Thank you all very much. It’s good to see all of you, and to be among so many friends. Being at CPAC feels a bit like coming home. Your enthusiastic send off three years ago propelled my campaign to the top of the pack. That status turned out to be temporary, of course. And when the journey was over, both Ann and I were filled with gratitude for your friendship and loyalty. It warmed our hearts, and we thank you. A lot of you have been asking how Ann is doing. And I’m happy to say she’s doing great.
There are so many conservative leaders here this weekend. I was looking forward to seeing Governor Palin again. There’s a rumor that she has been offered an 11-million-dollar book contract. My publisher has been talking to me about an 11-millon-dollar deal as well. I’m just not sure I can come up with that kind of money.
It’s an honor to be introduced by David Keene. His commitment to conservative principles has been tested and proven, in many venues and over many years. Some of you were here with Dave for the very first meeting of CPAC in the 1970s. You’ve been involved long enough to know that like every great cause in America, the conservative movement has periods of success and moments of setback. And in 2008, we had more than our share of disappointments. But we haven’t come to CPAC to dwell on battles we’ve lost. We are here to get ready for the battles we’re going to win.
As conservatives, we face this new year with resolve, but without resentment. Our country has a new president, and he has our prayers and best wishes. In the last eight years, we saw how a president’s political adversaries could be consumed by anger, and even hatred. That is not the spirit that brings us together. We want our country to succeed, no matter who’s in power. We want America to be prosperous and secure, regardless of who gets the credit. At our best, that has always been the mark of the conservative movement – in good times and bad, the interests of this great nation come first.
Right now the interests of America will depend in many ways on the decisions of President Obama. Those choices are his to make, whether or not we see eye to eye. We won’t be afraid to disagree with him when we must. And we won’t be afraid to agree with him when we can. One thing the President can know is that when he takes strong action in defense of the United States, we will stand by him. And we will always support the brave men and women of our nation’s military that he now commands.
We make these commitments out of principle, and our principles don’t depend on elections won or lost. Contrary to what you hear from some commentators on the left, the 2008 elections did very little to settle the most serious differences of opinion in American politics. Some of those issues were hardly debated at all in the fall campaign. As conservatives in opposition, we have a duty to press on …a duty to state our case with confidence.
Some critics speak as if we need to redefine conservatism. I think that misses the mark. America’s challenges are different from year to year, but our defining principles remain the same. Conservatives don’t enter each new political era trying to figure out what we believe. Facing new and complex problems, we find the answers in principles that endure. Ronald Reagan used to say that “the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that what they know is wrong. ” Conservatives don’t claim to know everything, but what we know is right.
Conservatives believe in settling great questions the way the Founders intended – especially where the stakes are the highest. Courts that have undermined the fundamental right to life have shown an equal disregard for the rights of property and the rights of religious freedom. We’ve even seen them extend rights to terrorist combatants who have killed Americans and who would like to kill many more.
In the way of judicial nominees, these next four years aren’t likely to be encouraging. But we conservatives stand for causes that are too important to allow unelected judges to force their own biases on an unwilling nation. We may not always win at the polls, but we believe in democracy …we respect the will of the people …and across this country, we will not stand idly by as liberal judges try to re-write the constitution and override democracy.
I’m often asked these days what Republicans and conservatives have to do to recover. And I’ll bet my answer is the same as yours. Our first concern isn’t a political recovery – it’s the recovery of our country.
We‘re at one of those rare moments in history, when the biggest tests come all at once. We don’t have the luxury of taking them on one by one. We have to get a lot of things right, and all at the same time. We’re in the second year of a major recession, and if we don’t make the right choices, things could get worse. Americans have already lost some 12 trillion dollars in net worth. And the pool of our nation’s investment capital has also shrunk by trillions of dollars.
The President has already moved to stop our economy’s downward spiral. Parts of the stimulus will, in fact, do some good. But too much of the bill was short-sighted and wasteful. Every single Republican in Congress voted in favor of a better stimulus plan, one that focused on creating jobs immediately. But Congressional Democrats couldn’t restrain themselves from larding up their bill with tens of billions of dollars for their political friends. Republicans wanted to stimulate the economy, Democrats wanted to stimulate the government. Conservatives in the House and Senate stood their ground and voted no—and they were absolutely right.
