Delivered to the National Republican Senatorial Committee Spring Dinner at the Newseum, Washington D.C.
It is good being with good friends. I appreciate the chance to be with folks who are so generous in your support of Republican principles and ideals and American principles and ideals. And it is an honor to be with so many United States Senators who I respect so deeply. Leader McConnell, thank you for your leadership. They are standing for America at an absolutely critical time. And that is not meant to be a hyperbole; I intend to speak somewhat seriously this evening. Because I think these are critical times for the world and for the nation, defining times for the world and the nation. For the world because, at least in my view, there is a competition occurring which I didn’t think was going to be occurring at this point. I thought that when we won the Cold War, it was over. That it was clear that America’s values and the free enterprise system had won and everything else had failed. And then America therefore would be the model for the entire world. That is no longer as clear to the world.
As I look at it now, there are actually four major competitive philosophies that are in the world of competition to decide who is going to lead the world for this century. There is us of course, we represent a philosophy based on two fundamental principles, free enterprise and personal freedom. And those principles combined have led us become the strongest nation in the world. There is China. China has abandoned the socialist approach to their economy and adopted free enterprise. They took free enterprise, but they combined that with authoritarianism. An entirely different philosophy and they believe that they will win, that our approach of free enterprise plus freedom is wrong and with authoritarian rule they will be more successful. The third strategy is represented by Russia. I thought they were gone as a competitor but they are back. Also like China based upon authoritarian rule, but instead of having an economy based on productivity and industrial capacity, they are basing their economic strength on energy, their own energy, and by allying with people like Iran that may become the superpower in the Middle East, and Venezuela. They think they will get the riches of the world and become the powerful leader of the world in the 21st century. And then there is a fourth strategy represented by Jihadists. And their view is to cause the collapse of the other three, cause mayhem in the economy of the world and then become the last man standing, if you will, so they can cause the release of the hidden Imam.
Those are the four major strategies at play. And only one by the way includes as a fundamental premise of its success the freedom of individuals: ours. And that is why it is so essential at this time that America’s strategy is successful, because only if our strategy is successful will the world in this century continue to enjoy and experience the fruits of freedom. So it is a defining time for the world, in my view, and it is a defining time also for the nation. I was asked some time ago by a friend who was the commissioner of education for his state. He said, “Mitt what do you think are the great inflection points in American history?” And I said, “Neil, what do you mean by inflection points?” And he said, “Well if you look back at American history you will find that there are points in time when everything shifts.” When military strategy shifts, when economic strategy shifts, culture shifts, government’s role shifts.
And we surmise that one of those times was the turn of the century from the 1800s to the 1900s. We went from an agricultural society to an industrial society. Military strategy changed, tanks got to be built, aircraft were built and so forth. Culture changed, government played a more active role. And so that was one of those points. We step back further, the Civil War was one of those points, where we decided that we really were committed to union and the idea that the Constitution applied to every single person who was a citizen of this great land. And if you go back one step further, you get the Revolutionary days, the great quintessential turning point, the major inflection point in American history where we changed the course of history by a very radical idea and proposition. It was this: the entire world until that point believed that the king or the government, or whoever was the leader of the respected nation, was the sovereign. And the citizen was, if you will, the servant to the state. And America’s founders had a different premise. It was the citizen is the sovereign and the government is the servant. And that, as they say, made all the difference. That revolutionary idea changed America and ultimately changed the world.
Now I happen to believe that America has another inflection point today. That militarily strategies are changing, that our economy is changing in many, many different ways. That our culture is changing and even the role of government is being debated.
In fact, in my view, what is being debated about the role of government is going back to the very argument that was at the crux of the Revolution. Which is that there are, if you will, among our liberal friends, there’s a strain of monarchism. And I don’t mean that in a sense of trying to create a monarchy or selecting a king, that’s not what I mean. But in the sense of saying actually the government should be the sovereign. That government knows best. That idea is permeating in some circles in Washington and in other places in the country. And there are people like ourselves who believe, no, no, no, the fundamental premise of America was that the individual should be the sovereign. And that’s why the founders limited the scale of government and made sure that power was limited in government. And any time the government needed to have power that power would reside in the level closest to the people — the city level, the county level, the state level. And when those levels could not deal with the power, it was received at the federal level.
And so revolutionaries, like Republicans today, believed that the individual and the citizens should remain sovereign. Republicans are the revolutionaries of today, because we fervently, passionately, ardently believe that the individual is what accounts for the strength and capacity of America today and will always account for the capacity of America in its future. We want individuals to realize their dreams. We welcome people who come here as immigrants because they seek opportunity. We want that opportunity to be fulfilled. Republicans want individuals to be able to start businesses. We want individuals to be able to keep as much of their money as they can. We want them to be able to choose their own doctors. We want them to be able to choose their own schools. We want them to be able to grow and thrive in businesses and enterprises or to be able to select by secret ballot whether they want to have a union or not. We believe in the rights of individuals. That’s what Republicans stand for. There’s actually more truth in a little joke than I had thought. You’ve probably all heard this joke, someone told it to me recently. What’s the difference between a Republican and a Democrat? Well, a Democrat wants power and a Republican wants to keep Democrats from having power. And there’s truth to that. We don’t want Democrats to have power, or government to have power. We want people to have power.
