

The legislative agenda developed by the suburban caucus is meant to address our everyday concerns: the safety of our children at school, congested and overcrowded roads, and dwindling open space, for instance. At the very top of that agenda is health care. Seniors enjoying their retirement, couples raising children, and individuals in the suburbs face […]

Q&A with Dave Reichert

Dave Reichert represents Washington’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Elected in 2004, he first came to national prominence as the detective who led the effort to capture the Green River serial killer. He serves on three committees in Congress, and is Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Science […]

How I See It

The question is simple enough. What do I think about increasing access to health insurance for American workers? Strengthening border security? Lobbying reform? I’m for them all, and House Republicans are taking aim at each. But beneath the veneer of these simple questions is, I believe, a fundamental misunderstanding of the role a Majority Leader […]

A Bipartisan Solution to Our Big Government Problem

The issue is the establishment of a Sunset Commission. For the second straight year, President Bush is proposing the creation of such a commission as part of his budget plan. Under this proposal, every federal agency and government program would automatically receive a 10-year expiration date, at which time they would essentially be required to […]

Devising a Terrorism Insurance Solution

When Congress enacted the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (also known as TRIA) in 2002, the government-backed terrorism reinsurance program it established was designed as a temporary stopgap to give insurers time to regroup and sort out the complexities of dealing with terrorism risk.

Dynamic Scoring: The Time is Now

It is hard to find any serious economist who would argue that the federal government’s tax and spending policies make no difference to U.S. economic performance. Indeed, all across the political spectrum and throughout the leading schools of economic thought, a broad consensus exists that what governments do with tax dollars and how they raise […]

Dynamic Scoring: Not So Fast!

They are frustrated because formal revenue loss estimates used by Congress during the budget process ignore revenues recouped from the increase in economic activity which occurs as a result of the pro-growth tax cuts.

Politics Never Sounded So Good

We wring our hands in this third century of the American Experiment. More of us, we’re told, can identify Paris Hilton than Paris, France. Frothy celebrity magazines thrive while serious political journals struggle. Citizens seem more excited about voting for the American Idol than the American President. Entertainment trumps civic engagement; staying amused is more […]

Lincoln, King and Scripture

When Americans marked the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., earlier this year, we were paying tribute to two leaders who did more to advance the causes of equality, human dignity, and civil rights in this country than perhaps any other Americans.

The Party Line: Great Republican Quotes from Lincoln to Reagan and Bush

Great Republican Quotes from Lincoln to Reagan and Bush

From the Archives: Thirty Years Ago in the Forum

Last month fort-five different House Republicans joined in groups of varying size to issue two in-depth statements, one on the draft, the other on foreign aid; eighteen introduced a Civil Rights Law Enforcement Act of major significance. The spearhead for the initiative was once again the Wednesday Group of moderate Republicans, joined in the draft […]

The Backpage: Maybe Clinton was right

Ten years ago this past January, Bill Clinton delivered his State of the Union Address in which he famously declared that “The era of big government is over.” In this same speech, he also reiterated his support for school uniforms and the V-chip.

Ripon Profile of Melissa Hart

I am a Republican because we are the only party that is offering positive ideas to make our country and our communities a better place to live and raid families.

The Backpage: Maybe Clinton was right

(…not about schools uniform and the V-chip, but about smart government initiatives in a small government world)

Ten years ago this past January, Bill Clinton delivered his State of the Union Address in which he famously declared that “The era of big government is over.”  In this same speech, he also reiterated his support for school uniforms and the V-chip.

His endorsement of these two initiatives won him praise and criticism from both sides of the aisle. It also helped set the stage for a run of political successes over the next 10 months that culminated not only in his victory over Bob Dole in November, but in Democrats picking up seats in Congress, as well.

During this period, President Clinton pushed forward with a series of proposals intended to help show that he was in touch with the American people and was working on their concerns.  He talked about tuition tax credits for college students, proposed that workers be able to take time off instead of extra pay for overtime, and went after deadbeat dads by garnishing their federal benefits and plastering their mugshots in post offices across the country.

In his book, Behind the Oval Office, former Clinton advisor Dick Morris described these initiatives as being part of a positive values agenda that sought to put Republicans on the defensive.

“Trivialized in the press as ‘small bore,’” Morris wrote, “it [the values agenda] nevertheless showed voters what an activist President could do for the average person with the help of Congress and often without it.”


Clinton’s support for these “small bore” initiatives also showed voters something else – mainly, how a President or political party could express their support for limited government and pursue an activist government agenda, too. It was a balancing act Republicans, at the time at least, never quite understood. Indeed, in the years after they took control of Congress in 1994, GOP rhetoric and talking points focused almost exclusively on the need to cut the size of government. While this appealed to the party’s base, it failed to recognize that most Americans do not just want smaller government. They want smarter government, as well.

Bill Clinton recognized this. So, too, did George W. Bush, who, when he ran for President as a compassionate conservative in 1999, stated that, “Government should do a few things, and do them well.” Some might argue that some of the President’s problems these days stem from the fact that he seems to have forgotten these words. Under his administration, government has gotten larger, not smaller. And, given the response to Hurricane Katrina, it’s safe to say that most Americans do not perceive the federal government as being very smart.

The challenge for Republicans this November is to change these perceptions. And to do this, they need to put forward positive ideas designed to reaffirm to voters that Republicans are committed to making limited government more effective. The Suburban Agenda is one such idea. It is a comprehensive effort by House Republicans to make government work without making government bigger. The proposal to establish a Sunset Commission is another idea. It is an attempt to set limits and promote accountability within the Washington bureaucracy – two things that are essential if smaller, smarter government is to succeed.

The key thing for Republicans is to present a positive plan. In his book, Dick Morris referred to this as a “message of relevance.” Maybe that’s the key lesson to take away from the values agenda President Clinton promoted in 1996. It wasn’t about school uniforms. It wasn’t about the V-chip. It wasn’t about any of the initiatives he pushed in his drive for reelection that year. Rather, it was about being relevant – which, when you think about it, is not just smart government, but smart politics, as well. 

Louis M. Zickar is the Editor of the Ripon Forum