Answering the call to action for a center-right country

Fred Malek Founder and Chairman, Thayer Capital Partners
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The United States is a center-right country. Under most circumstances, few would argue otherwise. If there was any time when this was in question, it was late 2008 when President Obama was elected and the left wing of the Democratic Party had the wind at their backs. The president himself seemed to believe the country had moved substantially to the left. And now his decision to bail out failed companies, try terrorists in civilian courts, and support a government takeover of health care is backfiring. This shouldn’t be a surprise. This is a center-right country.

Those of us who believe in American ingenuity and our ability to compete need to take advantage of this moment. We can’t expect that we will be successful in governing just because the left has screwed it up so badly. Yes, center-right candidates can and will win elective office again. Maybe soon. But winning office without forging a clear path forward did not serve Obama or his party very well and we should not expect that the American people will forgive us either.

That’s why I am proud to have founded a new organization to make sure we do this right: the American Action Network. We formally launched last Monday, with a kick-off press conference at the National Press Club and on our first full day in existence, we held a symposium called “How to Create Jobs”. John Feehery wrote about in a blog post for The Hill. Both were very successful and gave me great confidence that we’ve started something very interesting here.

The overall project is actually two organizations, one focused on policy and one focused on strategy and outreach. The first one is the American Action Forum, and it will be led by the brilliant economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who formerly served as director of the Congressional Budget Office. The latter will be run by Rob Collins, the very sharp former chief of staff to Eric Cantor. Both are led by Norm Coleman, a terrific former mayor and senator, who is our CEO. We’ve got more great talent on board, including Jeb Bush, Tom Ridge, Mel Martinez, Vin Weber, Jim Barksdale and Margaret Spellings. And those are just the names in lights. We have many more talented people involved who I am honored to be working with.

Some in the press are calling it a think tank, but it is actually more of an “action tank,” and that is intentionally reflected in the name. There are a lot of important think tanks in Washington and across the country, such as Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and more here in the D.C. area. Across the country there is the State Policy Network, American Legislative Exchange Council and regional outposts like Hoover and Manhattan Institutes.

We like what they do and we want them to keep doing what they do. They are generally more focused on the development and research of policy ideas, and that important work lays the groundwork for what we want to do. The goal of AAN is to make a broader argument about the center-right coalition. While there are people arguing over this and that policy, no one is actively defending self-reliance, economic growth, robust defense and a practical, limited government. The think tanks do the research and development, and we will aggregate the best of those ideas and take them directly to the American people.

The center-right needs to articulate a platform that addresses contemporary issues in a way that speaks to our strengths and to the American people and the media, not just to politicians in Washington. This new organization does just that. We want involvement from the grassroots to the business community, established think tanks and elected officials. We can all play an important role in re-establishing our center-right majority in leadership.

If you think that it sounds like something that the left did after the election of President Bush, as Chris Cillizza did in an article about us for the Washington Post, well, I won’t try to dissuade you from that. But I would also point out that the Left created those organizations at a time very much like we are in now: out of power (losing the White House and Congress) and with a great amount of energy ready to be focused (the Tea Parties). They learned from our successes, and we should learn from theirs, as we have done before.

It’s too soon to say that 2010 will be like 2006 was for the left (or even another 1994) but we can make it happen. There are a lot of great center-right candidates hopping into the 2010 races now, some of whom I have discussed recently from my vantage point at the RGA. They are doing the difficult groundwork of building individual campaigns. Now it is up to us to build a broader argument that will help them get elected and govern.

I have always believed that principled center-right governance is crucial to preserving our country’s success and creating opportunity for our future. Never before have I been so confident as I am now that we can build a platform to make this happen nationwide, and to elect leaders who understand how important this is. What we do now will determine what is possible for the next generation. We have already started, and I am very excited about what comes next.

Fred Malek is Founder and Chairman of Thayer Capital Partners and the American Action Network.