Now, that difference is very much at play in the debate that’s going on day in and day out here in Washington. We agreed that there was a need for a stimulus. Every Republican voted for a stimulus plan, but ours was different than theirs. You see, when we thought about a stimulus plan to grow the economy, Republicans said, “It has to be based on strengthening the individual.” So for us the center piece of the stimulus plan was putting more money back in the hands of individuals and making it easier for them to get our economy going again. As Democrats thought about the stimulus they said, “Oh, because government knows best, we’ll give more money to government.” And so Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and others put together a list of all the programs they wanted, put money in the government and grew the government; a very different philosophy.
We also saw in the economic crisis that the pool of investment capital in America has shrunk, dramatically. That’s the capital needed to create new enterprises or to grow up a business or pay for working capital needs or even to add new jobs. And with that pool of capital shrunk, that’s a very frightening thing. It’s hard for the economy to turn around – it’s hard for the private sector to turn around if the pool of capital is too small. No matter how much stimulus you put up there, if the capital that fuels the business is gone, they can’t grow and hire people. And so you have to be sure to keep the taxes on capital and investment low, so there’s more of it. But for people who believe that government is the answer, they say, well, we’ll raise the taxes on investment. We’ll raise the taxes on business, and investment and capital so the government will have the money that we want to have for our growth. It’s a very different philosophy.
When the President addressed Congress for the first time, I watched it on TV. I rarely yell at the TV. I did a few times. I expected the President to speak about two topics. The conflicts we face, relative to Jihadists and the fact that our soldiers were sacrificing and risking their lives on our behalf. He hardly addressed that at all. The other thing I expected him to talk about was the economy. Instead he spoke about many, many other things. I agreed with Warren Buffet afterwards that the first rule of turning around any kind of enterprise — a family, a church, a school, a business — is focus, focus, focus. And instead he used the crisis of our economy as cover to do a lot of other things that would strengthen the scale of the power of government. And that’s because of his fundamental belief that the government is right, so he brought up health care, saying we’re going to have government play a far more active role and lead in health care and grow a different health care plan, spending in my view well over a trillion dollars, they say 600 billion dollars over the next decade, but it’s going to be a lot more than that if government turns health care for everybody into an actual entitlement. He spoke about universal preschool. He spoke about universal post-high schools. He spoke about a cap and trade program. Each of these things are designed to expand the role of government.
By the way, on the universal cap and trade, I’m sure a lot of people have differing views on that, but just think about that for a moment. Obviously it represents an enormous tax on the American people and on American businesses to have a new cap and trade program, but just as a note for those that feel very passionately about wanting to reduce carbon emissions, recognize that if we, alone as a nation, place a very substantial cap and trade burden on ourselves, the major energy-using industries will simply leave our shores and go elsewhere where those cap and trade provisions don’t exist and as a result those CO2 emissions will remain the same. The only way to deal with global warning and carbon emissions is to do so on a global basis. They don’t call it “America warming.” They call it global warming.
I’d like to note as well that you heard the President speak about his support of charter schools in his address and I was surprised he raised that. I noticed that there was applause, vigorous applause, from the smaller side of the room, and you heard what came from the Democratic side of the room – crickets. And the reason for that is that there is a fundamental distrust in some circles for charter schools because they are outside the control of unions and government. I believe they are fundamental to a philosophy that believes in the right of individuals to select a school for their child and have more influence over schools.
Perhaps the greatest advance of the philosophy of government and expansion of the scale of government and the sovereignty of government over the individual is the idea of card check. The idea that you would say we’re going to remove from the individual the right of the individual to determine whether they want a union by secret ballot. We instead are going to remove that and use power as a way of imposing unions that people in that enterprise may not want to have. When I was governor of Massachusetts, the legislature passed a bill in favor of card check, but only for public institutions. I vetoed it. The new governor, of course, saw the same bill after I left office and he signed it, and upon the signature of that bill the organizers of unions went to work at a charter school, and they unionized a charter school. They got enough of the teachers to sign up for card check, and the administrators of the charter school didn’t even know it was being unionized. There was no need to notify them, no chance for them to sit down with the teachers and talk about the implications of unionization of an enterprise which had been set up to allow parents to have an influence over the education of their child. I’ll tell you that this is exactly what the Democrats would like to do to the entire nation. It is their view that power in the hands of administrators, of government bureaucrats, of elected officials, of union leaders, that that kind of power is the right power to have in our society, and we recognize instead that it’s the power of the individual that has made America what it is.
Now you saw the President’s budget as well. Senator Judd Gregg said the Obama budget would bankrupt the nation. Why is that? Since there have been times in the past where we spent more than we have taken in, where we’ve borrowed money before, why is Judd Gregg so concerned about this budget and the forecast by the Obama administration of ten years of massive budget deficits, why is he being so concerned about that? By the way, Bill Bennett, on his radio show, said that the deficits under the Obama administration for eight years, if he had eight years, the deficits would be four times the scale of the deficits of the Bush years, which in turn were much larger than the prior president’s.
