Dear Fellow Conservative:

Any loss is hard to take. But it's even harder to take a loss against an opponent you consider unworthy

However, conservatives can take some solace in the fact that this election had man) bright spots. Bill Clinton may have enjoyed a triumph, but Liberalism did not. The incumbent won because he swung his party to the right and ran a campaign not from his heart, but with a sleight of hand. Bill Clinton won because he spoke relentlessly about "values" despite the dissociation with his policies. In his second term, Bill Clinton may feel no sense of responsibility to match his deeds to his tactical rhetoric for the past two years. But the Congress can . . . and conservatives must help them impose that responsibility on an adminstration that has proved its words and deeds are often mutually exclusive.

Yet the solace of hearing our ideas mouthed by a smooth-talking politician is thin soup when we weigh the lost opportunity 1996 represents. While the temptation to point fingers is strong, let's be clear: Conservatives did not lose at the ballot box because the American people have a sudden affection for ethical squalor . . . the GOP would not have soared on Election Day if hands other than Haley Barbour's were at the RNC's wheel . . . Dole-Kemp did not lose because they didn't perform 96-hour marathons in September and October as well . . . and Clinton's second thrashing of our hand-picked establishment nominee was not the result of the strong mix of consultants and tactics. No, they lost because something is wrong in the very heart of the GOP. If conservatives do not unite and get it right by the year 2000, then they'll awaken to a similar heartache four years from now -- with headlines that read: "Gore Campaign in Landslide Over ." You fill in the blank.

The GOP of the next four years cannot thrive and will not win if it does not fully and equitably, represent its core, which is both pro-family and pro- life. The GOP does not deserve to win if it cannot articulate to the American people, who are deeply worried about this nation's future, answers to questions like these:

* What difference will we make in reversing the trend that in 10 years will have one half of American births occurring outside of wedlock -- this on top of a million-and-a-half abortions each year?

* What difference will we make for the struggling families who have been told, again and again, that time with their children and tcvc relief are luxuries our nation can no longer afford?

* What difference will we make in a culture that is ailing so profoundly that assisted suicide may be enshrined in our constitution, or that one manone woman marriage is in the gunsights of our courts and the Hollywood elite? What difference will we make in keeping open the borders of this nation to the families and enterprising souls who enrich it, ,while closing them down to those who show their contempt for our laws from their very first day on American soil?

* What difference will we make in building a vibrant, growing American economy? Sure, we want lower taxes, we need less regulation. But don't Americans have a right to expect that their business leaders will be loyal to them? Will our global economic partnerships mean anything if America's working families cannot rely on their partnerships with those same companies?

Answers to these questions will not come easy, or by accident. They will not be the residue of some "last straw" scandal that brings our political opposition into disrepute. They will not magically appear by rubbing Abe Lincoln's nose. They will arrive on the shoulders of ideas, both eternal and practical. Sixteen years ago an historic conservative victory was forged on the pillars of "work family, neighborhood, peace and freedom." Those ideas have lost none of their power. But they long for a champion who will defend them passionately in the public square.

It's time to realize who abandoned whom. Bill Clinton did not create the political void into which he stepped. He merely occupied the field his adversaries deserted. Which is why this election loss is particularly hard to take. For the only thing worse than being beaten by an unworthy opponent is being beaten on your own home field.

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