With the new Congress being sworn in this week, everyone is full of advice. Well, I'm no exception.


The first advice comes from Han Solo in the debut "Star Wars" film: "Don't get cocky." Republicans won big in the last election, but, if they think that constitutes an excuse to slip back into their old ways, circa 2004 to 2006, then they are doomed -- not just as individual politicians, but quite possibly as a party. The public's patience is quite limited, and is likely to stay so for the foreseeable future.


Second, remember that fortune favors the bold. It's true that ordinarily in politics, most progress occurs at the margins. But it's also true that these are not ordinary times. Big money-saving and government-shrinking proposals in the House, even if they're shot down by the Democrat-controlled Senate, will nonetheless establish a tone.

They're trying to hide it, but the Inside-the-Beltway permanent-government political class is currently scared. Keep them that way, while showing the public at large that you're serious.

Third, look beyond Congress. There's a simmering mood in favor of constitutional reform across the country. Proposals such as Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett's "Repeal Amendment" -- in which overweening federal laws can be repealed by a supermajority of state legislatures -- are already floating around and generating sufficient support to require pushback from the New York Times.

Nineties-era ideas like the Balanced Budget Amendment and federal term limits for Congress are also popular again. And there's even interest in calling a federal Constitutional Convention. No doubt other ideas will appear. Give them a fair hearing in Congress. Not only is this worth doing on its own, but it will help keep the Washington-insider crowd off-balance.

Fourth, ignore the press. The establishment media still have their power, but they've never been weaker, and they're perceived by an ever-greater percentage of Americans as simply an arm of the political-class Democratic Party. If you pay attention, they have power over you. If you do what you think is right, they don't.

Fifth, go after the infrastructure of the government-backed Left. Back in 2002, I wrote that Republicans should be repealing the awful Digital Millennium Copyright Act: By doing so, they'd not only build up goodwill among college-age downloaders and libertarian tech-types, but they'd also harm the entertainment-industrial complex that is a huge source of money and media power for Democrats.

Seldom are politicians presented with the opportunity to do something simultaneously so inherently right, politically popular and strategically advantageous. Naturally, the congressional Republicans of that era blew it.

They just couldn't bring themselves to go after Big Business, even if it was hostile Big Business. That opportunity is still there. And don't pass up similar opportunities, either. There are a lot of them out there.

Sixth -- and this may be the hardest of all -- lead by example. Democrats have been hurt by, for instance, campaigning against Americans' big carbon footprints while living in enormous mansions and flying in private jets. Don't follow in their footsteps.

Saying no to the perks of office is hard, but Americans, who might tolerate hypocrisy when things are going well, are pretty sick of it now. Act like public servants, not members of an entitled aristocracy, no matter how great the temptations are to act otherwise. And they are great indeed.

Finally, and most importantly, don't forget that these are serious times. In the 1990s, America was able to fool itself into believing that we had reached the end of history, that the tough decisions were mostly behind us, and that progress and prosperity were mostly inevitable.

We know better now. The country is on the verge of bankruptcy, the federal government is at a low point in terms of popular legitimacy, and not just Congress, but the entire political class, is on probation.

"Don't blow it" is fairly unspecific advice, but it's important here. Don't be distracted by the many, many things that seem important in Washington but that don't really matter.

This last advice is probably the most important. We live in perilous times, and they demand a self-discipline and seriousness of purpose that has been missing from those who have governed us in recent years.

Rise to the occasion on the big things, and the little ones will take care of themselves. Drop the ball on the big things, and it won't matter how tactically clever your political position is.

So, yeah, don't blow it.

Examiner Sunday Reflections contributor Glenn Harlan Reynolds is founder and editor of Instapundit.com, and a University of Tennessee law professor.