Now why is it so frightening? Because we are right now in a very precarious position. We tend to only be looking at what’s happening on one side of the precipice, which is what happens if the economy continues to stall, if the recession goes on for a long period of time. That is very frightening. But there is the other side; if we spend too much, if we’re too profligate, if we are too ineffective in the way we use our dollars, we can end up causing a crisis of confidence in America on the part of people around the world who loan money to us and allow us to spend more money than we take in. And if the Chinese and the Japanese and even our own citizens lose confidence in the future value of the dollar, we can have a run on the dollar, and ultimately hyperinflation – an economic problem even greater than the one we have now. I look at President Obama’s budget and I look at what he’s thinking about for the future of that budget, and the new programs he wants to have, and I call it “Flying Wallenda” economics. He would take us on a tightrope where the prospects of getting across it are extremely remote. What we need instead is a very clear and convincing commitment to balancing our budget so the world understands we’re serious about fiscal restraint and that includes freezing the growth of discretionary spending. It also means finally dealing with the reforms necessary in our entitlement programs.
Well, you know, I think the American people are seeing through what’s happening. The Democrats are trying to use this crisis as a way to advance their philosophy of the supremacy of government, and I don’t think the Americans are going to be fooled. I love telling jokes. I told you this was a serious address, but I cant resist a joke. It’s about underestimating someone’s intelligence. It’s about a barber. He’s cutting a customer’s hair and this kid walks in, and the barber says to his customer, “This kid is the stupidest kid I’ve ever met. Just watch this.” The barber takes two quarters out of his pocket and puts them in his hand. Then he takes a dollar out and puts it in the other hand. He says, “Kid, come here.” He says, “You choose which you want,” and the kid grabs the two quarters and runs out. And the barber says to the customer, “Can you believe that kid, he is the stupidest kid I’ve ever met.” Well, the customer is walking down the street a little later and he sees the kid – the kid’s eating an ice cream cone – and he says, “Kid, why’d you take the 50 cents instead of the dollar?” He says, “If I took the dollar, that game would be over, wouldn’t it?”
The American people are not as thick as some would have it, or have us believe. Now, right now, of course, the interests of America depend in many ways on the decisions President Obama is going to bring forward. It’s a reality that he has the best wishes and the prayers of the American people to do the right thing, to adopt the correct principles and to take America down a course that will secure our economy and keep us free and bring our men and women home in safety and in victory. I think he incorrectly believes that the 2008 elections settled the great issues that divide America. I don’t believe that’s the case. I watched the debates. These great issues were rarely discussed at all. The one I’ve been discussing tonight wasn’t even touched on in any significant way. I believe we have every right, in fact a duty, to press on, to make sure the principles that have been the revolutionary founding principles of America continue to be foremost in America. But I also think it is important for us to nod with the President when he’s right. He will not always be wrong. And he’s done some things that I agree with. I like, for instance, that he backed away from his campaign promise to pull the troops immediately out of Iraq. I’m glad that he’s letting them stay there, finish the job and bring them home in victory.
I’m glad he is going to get tough on the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and he’s using drones to go after the bad guys, even in Pakistan. I’m glad that he is speaking tough about the auto industry, by the way. I think that needed to happen. We should have done that a long time ago. I hope he continues to be tough and show some backbone, because that industry is not going to make it unless we have real backbone and get those guys to fundamentally restructure all of their obligations.
I think it’s a good thing for him to protect our financial system. It took Secretary Geithner a long, long time to figure how he was going to do that, and actually he has zeroed in on the bank rescue plan. It reminds me a bit of an old statement by Churchill about Americans, “You can trust Americans to get things right, after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” And he’s exhausted the alternatives and I think he’s finally getting close to the right answer.
President Obama, however, is wrong to back away on missile defense. He was wrong to say on Arab TV that America dictates to other nations. America has sacrificed more than any other nation to free people from dictators. And of course, President Ahmadinejad of Iran seized upon that misstep by our President to call for an apology from America. I think the President is going to learn very quickly that the Middle East is not Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
I’m hopeful we can continue to fight for the supremacy of the citizen and of the individual with resolve. In the last eight years, we saw how a president’s political adversaries can be consumed by anger, even hatred. That’s not the spirit that brings us here tonight. We want our country to succeed no matter who gets the credit. We want America to be prosperous and secure. We want to always put the nation and the interests of the nation first. The interests of the nation, however, require that the principles of the Founders are upheld and protected. Preserving and defending the principles of the Revolution is the charge of this Republican Party. We are the Party of the people. They are the Party of government. We’re the Party of limited government. We’re the Party that will keep America the land of opportunity and that’s a message which Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and others that have not voted with us significantly in the past, but as they should in the future if they understand. They will vote with us time and time again, because they are in this land, as we are all in this land, because it is the land of opportunity. Now occasionally, the odds look a little long. But in the end, we’re going to win, because the cause of personal freedom and citizen supremacy and sovereignty is far too compelling to be overthrown by big government. That’s our fight. We are going to make it happen. Thank you so very much.