Big Tent, Bold Ideas

04/20/2015 08:28 am ET | Updated Jun 20, 2015
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Candidates for President will be saying a lot to voters over the next 18 months. This is what voters will be saying to candidates: "I want a government that keeps me safe and gives me the freedom to pursue my dreams; a strong economy that enables me to have a good job so I can support myself and my family as well as providing a safety net for those in need; and good schools so my kids can get an education that will help them succeed anywhere in the world."

Seems like we should agree on this. But too often we are in conflict. Our country is becoming increasingly polarized.

I'm a loyal Republican, but I'm an American first. And I suspect that what most Americans would like to hear from Republicans running for President is not a message that's negative and divisive, but a message that inspires and unifies us. A message about empowering people. One that focuses not on our decline, but on our ingenuity and dynamism. A message that doesn't fear the future, but approaches it with confidence and optimism. How we might come together under a big tent aimed at reuniting our party and America.

First, let's reach out and listen to all points of view. As Ronald Reagan said when he first described the Republican Party as a "big tent," the GOP will not compromise its basic philosophies, but one of its strengths is its divergence of views -- and there is room in the tent for many views.

Throughout our history, we've endured great divisions and bitter conflicts. Yet our leaders found ways to bridge our differences and move us forward, stronger than before.

Abraham Lincoln said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." He had to reconcile a country whose citizens had fought each other to the death. Through his leadership, showing malice toward none and charity for all, Lincoln convinced America to bind up its wounds.

Reagan, too, took office in a time of crisis, but it didn't deter him. Today, we seem to divide everybody into groups, but Reagan did the opposite. "The group I care about most," he said, "has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic or racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we're sick -- professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies and truck drivers. It is, in short, 'we, the people.'"

The record of great leaders like these reminds us that what unites us far outweighs what divides us. Let's follow in their footsteps. We Americans enjoy equal liberties and the same right to self-government. We work together. We serve our country side-by-side. And as a mother and grandmother, I can say that we hold in our hearts the same aspirations for our children and grandchildren.

Second, let's propose a truly bold agenda. We live in a country that was created not to make its leaders and government strong, but to make its people free.

As someone trained as a teacher, I know that it all starts with education. A good education can level the playing field for the poorest of the poor; it can help young people discover their gifts; it can encourage everyone to lift their sights. The younger we start with education, the better. If the price of excellence is rewarding better teachers, creating more charter schools, approving more vouchers, instituting higher standards, then let's get started! Let's not fail our children.

And when it comes to the economy, we must be the champions for job creators, our small businesses.

We must revise our tax code, making it cleaner and simpler for individuals and corporations. We need to agree on a lower rate, and then challenge the nation's companies to innovate, compete and manufacture here in America.

At a time when so many families are making do with less, government continues to borrow, spend and burden our children and grandchildren with impossible debt. A simple plan to cut a penny from every dollar spent could start us on the road to a balanced budget.

Then we've got to get serious about eliminating redundant programs and agencies. Let's return responsibilities and resources to the states and to the people.

Twice in modern history, two leaders -- John Kennedy, a Democrat, and Ronald Reagan, a Republican -- took a similar approach. They held the line on spending, and they cut tax rates for everyone. The result: a tsunami of investment and innovation and job growth.

Third, let's look to the future with optimism. We have amazing possibilities. Let's build on them with confidence. Technology is creating new opportunities, some of which would have seemed miraculous just a few years ago.

Right now, plans are in the works for driverless cars (I'm especially grateful for parallel parking assist!), lifesaving advances in biotechnology, cleaner, more abundant sources of energy, and more. I recently got to try a high-tech device called an Ekso Suit that is helping paralyzed veterans, stroke survivors, accident victims and others regain mobility they had lost. Amazing!

All these possibilities create new opportunities -- and they play to America's strengths. Empowerment. Opportunity. Competition. The power of innovation. It's what we Americans do best. And it's what our country needs most.

So, let's go forth with confidence, with optimism and with bold ideas. This is the time to energize America. This is the time to inspire our countrymen with courage and high purpose. It's time to reunite America. And as Republicans, we must lead the charge.