The Conservative Opportunity 2023
A Vision for America
by Corey Uhden
Everyone over a certain age immediately recognizes those words. They might be taken back to where they were when they first heard them from a television set, the images flashing through their head of a boat on the Hudson, the couple getting married, the front porches of homes draped with American flags. They might not recall the details in that 1984 presidential campaign ad but they remember the images. This was President Ronald Reagan’s genius, making his vision for America “morning in America” for everyone.
That campaign went on to win 49 states, coming up less than 3,000 votes short of a full sweep of fifty states. Even those who didn’t support him could admit President Ronald Reagan made his vision the nation’s vision. Upon leaving office, President Reagan reflected on what had come to be known as “The Reagan Revolution,” calling it instead “a great rediscovery of our values and our common sense.” The “great communicator’s” greatest contribution was restoring confidence in those values.
I am not a child of the Reagan revolution, but a beneficiary of it, and now some 35 years later, it seems clear to me that what this country needs now is a great rediscovery of its identity, some sense of shared values and a common sense, to give us confidence in our future.
In 2016, I published “Principled Leadership for America: Conservative Principles for Facing Modern Pressures,” an essay for a website called The Millennial Review. I was transparent in my purpose for writing that piece, to lay out a platform for conservative leadership rooted in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution in the face of an otherwise unpredictable and hostile political environment. I declared outright, “we need real disruption of the political establishment, replacing it with a new conservative establishment” relying on the principles outlined in the piece above all else.
I stand by every word in that piece, but I realize now, after a few years observing politics and public service as both a student and participant in the public policy process, that while I had laid out the principles for this new leadership, I hadn’t established the need for it, the purpose it would serve: to realize a vision for America based on conservative common sense leadership.
After a disappointing performance in the 2022 midterm elections, the third of three consecutive elections, it seems obvious to me the conservative cause is in desperate need of better leadership, at a time of serious demand for it. Republicans have all the elements needed to build a winning coalition capable of delivering a political revolution just as impactful and resilient as the Reagan revolution. We just need a new generation of leadership that speaks to the concerns, hopes, dreams, and desires of today with a compelling vision for tomorrow.
That, after all, is the purpose of leadership, to unite otherwise disparate factions behind the pursuit of a common cause based on a set of shared values, a shared vision for a shared nation: What does our next morning in America look like? What is our vision for America?
It starts when parents are confident that their children are safe and learning how to be productive, virtuous citizens in the school of their choice, where schools aren’t lowering standards in pursuit of equity. They’re raising expectations in pursuit of excellence!
It’s where opportunity waits around every corner of every community, where every neighborhood is an “opportunity zone,” and all able-bodied adults are expected to work for a living, with a living wage just the first step on the path to a comfortable life.
It’s where people find fulfilling careers instead of jumping between jobs, where people can build wealth for themselves and their families independent of government assistance and a broken and backward bureaucracy. It’s where people keep the fruit of their labor to save, spend, and invest as they please and the government takes as little as possible to carry out its most basic functions, but otherwise stays in its lane.
Where people in the pits of despair and dissolution find a helping hand because we aren’t enabling dangerous and destructive behaviors but taking the time to treat the afflicted and rejuvenating communities one individual at a time.
Where poverty is eradicated and equal opportunity is a reality.
It’s a nation that metes out justice and punishment fairly and equitably, where neighborhoods and law enforcement communicate and where they place their trust in one another to build communities of hope, together.
Where those in prison for lesser offenses have a chance at genuine remorse, redemption and rehabilitation. Where reform saves lives on both sides of the badge and bad faith is met with unrelenting accountability.
It’s a nation that is comfortable, safe, with abundant opportunity for all Americans regardless of background, where people are judged by their talent and dedication, not their background or identity.
It’s a nation where people aren’t putting their dreams on hold, but waking up to greet each day with purpose and positivity, where hope, yes hope, is as abundant as the air we breathe, real and palpable. After all, it’s the reason a young man puts on a tie and a young woman buys a whole new outfit for a big job interview, why he’ll save two months salary to buy a diamond ring he knows she’ll say “yes” to, and why she just knows “he’s the one” that will help her raise their unborn children. Yes, hope is still the most powerful word in the English language. It’s what America is built on.
But hope is not the mere expectation of good things to come; it’s the confidence that we can meet any challenge and embrace any opportunities coming our way.
It’s why I know we can save the environment and the economy, by fostering a spirit of innovation to produce the technology that will save our planet or allow us to adapt to a changing climate.
It’s why I know we can find a pathway to building more housing that meets people’s needs and end the cruel game of musical chairs that has put attainable housing out of reach for too many families.
