2013 was not one of America's finest political years. Dysfunction, gridlock and loss of public trust in Washington are hardly worth celebrating. And yet, amongst the gloom there are many reasons to believe that 2013, for all its faults, was an encouraging turning point for the United States, politically and philosophically.
Americans have been jolted into reality in recognizing the limits of what government can actually accomplish. The time will come when we look back to 2013 as the year when Americans remembered that we can achieve far more as empowered private citizens, working together, than a centralized ineffective government can ever hope to accomplish.
2013 was the year when those who argue that the federal government should be intricately involved in Americans' lives came face to face with the reality of their faith. And because of this, 2014 can be the year in which those who believe in a limited government that empowers citizens, rather than government itself, can redirect America's future.
In January 2013, President Barack Obama stood on the west portico of the U.S. Capitol to reaffirm his belief that government is the difference maker in our lives. By November, he confessed that this same government consisted of "big agencies, some of which are outdated, some of which are not designed properly." Along the way, his trusted advisor David Axlerod observed, "Part of being president is there's so much beneath you that you can't know because the government is so vast."
How did it come to this?
The truncated answer: A botched rollout of the president's signature health care law, followed by its disastrous implementation. Millions of Americans, despite the president's promises, will lose their health care and their doctors, period. Elsewhere, at the Internal Revenue Service, overzealous federal employees blocked their fellow citizens from participating in the democratic process, while our intelligence gathering agencies crept deeper and deeper into our private lives. And of course, we the taxpayers are financing all of the above, and our grandchildren will be financing it, too. In 2013, the national debt grew more than $700 billion to reach a record $17.3 trillion.
Unsurprisingly, recent Gallup polling reveals that 72 percent of Americans believe big government is the most significant threat to the country's future. Corruption, inefficiency, waste and an erosion of faith in our institutions have resulted in a government that has grown too expansive, too intrusive and too powerful.
Americans are recoiling from policies they feel are arbitrary and inconsistent with their interests. But if Republicans think that the errors leading up to 2014 will alone pave their way back to power, they are mistaken.
The challenge for the party that champions limited government is to offer Americans a dramatically different vision and a set of real solutions. While "No!" has often been the right answer of late, it is not an operable governing strategy.
If Republicans are to hold the U.S. House of Representatives and reclaim the U.S. Senate in next year's midterm elections, and pave the way to the White House in 2016, they must form a coalition that Americans can trust and believe in. They must remind the country that a government that proposes to take on any task, solve any ill, is less equipped to fulfill its most basic functions and to help those truly in need. A society where the state is strong and the citizen is weak is less free, less prosperous and less humane.
And importantly, they must show Americans that conservatism, while distrustful of big government, is not anti-government. In a conservative worldview, there is an important role for limited, efficient government that offers answers built on the principle that American citizens, rather than Washington bureaucrats, can better manage their own lives.
If we apply this to today's pressing issues – the health care mess, our antiquated education system, our mangled safety net and our exploding debt burden – we will not only succeed where statism has failed, but construct a national majority while doing so.
So, farewell to 2013 and cheers to 2014. At first glance the old year was not much to applaud, but it may just have set the stage for 2014 to be the start of a shift that is worth celebrating.