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Senator Orrin G. Hatch
Remarks at the Reagan Ranch
Constitutional Conservatism and the Senate GOP Agenda
October 8, 2014
Introduction and Overview
Im honored to be here today. Ronald Reagan was a great hero of mine. His influence looms
large over both our nation and my own personal political life. In 1976 I was locked in a tight primary
race in my first Senate campaign. The polls were close, and it was anyones race. A few days before
the primary, Governor Reagan endorsed me. Im told it was his only pre-primary endorsement ever.
Ive always been grateful for his support in that race. In my Senate office, we have a Reagan
conference room, which displays the telegram formalizing his endorsement, as well as memorabilia
from several of my bills that he signed into law as President.
President Reagan made tremendous contributions to American conservatism. He implemented
a conservative agenda that led to a renewal of American greatness, helped create millions of new jobs,
and defeated an evil empire. He showed that conservatism is a winning philosophy.
President Reagan also recognized the signal importance of the U.S. Constitution. Time and
again he returned to the Constitution as the basis of our government and the source of our guiding
principles. He referred to the Constitution constantly in advancing his conservative agendaan
average of 16 times in each State of the Union speech. In his First Inaugural address he made the
Constitutions opening words a key focus, emphasizing that governments role is to serve We the
People, and not the other way around. He returned to this theme in his farewell address, in words
worth quoting here: Almost all the worlds constitutions are documents in which governments tell the
people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which We the People tell the
government what it is allowed to do. We the People are free.
My goal today is to explain how a conservatism rooted in the Constitutions enduring
principleswhat some call constitutional conservatismprovides a framework for practical solutions
to many of our most pressing challenges. I believe such an approach can serve as a foundation for
successful Republican governance in the next Congress and beyond, just as it did under President
Were at a critical point right now. The flaws in President Obamas agenda are increasingly
clear. The economy remains sluggish nearly six years into his presidency. Millions of Americans are
still unemployed or underemployed; millions more have given up looking for work altogether. The
Presidents signature achievement, Obamacare, has caused premiums to spike and kicked millions of
Americans off their health plans. Our national debt continues to grow. At home and abroad, our
nation appears adrift. Equally important, it feels adrift.
Now is the time for Republicans to tell America how we will right the ship, how we will solve
the problems Obama has wrought. We have an opportunity to present a positive, conservative, reform-
oriented agenda that will show the American people that we are the party of solutions, the party that
can bring our nation out of its current malaise and restore it to growth and prestige and prosperity.
The Current Challenge
Even in the face of such opportunity, this is a time of significant challenge for conservatives.
Many commentators, across the political spectrum, have identified what they describe as a Republican
identity crisis. Republican voters and elected officials, the narrative goes, are angered at the
Presidents overreach and opposed to his agenda, but have offered few constructive policy proposals of
their own. According to these commentators, todays Republican party knows what it is againstthe
Obama agendabut is unable to articulate what it is for.
A related narrative suggests that there is an ongoing GOP civil war, a political fight, not only
between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, but between competing ideologies. Between
libertarians and social conservatives, populists and elites, hawks and isolationists. Even among those
on the right who are seeking to identify an affirmative policy agenda, there is a sense that todays GOP
lacks a unified governing philosophy.
Our challenge as conservatives, then, is to develop a positive, reform-minded agenda that will
both unify our party and present a compelling vision to voters searching for a way out of our current
This is not a new challenge. Because conservatism includes a diverse set of ideological
commitments, the GOPs successes over the last 50 years have all included a similar effort.
Beginning in the 1960s, Frank Meyer, who for many years was an editor of National Review,
undertook to unite the two often disparate wings of conservatismtraditionalist and libertarianby
showing how each needs the other.
Ronald Reagan was among the most ardent advocates of this view, known as fusionism. In a
1981 address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, President Reagan lauded Meyers effort
to fashion a vigorous new synthesis of traditional and libertarian thoughta synthesis that is today
recognized by many as modern conservatism.
The effort to reconcile liberty and tradition was manifest in many of President Reagans
programs and much of his rhetoric. He taught that it is not the state, but rather families, churches,
neighborhoods, and communities that foster the virtues liberty needs to survive. For President Reagan,
liberty and tradition were not competitors, but complements. Each needed the other to thrive. This
remains true today.
Our current challenge, however, is not merely to unify. We must also present a compelling
vision. It is not enough simply to offer a set of policy proposals. We must root our agenda in
principles, and explain to the American people why those principlesand the policies that flow from
themoffer the best way forward.
The fundamental insight of conservatism lies in the root of the word: conserve. To be a
conservative means to appreciate that our established institutions and inherited traditions reflect the
accumulated wisdom of those who have come before.
American conservatism thus contains an important protective element. It involves a
commitment to conserve the principles and institutions that have made our nation so great and so free.
As conservatives, we recognize that the Constitution gave us a precious gifta system of government
that is both active and restrained. That has the necessary authority to meet challenges, but contains
within its interior structure checks on that same authority. That gives families and communities space
to thrive, but is attuned to the imperfections of human nature.
Our commitment to the Constitution leads us to resist programs or ideologies that would cast
aside our constitutional principles in favor of novel theories or untested designs. In the 1950s,
conservative heroes like Russell Kirk and Whitaker Chambers urged Americans to stand strong against
Communism and other collectivist impulses, and to conserve our liberties by restoring traditional faith
and morality. More libertarian-minded thinkers such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman argued
passionately against the New Deal as a misguided reordering of the state and federal spheres, as well as
an unconstitutional expansion of federal power. They urged a return to more limited government, and
argued that reducing federal intrusion into the economy would free up space for individual liberty and
innovation to flourish.
Subsequent decades brought new challenges. In the 1970s we faced out-of-control inflation,
punitive tax rates, and a Soviet menace. It took a committed conservative like Ronald Reagan to show
America that we could return to greatness by returning to our founding principles of limited
government, individual freedom, and strong defense.
Today we face different threats, and fresh attempts to depart from our constitutional principles.
An enormous expansion of the administrative state is now invading core individual liberties. Already
the federal government has assumed authority to force Americans to purchase products they do not
want; now it presumes to tell them they must violate deeply held religious beliefs. It continues to issue
regulations that stifle our economy, impede innovation, and diminish individual freedom.
As conservatives, we must continue to fight all of these attempts to expand government at the
expense of our constitutional ideals. But we must not be defined only by what we are against. We
must offer an alternative, affirmative agenda that can capture the publics attention and demonstrate
that we are the party, not of shutdowns, but solutions.
As we develop this agenda, we must take care always to keep the Constitution as our guide. By
so doing, we remain true to the title conservative: we conserve our founding principles, and apply
those principles to todays challenges.
Restoring Political Constitutionalism
Looking to the Constitution as our guide must be an active process, and one that each of us has
an independent obligation to unde