USA Today Op-ed by KSP: Ike and the State of the Union






Joni Ernst should think like Ike: Column

Kasey S. Pipes 2:42 p.m. EST January 20, 2015


Republicans should welcome Obama’s State of the Union suggestions by proposing conservative solutions to the same problems.


The state of the State of the Union has changed over the years. From Thomas Jefferson’s presidency beginning in 1801 until Woodrow Wilson’s in 1913, presidents sent written versions of the Constitutionally-required report on the nation’s affairs to Congress. But Wilson, a professorial orator, wanted to deliver the address in person in a speech to both Houses of Congress. This began a long slide that has taken the SOTU from serious business to show business.

In recent years, the change has been dramatic. With Reagan, no stranger to entertainment, came the “heroes in the balcony” concept where someone sat with the first lady while the president praised his achievements. With Clinton, the master of retail politics, came the focus-group SOTU where a litany of pollster Dick Morris’ most popular ideas were paraded out like beauty pageant contestants.

Still, the State of the Union can and should allow for serious policy discussions. And President Obama has already provided a glimpse behind the curtain at what the show will look on Tuesday.

It seems the president will continue efforts to make government a first resource rather than a last resort. On education, the president will propose that the government pay for the first two years of community college. On energy, the president will propose more EPA regulation, including perhaps regulating methane emissions. And on immigration, it seems likely the president will confront Republicans on de-fund his immigration executive action. In short, Obama will double-down on his belief in a bigger and more expansive role for the federal government in the lives of everyday Americans.


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Immediately after the speech, the GOP’s new senator from Iowa, Joni Ernst, will be given equal time to respond. What should she say? Instead of a blanket rejection, she should accept that the president is raising important questions and offer her own, better, solutions.

In so doing, she should harken back to a previous era of conservative rule — Dwight David Eisenhower‘s 1950s.

Even today in some quarters, to call Ike a conservative is blasphemy. Indeed, much of the conservative establishment of today took root in the ’50s. National Review was first published in 1955, for example. And in the first year of Ike’s presidency, scholar Russell Kirk exhumed Edmund Burke from his grave and brought him to life in a book called The Conservative Mind. In it, Kirk told American conservatives that they should look to the 18th-century British statesman for inspiration.

One of the interesting attributes of Burke’s legacy is that he espoused a set of broad principles, but refrained from endorsing a specific ideology. That is, Burke didn’t have a conservative philosophy so much as he had a conservative mindset. He saw conservatism not as an agenda of issues but as an approach with which to deal with issues as they developed.

Eisenhower, though he might not have been a political conservative, was certainly a personal one. Like Burke, he believed in organic evolution, the idea that change happens over time, step by step. When Burke spoke of the wisdom of the ancients, he cautioned that decades and centuries of tradition and reverence for institutions should not be disregarded overnight. Like a coral reef, society is built up over centuries, eventually becoming a wave-resistant sanctuary for life.


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Rather than take the bait and oppose Obama’s initiatives, Republicans should take the a truly conservative approach and propose their own answers to the questions he raises.

The president wants to make college education more affordable? Good. Tuition has tripled during the last three decades when adjusted for inflation. And creating more government funding for college will only make tuition increase more. Instead, Republicans should offer something like Sen. Marco Rubio’s idea to make income-based repayment the default payback option for student loan.

The president argues for more government involvement in energy? Okay. Republicans should welcome this debate and say that anyone serious about energy policy should immediately approve the Keystone pipeline and all the energy and jobs that would come with it.

The president says the country needs more immigration? Fine. Republicans should offer legislation to create more high-skilled visas — an idea that makes many union leaders in the Democratic Party nervous.

In this way, Republicans can not just oppose the president but propose something for the country to consider. Sixty years ago, President Eisenhower found ways to invest in the country and the marketplace: roads for people and products to travel on, schools for a growing post-war population, civil rights for minorities. These ideas created a better country in conservative, incremental fashion. The GOP could do worse than try to return to the days when the country liked Ike.

Kasey S. Pipes, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a fellow at the Eisenhower Institute of Gettysburg College, is author of “Ike’s Final Battle: The Road to Little Rock and the Challenge of Equality”