OPINION: Let's ensure that Oregon's Grand Old Party remains grand
"I will do my best to make it clear. My convictions are not so much concerned with what I am against as what I am for; and that excludes a lot of things automatically. Traditionally, democracy has been an affirmative doctrine rather than merely a negative one."
— David Lilienthal
As soon as it became clear on Election Day that I would not be Oregon's next treasurer, I called Tobias Read to congratulate him. Did it hurt to lose? Of course it did. Did I think I would make a great treasurer for Oregon? Yes, I did.
But, the voters of Oregon spoke. Was the election fair? Yes, it was. If a recount was done, it might change the count a bit, but not the outcome. I trust and accept the result.
Election officials in Oregon and the nation have admirably done their job. The courts have done their job, too, and I'm glad to see that the Republican Party has finally stopped pursuing and supporting what have unanimously been determined to be legal cases without merit. To do otherwise, I believe, would have made the Grand Old Party (GOP) something less than grand.
I am a proud member of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush—all U.S. presidents who were deeply committed to spreading the idea of opportunity and upward mobility for every individual. Like them, I believe opportunity for all — "a fair chance in the race of life," as President Lincoln said — is worth fighting for.
I believe it is our unique purpose to clear the path for individuals to get ahead economically, and to fight for their right to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. I believe this is the unfinished work of the country and the state, and that positive government action is needed to provide for personal opportunity and upward mobility.
The founding principle of our nation and our state is liberty, and the purpose of liberty is to enable individuals to improve their condition. "The legitimate object of government," Lincoln said, "is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities." It is a vision of a society in which all people have an equal chance to succeed.
I believe our government can and must take an active role in "clearing the path" for ordinary people to get ahead, and that the most direct and impactful economic way to do that is through infrastructure investment and educational opportunity. Government-sponsored infrastructure projects are crucial to the economic development of the state, and I believe they will prove beneficial to the residents of Oregon — however poor or wealthy — and support their dreams of equality of opportunity for all.
Think of what occurred under President Lincoln: creation of land grant colleges to provide for educational opportunity; linking the nation with the transcontinental railroad to provide economic opportunity; the Homestead Act to provide the opportunity for home ownership; and the creation of Yosemite National Park to provide for recreational opportunity. President Theodore Roosevelt fostered an ethos of conservation and sustainability for the preservation of opportunity for generations to come. President Eisenhower led the creation of the Interstate Highway System and increased employment opportunities and upward mobility. President George H.W. Bush gave us the Americans With Disabilities Act, leading to the expansion of opportunity for people heretofore not fully integrated into the American Dream.
I believe we must follow in those bold footsteps. Moving forward, I believe we must:
• Lead with integrity. That is the first responsibility of any elected official, to first and foremost acknowledge facts, however uncomfortable they may be;
• Eliminate crony capitalism, which turns public goods to private gains by providing subsidies to the rich and well-connected;
• Lighten the burden imposed by inefficient and burdensome overregulation of economic life;
• Be accountable. When projects go awry — such as the Oregon Employment Division computer upgrade, the Department of Motor Vehicles computer upgrade, the Cover Oregon computer infrastructure debacle, the bungled state emergency communications project and now what appears to be a developing issue in the state elections office — elected officials must take responsibility and not simply blame the project managers.
There is a relationship between daily economic realities and the highest moral and political principles. Policies must be pursued that are fair to all Oregon residents and not skewed toward those who, by dint of their wealth, can wield their influence for personal gain. The policies must be good for Oregon, must be able to create jobs, must be environmentally sound and must be fair to all parties, with the goal of creating a robust capitalist economy that includes generous social support.
We need the politics of persuasion, featuring open minds and a conversational tone. Today's politics is heavy on assertion, light on explanation and bereft of persuasion.
We need the politics of specificity, because the curse of modern political life is abstraction. Politics should not be a means of asserting identity or virtue, or denouncing the moral defects of opponents. We need to focus on real people and the impact of politics on everyday residents.
We need the politics of candor. Facts are stubborn things that need to be acknowledged. That means understanding that there are trade-offs, there is nuance and there is never enough money to do everything everyone wants.
Finally, we need the politics of shared purpose — not pitting all against all, but uniting all for one. At the end of the day, we must all understand that it is possible to fight for what you believe without pitting Oregonian against Oregonian, and that to do so requires leaving behind the kind of rhetoric that portrays a past that wasn't, a present that isn't and a future that probably won't be.
So many of my Republican colleagues, past and present, have understood that. Let us not forget the contributions of statesmen like Tom McCall, Mark Hatfield or Norma Paulus — or more recently, state Sen. Jason Atkinson, whose careful balancing of conservation and utilization have given us some of the more forward-thinking natural resource policies of our lifetimes.
My point is that although today's Republican Party may need a bit of polish, the GOP's core values are not alien to any voters in Oregon: personal freedom, accountable government, oversight of resources — and the ability of an Oregonian to seek out and achieve their personal American Dream with a minimal amount of interference from government regulators. What are Oregon values if not that?
Let's go to work, and let's keep the grand in the Grand Old Party.
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