So far, the Administration has been unclear on what it will do to address the huge decline in the pool of risk and investment capital. These losses will be felt in businesses that don’t start-up and grow, and in jobs that don’t get created. To grow the pool of investment capital, the last thing you’d do is to raise taxes on investment, as the President has proposed. The surest, most obvious course is to rule out higher taxes on investment. I would propose going one step further. For all middle-class Americans, we ought to abolish the tax on interest, dividends and capital gains.
This economic crisis has proven that government has an urgent obligation to address some awful abuses we’ve seen in the financial sector, particularly in housing finance. Free markets, properly regulated and allowed to work as they should, have propelled America to be the largest economy in the world. For years, Washington politicians did nothing to prevent the abuses at Fannie and Freddie, and in some cases they encouraged those abuses for political gain. Let’s be clear on this point: conservatives favor clear, streamlined and up-to-date regulations and laws that let the economy work, but we will vigorously oppose those politicians who are poised to use their own failures as an excuse to undermine the free enterprise system.
I know we didn’t all agree on TARP. I believe that it was necessary to prevent a cascade of bank collapses. For free markets to work, there has to be a currency and a functioning financial system. But we can agree on this: TARP should not have been used to bail out GM, Chrysler and the UAW. And this is personal for me, I want the U. S. auto industry to succeed. But as some of us pointed out last November, that can only happen if its excessive costs and burdens are restructured. And concessions are going to be few and far between if bondholders and unions already have your money when the negotiating begins. The right answer for Detroit is this: Fix it first.
All of these measures are meant to confront the current economic peril. Properly guided, Washington could in fact speed the recovery. So far, some of the actions it has taken will help, and some will hurt. But we can be certain that the American economy will recover. The invisible hand of the market is more powerful than the lumbering machinery of government. In the final analysis, we know that the private sector – entrepreneurs and businesses large and small – will create the millions of jobs our country needs.
Earlier this week, the President addressed not only the current economy, but also his broader goals. I was pleased that he put healthcare, education, and energy on the agenda. The direction we take on these issues will profoundly shape the future of the nation. I’m afraid I know where the liberal Democrats want to take us. And as they try to pull us in the direction of government-dominated Europe, we’re going to have to fight as never before to make sure that America stays America.
President Obama was awfully vague about some of his plans, but I think I heard him say that government is responsible for educating a child from birth—from birth—to its first job. Universal pre-school and universal college. And there were hints as well of universal healthcare and a universal service corps. It all sounds very appealing, until you realize that these plans mean universal government. That model has never worked anywhere in the world. America is great because our society is free and the power of government is limited by the Constitution.
For the last several years, we’ve heard liberals moaning about the 700 billion dollars that have been spent over six years to win freedom in Iraq. They have now spent more than that in 30 days. And with a government almost 12 trillion dollars in debt, any unnecessary spending puts at risk the creditworthiness of the United States. If the world loses confidence in our currency, that could cause a run on the dollar, or hyperinflation that would wipe out savings and devastate the Middle Class. President Obama says he hopes to cut the deficit in half after four years—does that mean a deficit in 2012 of 600 billion dollars? No president should accept such a staggering deficit, much less hold it up as a national goal. This is the time to pare back government spending. It is not the time to fulfill every liberal dream and spend America into catastrophe.
Congressional Democrats are gearing up to take over the health care system. We need to advance a conservative plan – one based on free choice, personal responsibility, and private medicine; one that doesn’t add massive new federal spending. I like what I proposed in Massachusetts when I was governor. And even though the final bill and its implementation aren’t exactly the way I wanted, the plan is a good model. Today, almost every Massachusetts citizen who had been uninsured now has private, free-market coverage, and we didn’t have to raise taxes or borrow money to make it happen. We may find even better ideas in other states. But let’s make certain that conservative principles are front and center. A big-government takeover of health care is the next thing liberals are going to try, and it’s the last thing America needs.
What America does need is a commitment to reforming entitlements. I believe that Medicaid should be capped and put in the hands of the states; Social Security benefits for high income citizens who are now age 55 or younger, should grow with the consumer price index, not the wage index; and Medicare should be reformed with a dose of free-market reality. These and other reforms are essential, because if we stay on the same road, the next generation could see tax rates 50 percent higher even than ours – and that’s to pay the bills we’ve racked up for ourselves. Passing on that kind of debt to our children is not only fiscally irresponsible, it is morally wrong.
I was glad that the President said he favors charter schools. Did you hear what sound came from the Democratic side of the chamber? Crickets. I hope the President will join all of us to expand school choice, reward better teachers with better pay, raise teacher standards in academic subject-matters like math and science, and enable school districts to remove teachers that don’t make the grade. It is high time to put America’s kids first and leave the union bosses behind.
