When outgoing RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman met with Republican governors in Miami last week he told them it was time to get back to basics. “If we shrug our shoulders and say, ‘It was just a fluke, a perfect storm of factors out of our control,’ then we will lose again in 2008.” Mehlman said it was time to go back to “good policy that makes good politics.” And this was reported as news.
Members of the network of state-based think tanks across the country (the State Policy Network) already know this. In fact, it’s a bit of a maxim among the think tanks. Several have even printed up stickers to hand out to local politicians that say: “Good Policy Makes Good Politics.”
But they also know that we need politicians willing to advance the good ideas and idea entrepreneurs who are committed to core principles and willing to do battle in the marketplace of ideas—day in and day out—to make good policy happen. This network of think tanks is growing and demonstrating its ability to shape policy on the ground in 41 states.
While Mehlman was meeting in Miami, the State Policy Network members gathered in Washington for their annual “DC Networking Trip” and made a stop at The Heritage Foundation. While at Heritage they heard from outgoing Republican Study Committee Chairman (and former Indiana state think tank founder) Mike Pence, and they took part in a half-day meeting to share the latest in policy innovations, and discuss marketing strategies and networking with the media.
Heritage’s Ronald Reagan Fellow Edwin Meese gave a dinner address on the question “Can We Rebuild the Reagan Coalition?” Reagan, said Meese, had numerous personal qualities that allowed him to endure tough times, withstand electoral setbacks, reinvigorate our economy, and win the Cold War: vision, integrity, courage, and persistence. But above all, cheerfulness and optimism, said Meese, were Reagan’s most impressive personal qualities. Said Meese:
He understood something that we need to be reminded of today. And that is that conservative principles do work and you just have to keep fighting for them and allowing them to work, even in difficult times.
Meese said conservatives should try to communicate like Reagan did, too:
Too often conservatives think in terms of policies, and too often our liberal friends on the other side talk in terms of people. And one of the great lessons that we have to remember is how to put this in a form that people will remember and recognize, and that relates to them.
Several times during his talk, Meese dipped into Reagan’s considerable treasure trove of jokes to illustrate the 40th President’s knack for explaining complex problems. Once, for example, rather than discourse at length on economic data from the Soviet Union, Reagan told this joke:
The commissar goes to the farm and he says to the manager: “Comrade manager, how are the crops this year?” And the manager says: “Oh comrade commissar, they are just magnificent. Why, if you took the potatoes and put them one on top of each other they would reach to the foot of God.” The commissar shakes his head and he says: “Comrade, comrade, this is the Soviet Union, there is no God.” And the manager says: “That’s alright. There are no potatoes either.”
“He could take,” said Meese, “a complex subject and by putting it into a humorous illustration make it understandable to people.”