The year was 1980. A man stood on a platform before a crowd and spoke words that would reverberate across a generation.
“For the first time in our memory,” he said, “many Americans are asking: does history still have a place for America, for her people, for her great ideals? There are some who answer “no;” that our energy is spent, our days of greatness at an end, that a great national malaise is upon us.
They say we must cut our expectations, conserve and withdraw, that we must tell our children … not to dream as we once dreamed…”
The man went on to forcefully counter that argument. He traced the root of America’s groundbreaking accomplishments and success as a city on a hill to the spirit and grit of ordinary Americans, who opened new frontiers, imagined the impossible, and pushed our society forward.
This man was Ronald Reagan, and he was speaking on the eve of his first election against then President Carter. The speech he gave was entitled, “A Vision for America.” In many ways, it marked a new era of energy, optimism and accomplishment in our country.
Today, Americans are craving one of those moments. We stand in the midst of major national challenges, some of which we have been facing for many years. It’s like a thousand piece puzzle is scattered before us. A broken health care system. A broken tax code. A deeply broken budgeting process that Washington never quite tackles. Broken spending habits and a mounting national debt. Many of us can see what we want the landscape to look like, but Americans are skeptical that Washington will be able to lead us there.
The truth is, Washington won’t. Politicians may implement policy, but it is the pioneers, entrepreneurs, skilled laborers and American innovators who dream up solutions, restructure the status quo, master trades, and push us to new frontiers of discovery, prosperity, convenience and cures. That is why we can’t just focus on fixing — we need to look forward to the future with fresh vision. We can’t just repair — we have to reimagine. We’ll never be able to empower or inspire the next generation of Americans to carve out new definitions of possible and push our country to even greater heights by simply applying Band-Aids to past problems.
Vision has always been what has propelled us forward. I think about President John F. Kennedy challenging the country with a historic dare: to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the 1960s. That challenge transformed the trajectory of space discovery in the United States and unleashed an era of international leadership that has spanned decades. It shifted our perspective, allowing us to understand our place in the universe, and spurred a new generation of scientists, engineers, skilled laborers and inventors on to further discoveries. It unified the American public with a shared sense of purpose, after decades of division from the Vietnam War and tension throughout the Civil Rights movement. It brought a sense of pride back to our homeland that still stirs American hearts today when we hear that scratchy recording of Ohioan Neil Armstrong’s famous words: One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Applied to the challenges of today, that means we cannot simply try to stop the bleeding with Obamacare or patch up a system that is leaving too many Ohioans with fewer options for insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. We also can’t revert to the past. Instead, America needs to reimagine how we structure our health care system to thread the needle of compassion and reality, and create a patient-centered, free market based system that increases choices, lowers costs, provides care and protects the vulnerable. We need to prioritize cures and preventative medicine — investing in medical research both to treat diseases and keep people healthier. We need to be incentivizing innovation and encouraging breakthroughs instead of bureaucracy. The Senate may have failed to take action as the House did, but we cannot settle for status quo. The House is forging ahead with targeted reform bills and I will continue working to ensure Ohio families are able to get covered, get care, and see their doctors.
In the same sense, the United States tax code hasn’t been overhauled since 1986. To say its complex and convoluted is an understatement. At this point, it doesn’t just need a tweak here or there – we need to streamline and simplify the entire code into a pro-growth, 21st century system that empowers employers and works for American families. We can’t just stick Band-Aids on the status quo – we need to rethink the whole structure. The House has begun the process of reform with committee hearings and reform blueprints; you can stay updated on our progress via my website at www.wenstrup.house.gov.
Some may brand this optimism as blindness to the depth of the difficulties before us, but my intention is not to minimize the complexity or expansiveness of the challenges we face. Instead, I aim simply to point to history as our guide. America has never been a nation that repairs. We are a nation that builds. We are nation that dreams.
Like Ronald Reagan on that stage in 1980, the goal forefront in our minds should always be to leave the next generation with a city on a hill that is not simply intact – but better, stronger and brighter than ever before.
Congressman Brad Wenstrup represents the 2nd Congressional District of Ohio. He serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He is also an active member of the U.S. Army Reserve.