Mandate for Leadership: Introduction

George W. Bush’s re-election, with his allies widening their control of Congress, was an emphatic mandate for an agenda during the next four years that is based solidly on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. In many respects, the election was a referendum on the Bush Administration, and George Bush took every opportunity to stress these principles. The American people gave their assent in record numbers.

In many areas of policy during the past four years, these principles have clearly formed the heart of legislation and decisions flowing from Washington. In standing firm for American security at home and abroad, for example, we have seen a bold and principled resolve. So too in tax policy: Congress and the Bush Administration have been resolute in enacting tax changes designed to spur growth and to hold the line on the proportion of household income taken by Washington.

These principled positions were at the center of the election debate. They helped to swell public support for the President and for those lawmakers who embraced them.

In recent years, some other actions and pieces of legislation, however, have been at odds with these principles. The Medicare drug legislation, for instance, conflicted directly with the goal of limiting government and reducing entitlements, and instead piled trillions of dollars of new debt onto our children and grandchildren. The State Department and the U.S. Navy almost convinced the Administration to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty, which had been flatly rejected in the past because it would create a United Nations–run international regime controlling seabed exploration and mining.

Similarly, public diplomacy has been weak, and sound foreign policy initiatives have failed to win support from our allies because they were not accompanied by well-planned public diplomacy efforts. Tariffs temporarily placed on foreign steel conflicted with the most basic principles of free trade. And a host of programs receiving boosts in new funding has been combined with scant leadership interest in budget-process changes designed to curb spending.

Observers can therefore be forgiven for concluding that Bill Clinton’s declaration that “The era of big government is over” now seems rather premature.

Yet the election made clear that these departures from principle did little or nothing to benefit the President or the lawmakers who supported them. Indeed, they got in the way of the otherwise consistent principles being espoused. For instance, the Medicare legislation was not greeted with enthusiasm and, worse still, now poses a staggering fiscal problem that threatens future tax cuts. Similarly, the on-and-off steel tariffs gained nothing economically and made it that much more difficult to draw a bright line between principled free trade and the unprincipled protection being offered as an alternative.

Fortunately, however, the principles of freedom triumphed in this election, and now they should shape congressional legislation and the Administration’s actions over the next four years. Policies must be based on these sound principles. The Bush Administration and lawmakers controlling Congress have a duty to the American people to design and enact such policies, and the American people have the right as well as the duty to hold Washington accountable for doing so.

Regrettably, many pressures will make it difficult for those in Washington to keep their focus on principle. Narrow majorities in Congress will contribute to this, causing some lawmakers occasionally to concentrate on satisfying narrow constituencies. A budget process that neither forces priority setting nor makes long-term costs visible makes it harder for politicians to resist spending proposals. A policy planning process that is focused on immediate crises instead of on examining the second and third-order effects of various courses of action makes it appear that quick fixes solve complex foreign policy dilemmas. These factors do present obstacles to the principled lawmaker.

Because of these obstacles to carrying out the mandate given in this election, Americans who support limited government, greater personal freedom, and a stronger America need to help their representatives in Washington to maintain their focus by holding them firmly to account. That will help these lawmakers to focus on principle and withstand the enormous pressure to satisfy interest groups.

Mandate for Leadership is a powerful tool to help accomplish this. It provides both an overview of the freedom principles that form the basis of sound policy on key issues and a checklist of the main policy objectives that flow from these principles. These are the policies that should be presented as accomplishments at the next presidential election. Thus, Mandate for Leadership is a handbook to help responsible lawmakers turn principle into policy and a checklist that Americans can use to make sure that they do so.

Dr. Butler is Vice President, Domestic and Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Dr.Wortzel is Vice President and Director, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.