The United States is at a fork in the road regarding which way we will go as a people. The 2012 election could be the most important in our lifetime, and conservative leaders have reached a consensus on how to channel the energy and concerns of the American people to realize historic change this year.
The status quo will not survive the year. Our debt and spending have reached catastrophic proportions in the context of global financial difficulties and political upheaval. Consequently, by the end of 2012, America will either have taken a decisive step toward socialistic collectivism in the name of "equality" and "social justice," where businesses and owners are punitively taxed to "pay their fair share," or America will take a major step in the direction of returning to our Founders' constitutional government, restoring the rule of law, federalism, free enterprise, and individual initiative and responsibility.
The American people will decide which path to take in the 2012 elections, not only in the general election on November 6 but also in the nominating process in primaries over the next several months for all major offices, including the presidency. Conservatives must act in a concerted and informed fashion in all of these contests to shape the public dialogue and thoroughly vet the candidates.
To achieve these ends, top conservative leaders acting under the umbrella of the Conservative Action Project have released "A Conservative Consensus for 2012" announcing agreement on major policies. These issues span all three wings of the conservative movement: economic, social, and national security.
The Conservative Consensus speaks to economic issues of fundamental tax reform, Obamacare, overhauling regulation, and energy production. It tackles social issues of strengthening families and advocating traditional values and religious liberty. And it covers defense issues of protecting the homeland, military superiority, and national sovereignty.
This document also advocates specific issues all conservatives must regard as essential. America needs a strong Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that caps federal spending. Immediate and drastic cuts to the federal budget. No corporate bailouts. The Second Amendment right to bear arms is a fundamental right, as is voting, so the ballot box must be protected from fraud and corruption. Because voting is also a citizen's duty, reasonable conditions must be enacted to safeguard our democratic process. And none of these can succeed unless the right people are appointed as judges to our federal courts.
Achieving these goals is a tremendous challenge, and true constitutional conservatives must relentlessly pursue building a true coalition between the three wings of the conservative movement.
This means that true conservatives must not allow anyone to redefine conservatism as only about fiscal issues and the reach of government. Constitutional conservatives understand that strong families are the essential foundation for long-term economic prosperity. The demographic reality is that declining birth rates and rampant abortion creates a devastating loss of human capital that cannot sustain our entitlement systems or economic growth, and also result in millions of unfilled job positions that become a magnet for illegal immigration.
Fortunately most conservatives understand that national security is crucial to America's success. But some wrongheaded individuals seek to silence or marginalize social issues, oblivious to the profound reality -- proven throughout history -- that where families crumble there is an unstoppable public outcry for government to fill the void with massive entitlements and programs. Government always grows when families fail.
Some economic leaders with libertarian or liberal beliefs fail to grasp this simple fact, and so pervert the concept of freedom to mean that individuals are free to do whatever they like, free of any concept of right-and-wrong or of personal responsibility or self-control. They willfully ignore our Founding Fathers, who believed that limited government only endures when individuals govern themselves.
Some social conservative leaders are making the same mistake. They were right to reject an unrealistic "truce" on social issues. But some are essentially calling for a truce on economic issues, supporting candidates who stand for traditional values but are not reliably conservative on limiting the size, scope, and cost of government.
While both social and economic issues are indispensable, and both move votes, the reality is that fiscal issues are moving more swing votes in this cycle than value issues. Social conservatives will overreach if they force voters to choose between the two by insisting on traditionalist candidates who are not also warriors for free markets, federalism, fundamental entitlement reform, and a strong Balanced Budget Amendment. Social conservatives must demand equal standing, not superior standing.
A perfect example where all three branches of conservatism can join forces is our national debt. America is now $15 trillion in debt, an unprecedented level exceeding 100% of our Gross Domestic Product. The only time we even approached such a proportion was the end of World War II, where we were in a global war that threatened our very survival as a nation. Instead of a temporary military emergency, our current debt is being fueled by deficits of over $1 trillion every year Barack Obama has been president.
In addition to an economic issue, this debt is a social issue. Our profligate spending is intergenerational theft, saddling each member of the next generation with over $120,000 in debt once they become taxpayers. That's a mortgage on a house, with no house.
It is also a defense issue. The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said our national debt is the single greatest threat to national security. We are on track to be paying $600 billion per year just in interest on the national debt, more than our entire military and security budget. This hamstrings our ability to defend our nation today while developing weapons and systems to protect us tomorrow.
Another reality is that constitutional conservatism cannot become our national policy without all three branches of government. If conservatives retake both houses of Congress it can only block bad legislation. Without a two-thirds supermajority, conservatives in Congress cannot override presidential vetoes of good legislation or undo harmful administrative regulations through the Congressional Review Act.
We need a constitutional conservative in the White House. Not all Republicans are part of the solution, and some leading Republicans are even part of the problem. America needs a president who is reliable on fiscal issues, and social issues, and defense issues. Two out of three is not enough. Ronald Reagan was all three, and only a Republican solid on all three bases can pick up President Reagan's mantle to lead this country through the daunting challenges we face.
In our system of government, none of this will succeed without the right people serving in the federal judiciary. But judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, so if the American people elect a constitutional conservative president and a Senate willing to fight for judges, there are scores of spectacular lawyers and scholars who are faithful to the original meaning of the Constitution. If we elect the right people, they can take care of the courts.
The courts are imperative for all branches of the conservative movement. In addition to abortion, same-sex marriage and religious liberty, the Supreme Court is deciding all-important economic issues like Obamacare and national security issues like Bill of Rights protections for terrorists captured by our military on foreign battlefields. All conservatives must demand that only principled originalists be nominated to the Supreme Court and lower courts.
So America faces a historic choice. And conservatives face a historic task, of making the case to the voters for how and why constitutional conservatism is the way to return our nation to strength and stability, and electing national leadership that will honestly and definitively tackle these challenges for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
Ken Blackwell and Ken Klukowski are the authors of Resurgent: How Constitutional Conservatism Can Save America.