And it’s why we’ll see new technologies and practices make their way into the medical field, lowering costs and making miraculous health care affordable and attainable for more Americans, and eventually all Americans.
It’s why I’m confident we’ll find a way to secure our southern border and stop the flow of deadly fentanyl that is a plague upon our people. At the same time, we will find a home for every bona-fide refugee and repatriate those falsely claiming asylum until the flow is finally reversed and illegal immigration a worry of the past.
It’s why we’ll have a truly American system of legal immigration consistent with our proud heritage as a nation of immigrants and put a premium on integration to support our larger pursuit of economic and racial integration promised in our national motto — E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. Ours will continue to be a land of many different cultures proudly becoming one nation, proving multiculturalism isn’t the absence of assimilation; it is its most balanced form.
It’s why we’ll meet the challenges of an emboldened Russia, a competitive China, and any other competitor or adversary, from a position of strength, not just in terms of the arms needed to defend against any foe, but in the confidence of our principles on human rights and free trade that would make it a foolish bet indeed to bet against us, our allies, and trading partners.
It’s why I know we will restore our confidence in those principles and prove once again that the principles of democracy — freedom, equality, representation, and accommodation — are unapologetically superior to any others, that they alone provide for the safety and happiness guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence.
It’s where everyone is not only free, but comfortable enough to think freely, speak confidently, worship openly and practice their faith in private and public life without fear of censorship or legal retribution. Independent and free thinking people cannot be as easily divided or controlled, and may those who seek to divide, demonize, and defame their fellow Americans “stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it,” as Thomas Jefferson so eloquently put it.
It’s where representatives of both parties work to advance their ideas to improve our quality of life and always, always make the people’s priorities their own priorities. Where the people are in control, not the government. Control of their own lives, their fortunes, and communities, where we’re able to invent, innovate, and solve problems beyond the capacity any government bureaucrat could envision.
It is, in summary, the realization of the Founders’ promise exemplified in a favorite psalm of no lesser patriot than the Founding Father, George Washington, recently popularized by the Broadway musical “Hamilton:” a nation “where every man shall sit in the comfort of his own vine and fig tree and no one shall make him afraid.”
I am convinced that conservative, or if you will, common sense leadership can achieve this vision. I can think of no other set of values than those of the Declaration of Independence, and that preeminent blueprint for government built on the foundation of accommodation, the U.S. Constitution, that could guide us to the future we deserve.
Principles alone cannot achieve such a goal. More is needed: resolve, the temerity to see beyond the nation as it is, but to imagine it as it could be and by right ought to be. And leaders — people, ambassadors of good faith and good will who will carry this vision as their own and work to make it a reality in each and every one of our communities. Be they elected officials, activists, volunteers, or just interested citizens, let all who wish to live in this ideal world strive ceaselessly to make it a reality.
No, hope and messaging are no substitute for a campaign strategy but strategy can only take you so far. The tools, tactics, and methods of successful campaigns can be learned, but they have to be routinely tested and fine-tuned for a purpose, so a vision and policy agenda such as this can reach voters, including new voters and nonvoters. After all, we aren’t just looking to win elections, but to improve people’s lives and win lifelong converts to our cause. Every vote taken, every bill introduced, every act of policy is in pursuit of a broader vision. It’s incumbent on us now to define it.
Before working full-time in politics and public service, I worked in wineries. If you know anything about growing grapes to make wine, you might know vines don’t naturally produce fruit on their own. No, they have to be pruned and starved of resources, particularly water. They have to be stressed in order to take root and search deeper for nutrients in the soil. They have to be trained in order to produce the fruit that can eventually turn into a drop of wine.
So it is with any grassroots movement. I always thought that was a misnomer, “grassroots.” Grass isn’t rooted. It can be easily uprooted, tread upon, mowed down, and if neglected, it will turn to a dull brown and eventually die. For a grape vine to bear fruit, it has to be rooted, and routinely tested. Ours must be a movement that is more firmly rooted than a typical grassroots movement, one that is continuously stressed and tested in the battle of ideas where our vision competes with any and all competing visions and we insist that everyone put up theirs for comparison.
Ambition without effort is merely dreaming, and perhaps all the work we put in today will not bear anything more than bitter fruit for a few years. But, eventually, if we tend to this vine year after year, we will soon be able to harvest enough good fruit for a little wine to enjoy ourselves. And if our neighbor tends to his, and his neighbor to hers, then we will even have enough to enjoy the fruits of our labor together.
And so it goes, year after year, harvest after harvest, all enjoying the fruits of our own vine in the shade, safe in this nation we’ve made.
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Corey Uhden is a campaign strategist for Persuade Strategies LLC. You can follow him on Twitter @CACoreyU. This article was originally published on Uhden’s blog, which you will find here.