02/08/2011 08:26 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Republican Congress: Back to the USSR

Happy Birthday Ronald Reagan. Indeed, GOP types are doubtless hoping that a cake and ice cream sugar high will vault them over an awkward ideological split that's the size of the river Nile.

What would Reagan say about Egypt today? His presidential track record on security policy seems confusing: progressive on arms control, appalling on Central American human rights. His actions as president illustrate the belief of his era -- that larger than life individuals define events -- something called the "strong man" theory of history.

True or not, the curtains closed on that theory in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. What Egypt shows us is that for twenty years we have needed a new explanation of how the world is -- one that includes the small actions of common people who have information, who believe in destiny, and who force events and responses from the powerful.

If Ronald Reagan was the knight in shining armor on security policy, his conservative heirs are more like ideological cross-dressers. The revolution in Egypt has different Republican factions putting two primary security ingredients -- stability and freedom -- at odds. In so doing, they miss the point and are losing a great opportunity to grasp an entirely new system. In today's world, security is about people -- across borders, within borders and at the same time. "Stability" doesn't look the same anymore. It's an evolving relationship. "Freedom" is a condition, not a choice.

Mr. Tea Comes to Washington

Well Tea Partiers, it was fun while it lasted. But you may as well trade in your triangle hats for mullets and your mean snake flag for a pile of legwarmers. Aside from the intrepid libertarians among you who are taking on the defense budget, the Tea Party Congress appears to suffer from the same 1980s nostalgia as the conservative leadership. This Congress has put forward budget proposals that ignore the most important national security lessons of recent history. Far more militaristic than those in uniform, the Republican majority has proposed draconian cuts in the diplomacy and development programs we need to redefine security and recalibrate our presence in the world.

Memo to Republicans: National Security Conventional Wisdom 2011

If you don't want wackos to blow you up, you need to invest in positive social change. You can see that this is true in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military cannot lead this effort because then it becomes counterproductive.

During the years after World War II, the military understood how to create social value on a grand scale because the Cold War was a battle of persuasion and credibility. Our security depended on our ability to shape the environment. The US sponsored Marshall Plan rebuilt post-war Europe. It gave demoralized people jobs and hope.

Republicans claim to value the military, but it appears that many don't actually respect what the military values. If they did, they would be crawling over each other to understand and bolster our non-military security programs, our diplomacy, our economic assistance, our citizen exchanges. Today, entire societies need to be able to communicate with each other. This Congress is about to wreak havoc on the fledgling efforts in place. By slashing their security counterparts, Republican budget proposals do not not support the US military. They will, in fact, make their job harder.

Crisis of confidence

When Tea Partiers and conservatives attack government, what they are saying is that we can't solve problems anymore as a nation. After diminishing our greatest strength, they then proceed to lecture the world about American exceptionalism. Something that, by definition, can't be declared but must be earned.

The Egyptians are the exceptional ones now. Two weeks ago, they decided that injustice can no longer exist with impunity. And they are doing something about it. In the face of possible violent suppression, their actions are awe-inspiring. In front of our eyes, they are building a modern notion of themselves. Our job is easy by comparison. We should be like them -- doubling down on our open society.

We need to follow this global impulse to be a peaceful, free and modern nation. Not stuck in backward looking, defensive fear like today's conservatives. The Tea Party's jig is up. This month's Conservative Political Action Committee conference doesn't even have jobs on the agenda. Neither does the Republican leadership. They don't seem to be too interested in "securing the blessings of liberty" for America, after all.

Congress won't be much of an inspiration for the near future. The president is going to be busy with damage control and 2012. The next wave of US change won't start in DC. This town is captured. But if you are out there in Omaha, Bozeman, Minneapolis, Portland, Durango, Salt Lake, Orlando then you're where American exceptionalism will find its way back. Americans have what it takes to re-inspire the world. What are we waiting for?