Everything is different now, we’re told. The coronavirus has reshaped how we work, how we learn, and even how we spend time with our loved ones.
But some things don’t change: First principles. Values. Vision. The truths that Abraham Lincoln called self-evident, the liberty and justice-for-all that we’ve pledged. Indeed, the permanent things become even more important during disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic; they both anchor us and guide us.
And that’s why we are bringing forth a new edition of a landmark 1994 book, “Making Government Work: A Conservative Agenda for the States.” The first edition, edited by the late Harold J. “Tex” Lezar — my friend and mentor — helped usher in a new era for conservatism.
In it, brilliant thinkers ranging from John DiIulio to Stephen Moore to Walter Olson focused their shining lights on topics including education, crime, welfare and taxes. Ronald Reagan graciously wrote a forward, noting that as governor of California, he had watched the federal usurpation of states’ powers (mostly through federal funds dangled before the states, with many strings attached) — something he tried to reverse as president.
“For the states to provide real solutions to the problems and challenges of the ‘90s and the 21st Century and beyond,” he wrote, “state policy makers will need the benefit of research that is both practical and also reflects basic American principles — an emphasis on the individual, respect for private property, reliance on the government closest to the people, shared Western values, and the dynamism of the free market.”
The first edition of “Making Government Work” came at a crucial time — a time of great disruption, and a time that seemed filled with possibilities. Something new was beginning to change our world. It was called the internet, and many of us accessed it — if at all — through AOL. A young Jeff Bezos founded an online marketplace in 1994 he called “Amazon.” Mark Zuckerberg, who would go on to co-found Facebook, was only 10 years old.
And Francis Fukuyama had recently published a book called “The End of History and the Last Man.” With the fall of the Soviet Union, Fukuyama argued, we were witnessing “not just … the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: That is, the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
In fact, we were just a couple of years away from what seemed a watershed moment — when President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, declared in his 1996 State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over.”
What changed? Everything — just as we’re seeing today. Socialism, once discredited and cast aside, is fashionable. Avowed communists march in our streets. As we saw in the recent Democratic National Convention, President Clinton and his views have become relics in the party he once led. The internet did change things — but in our hyper-connected world, we are starved for community.
In short, we need a return to first principles—to vision and values.
Tragically, Tex passed much too young in 2004. He truly was one of the greatest conservative legal minds of our time. His life and legacy live on through his wife Merrie Spaeth and their children. It’s with their encouragement that I have assembled another Dream Team—leaders and thinkers including Rick Perry, James Carafano, Rick Santorum, Art Laffer, Chuck Norris, Bob Woodson, Kathy Ireland, and many more. They weigh in on topics important to all of us, ranging from education and the environment to health care and tax reform and everything in between.
The pandemic hasn’t changed everything — but it has brought into sharper focus our need to put forth a compelling blueprint for what we believe as conservatives on a wide range of public policy subjects.
That’s what we hope to achieve with “Making Government Work.”
The Texas Public Policy Foundation — one of our nation’s top think tanks — has again provided crucial support to me for this effort, just as it did in 1994.
This pandemic, too, shall pass. It’s up to us to ensure that freedom endures. “Making Government Work” shows us how.