We and the President agree that America must act to become energy independent. But his cap-and-trade proposal is exactly the wrong way to go about it. It would tax American citizens and employers and send businesses and jobs to high polluting and high emitting nations like China. Any carbon plan has to be worldwide in scope: they don’t call it America-warming, they call it global-warming.
Let’s also be the voice that defends the rights of workers – against coercion and intimidation. The working people of this country should be able to unionize the way their fathers and mothers did – by free choice and secret ballot. The Democrats’ plan to take away those rights is an insult to the dignity and common sense of working people. It would be calamitous for the economy. I know that the Democrats want to pay back the union bosses for all the money they gave them, but they must not do it by selling out the American worker – and democracy.
America voted for change. America did not vote for a boat-load of new government spending programs that would guarantee higher taxes and high deficits as far as the eye can see and that would threaten our currency, our economy, and our future. We must be the alternative course. We can’t be that if all we say is no. Our plans must be clear, compelling, and first to the table. Our plans must have at least one common thread—they must make America stronger. Better education strengthens our kids; better healthcare strengthens our citizens; and bringing our budget into balance strengthens our economy and preserves our future. Today, as much as ever, conservative principles are absolutely essential to keeping America strong and prosperous and free.
With all that is happening here at home, there are some who have forgotten that we are at war, that Iran and its jihadist surrogates are killing our sons and daughters abroad, and hope to do it here. I am pleased that our troops will be coming home from Iraq. But let there be no confusion: it is in spite of Barack Obama’s stance on Iraq, not because of it, that the troops are coming home in victory!
President Obama is barely a month into his term, and, of course, his biggest decisions on national security are still ahead of him. His administration has won the favor of liberal commentators by pledging what it calls reform in the treatment of terrorist detainees. He’s also promised to close down Guantanamo, without giving the slightest indication of the next stop for the killers being held there now. That decision, too, has received the predictable applause from certain law professors and editorial boards.
But here’s the problem. That is the very kind of thinking that left America vulnerable to the attacks of September 11th.
This is not a law enforcement problem. It is the gravest matter of national security, with thousands if not millions of lives in the balance. The jihadists are still at war with America. Our government has no greater duty than a vigilant defense, and no greater cause than victory for America and for freedom.
I had no objection when Barack Obama decided to give his first TV interview to an Arabic broadcaster. But when he said that America in the past has dictated to the world, he was misguided and naïve. And the next time our president speaks to a foreign audience I hope he will remember this basic fact of history: America is not a country that dictates to other nations. We are the country that has freed millions of people from the tyranny of dictators. Never in the history of a world has a single country possessed such great power, and used it for such good purpose across the world, as the United States of America.
I believe President Obama was also mistaken in backing away from our commitment to missile defense. And if he calculated that Russia would respond in kind by showing a little restraint and good will, he quickly learned otherwise. All Russia did to return the favor was bribe Kyrgyzstan to shut down our use of its airports, closing access we needed for our troops serving in Afghanistan. Gestures that communicate a lack of resolve only embolden America’s adversaries. With Iran seeking nuclear weapons, with North Korea already nuclear and selling its technology to the Syrians, it is essential that we construct a missile defense, now.
A lot of you have the memory of coming to CPAC in its early days, when America had challenges so big that many in the world – and even a few in our own government – thought we were in decline. They doubted our ability to compete economically, to face down the dangers of the era, or even to defend our ideals. Today we’re hearing echoes of that era once again, from those who speak of America as if our day has passed.
Some of these critics never cared much for our belief that America occupies a special place …that there is work in the world that only we can do …and that Americans have the heart and the courage to get it done. But we know these things to be true. And to those who question the character of our country, including the new attorney general, let us remind them that America has never been, is not now, and will never be a nation of cowards.
I don’t deny that America’s challenges are great, or that overcoming them will require the best that we have to give. But I know as well that times of difficulty always bring out the essential character of our fellow citizens. When I was a boy, my dad used to say that the pursuit of the difficult makes you strong. Well, the pursuit of the difficult will make America strong. We welcome the challenge. It will call on us, once again, to draw on the incredible resilience, ingenuity, and faith of the free men and women of America.
We don’t get to choose the tests and trials ahead. But we’re entirely free, you and I, to choose how we will meet those tests. We will meet them as conservatives have done before. We will find strength in each other, and answer our opponents with good will and honest words. And we will go forward – confident in our beliefs, and certain of victories to come. Thank you.