Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, argued today that conservatives need to support an affirmative agenda to help poor and middle-class Americans — a compassionate platform that recognizes “we’re all in this together” — but he did so while criticizing the “statism” of George W. Bush and President Obama.

“Conservatives cannot surrender the idea of community to the Left, when it is the vitality of our communities upon which our entire philosophy depends,” Lee said today at the Heritage Foundation. “Nor can we allow one politician’s occasional conflation of ‘compassion’ and ‘bigger government’ to discourage us from emphasizing the moral core of our worldview.”

Following that shot at the last Bush presidency, Lee adopted Obama’s rhetoric while attacking his policies. “Freedom doesn’t mean ‘you’re on your own.’ It means ‘we’re all in this together,’” he said. “Freedom doesn’t divide us. Big government does. It’s big government that turns citizens into supplicants, capitalists into cronies, and cooperative communities into competing special interests. Freedom, by contrast, unites us. It pulls us together, and aligns our interests.”

Lee didn’t use this language to indicate an abandonment of the Tea Party brand that put him in office — he opened the speech by saying “when I spent my first year in the Senate joking that [Heritage Foundation president] Jim DeMint should run for president, this isn’t what I had in mind.” Instead, he seemed to be offering a messaging tutorial for conservatives to use as a response to the tactics of the Obama campaign.

He criticized the forms of crony capitalism that both parties indulge. “In the past, the problem was political discrimination that held the dis-connected down,” Lee said. “Today, government’s specialty is dispensing political privileges to prop the well-connected up . . . The first step in a true conservative reform agenda must be to end this kind of preferential policymaking. Beyond simply being the right thing to do, it is a pre-requisite for earning the moral authority and political credibility to do anything else.”

Lee suggested that conservatives should “crowd-source” government to the states, making them more powerful than the federal government — regardless of the policies each state might pursue.

“If Vermont’s pursuit of happiness leads it to want more government, and Utah’s less, who are politicians from the other 48 states to tell them they can’t have it?” he asked. “Would we tolerate this kind of official intolerance in any other part of American life?”

Lee said that such a federalist government would limit D.C. politicians to handling issues that they do well.  “Once the federal government stops doing things it shouldn’t, it can start doing the things it should, better,” he said. “That means national defense and intelligence, federal law enforcement and the courts, immigration, intellectual property, and even the senior entitlement programs whose fiscal outlook threatens our future solvency and very survival.”