The Republican Party has suffered another blow to its tattered image.

It used to be said that Republicans were the party of family values. We might want to change our sales pitch.

I don’t need to go down the laundry list of incidents to show why we need to change our message.

It’s time for a new direction.

What message will appeal to both conservative family-values voters, the more libertarian elements of our party, while appealing to independent voters at the same time?

How about a philosophy based on limited government and religious freedom?

Big government breeds disrespect because it takes money from some people and gives it to others. When the government starts picking winners and losers, the losers start resenting it. And that breeds discontent.

The same goes with policies that offend the sensibilities of one group or another. For example, when the government pays for abortions, it offends the millions who think that abortion is murder. Government shouldn’t pay for abortions.

Compassionate conservatism has become another way of saying big government, done our way.

Why don’t do we go back to the ideals of small-government conservatism, a conservatism where people live their lives, pursue their vision of happiness, with as little government intrusion as possible?

If people want to worship in a Catholic Church or a synagogue or mosque or any other kind of denomination, sect or religion, they are free to do so.

That is the principle difference between our form of democracy and the kind of autocratic theocracy practiced in the Middle East.

Some people want to make the current war on terror a fight between Christianity and Islam. But that fight was fought long ago. We don’t need to revisit it.

The fight we are currently waging is between freedom and bondage, between the varied pursuits of happiness versus one vision of absolute truth as perceived by one particular religion.

This isn’t an argument about theology. It is an argument about how we choose to live our lives, with liberty or with fear.

After the elections last November, I did a bit of soul-searching to try to remember why I was a Republican in the first place. I re-read Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom” and Friedrich August von Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.” I agree with their message: The free market is superior to government because with the free market you have hundreds, thousands and sometimes millions of ideas competing all the time for superiority. That competition for ideas creates a dynamic society, where the future becomes ever brighter, ever an opportunity for advancement.

Big government relies on bureacracy and stamps out creative thought. It usually relies on the competition between the ruling party and the opposition. As these two party philosophies compete, you sometimes get a superior third idea, but that is a cumbersome and often bureaucratic process.

Republicans have more faith in the free market than the government. And that faith can be a winning message again. They lost in November in part because they became enamored with the idea that government can sometimes be the solution. Government can only rarely be the solution.  And only then when there is a great danger that must be collectively countered (such as communism, terrorism, etc.) or a great need that needs to be met (highways, etc.).

Government is made up of people, some who have great flaws, as we re-learned yesterday.

That is why it makes sense to limit its reach and its influence.

What does all of this have to do with the sad tale of Larry Craig?

Not much, other than the fact that the people of Idaho would like nothing more than to keep the federal government as limited as possible.

That is a message that Larry Craig has been selling and his voters have been buying for close to 30 years. It is a winning message for Republicans everywhere.

It’s a message that will still be popular long after Larry Craig has left the Senate.