The Ripon Forum

Volume 52, No. 6

December 2018

People Matter, and it’s Time for Washington to Lead

By on December 17, 2018


2018 has been a rough year in American politics. Divisive and hateful rhetoric has become a norm, facts have become hard to discover as truth-telling is replaced with distortions and lies by elected officials and the media, and political polarization is higher than at any time in recent memory. Through it all, people have been left distressed and eager for change, resulting in vigorous grassroots engagement and many incumbents losing their mid-term elections.

Nowhere has this been more vividly illustrated than in California, where there are now fewer Republicans serving in the Congressional Delegation than at any time since the 1940s.

The good news is that there is opportunity in crisis if Republicans will do some serious soul-searching and begin leading with honesty and optimism, offering practical solutions to real problems and figuring out how to unify Americans and resonate with the public at large, rather than just blaming the other side for their woes.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

The good news is that there is opportunity in crisis if Republicans will do some serious soul-searching.

Achieving starts with remembering what drew us – as Republican elected officials – to public service in the first place. For me, it was because people matter. I wanted to help improve the quality of life for people in my family, neighborhood, and community. Later, I wanted to do the same for people in my state and nation.

Our core Republican principles used to be about helping other people by promoting liberty and responsibility, economic opportunity and freedom, fiscal discipline and accountability, efficiency in a limited government.

We believed in lifting people up out of poverty by giving them fair and robust economic opportunities and by providing world-class education. We stood for giving people freedom to run their own lives and businesses without undue government interference. We welcomed people from all over the world who sought to live our American Dream by contributing to society and the economy. They could be secure in knowing they would not be persecuted for who they are, and they could build strong families and vibrant neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, we have lost our way as a Party. We have failed to bring people together and to lead thoughtful debates on public policy solutions to the daily struggles faced by Americans. We have failed to convince voters how solutions based on conservative principles help people thrive. We have failed to give people hope and opportunity.

Instead, we have remained silent about or, in the worst of cases, promoted the hateful rhetoric and bigotry that is tearing our country apart. We have thrown fits about policies like the Affordable Care Act and then had no replacement plan seven years later. We’ve blamed others for America’s challenges instead of building alliances and solving problems.

Moving into 2019, let’s recommit ourselves to our original principles and to governing. Let’s work on issues that everyday Americans care about and give them a reason to trust us again, being authentic, sincere, and friendly in the way we talk with people, treating them as next-door neighbors rather than adversaries.

Americans are concerned about why so many of our kids don’t enjoy going to school; we’re worried – particularly in California – about whether there will be enough water to provide for the needs of people, businesses, and the environment. We stress about congested traffic corridors, saving enough for retirement, and finding balance between our work and home lives.

Millions of Americans are waiting for Congress to lead. Transportation and water infrastructure, policies to drive economic mobility, and balancing the budget would be three good places to start.

As the New Year begins, I urge Congress and the President to hit reset and begin giving their constituents the leadership America deserves. Prioritize advancing solutions to the lack of accessible and affordable healthcare, the ever-increasing cost of a college education, growing academic achievement gaps and income inequality, the dynamically-changing future of work as robotics, AI, and other technology advancements grow, the lack of security at our borders, climate change and the wildfires raging through our forest lands and water disappearing from our reservoirs.

Deliver comprehensive, workable solutions for the increasing number of homeless people living on the streets, children in poverty, and the immigrants who desperately want to become Americans and help our economy grow.

Millions of Americans are waiting for Congress to lead. Transportation and water infrastructure, policies to drive economic mobility, and balancing the budget would be three good places to start.

In the midst of debate, Congressional Republicans – and all of us in elected office – should model and hold each other accountable to truth-telling and civility, understanding that words matter, that healing and unity is important to the sustainability, strength, and growth of our nation.

Despite our current policy and political challenges, we still live in the greatest nation on earth. Let’s push forward, give Americans the leadership and policy solutions they deserve, and restore our reputation for strength and greatness across the globe. Why? Because people matter.

Kristin Olsen serves as the Stanislaus County Supervisor and is the former Republican Leader of the California State Assembly.

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