You may have heard that I recently received a big promotion. That’s right. I was promoted from the U.S. Senate and ranking member on the powerful Commerce Committee to The Heritage Foundation. Some people have wondered why I would leave the most debilitated body in the world to help lead the freedom movement in America. The answer is simple. The President and the Congress will not solve America’s problems unless the people force them to. Washington is America’s problem. We are the solution. And the situation is too urgent to wait until the next election. The conservative movement must get its act together and act now to save our nation.
Ed Feulner, the current President and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, recently joined me and a team of Heritage freedom-fighters on a cross-country tour that covered 12 cities. Thousands of people came out for rallies and meetings. We told them how we were working with a large coalition of conservative organizations and state policy groups to build public support for conservative ideas. We told them how Heritage Action is working with coalition partners to hold lawmakers accountable and to organize grassroots support for congressmen and senators who stand for conservative principles.
The people who came to our rallies were a little discouraged when they showed up, but by the time they left, they were full of hope and ready to jump back into the ring to fight for their country. All they want is leadership. They want champions who will stand up to the progressives, take on the liberal media and push back against the Republican leadership when they go wobbly. Their message to us is … if we will be their champions – and lead with courage and bold ideas — they will join us.
Speaking of champions, did any of you happen to see Rand Paul on C-SPAN last week? Senator Paul, along with Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and others took a courageous and principled stand. Their courage inspired the nation. Americans are hungry for some genuine conviction and passion. And there are many new champions of freedom with conviction and passion in the House and Senate. It is our job to make sure they are heard and that their ideas are supported by the American people.
Rand Paul’s filibuster should remind us that one person with the courage of his convictions can inspire the American people — including young people, women and minorities — and it should also remind us that a national conservative movement with leaders who have the courage to stand for bold, visionary ideas can change the course of our nation and save freedom for the next generation.
After the last election, a group of downcast conservative leaders here in Washington asked me to speak to them about the future of the conservative movement. They wanted to know what conservatives should do. My answer was simple: get up, spit out a few teeth, wipe the blood off your lip and get back in the fight.
Our situation is a lot like the boxer who had been knocked down multiple times in the third round, he was bloodied and could barely pull himself off the canvas before the referee counted him out. He was about to get knocked down again when he was saved by the bell. He stumbled to his corner and collapsed on his stool. Then his manager whispered in his ear, “You’ve got him right where you want him.”
Tonight, you are the boxer and I am the manager. I’m here to tell you how we have President Obama and the whole liberal progressive movement right where we want them.
To understand where we are as a movement and our path forward, we must remember that there is a distinction between the Republican Party and the conservative movement. National Republican leaders have not advanced a conservative agenda for almost 20 years. Not since the first few years of the Republican revolution in the 1990s – when welfare reform and a balanced budget were passed – have Republicans in Congress seriously championed conservative ideas. By the time I arrived in the House in 1998, my party was increasing spending and handing out earmarks like candy to help our members get re-elected.
Two years later, when George W. Bush was elected and Republicans still controlled both houses of Congress, spending and earmarks exploded, the federal role in education was vastly expanded with No Child Left Behind, Medicare was expanded to include prescription drugs, and numerous other new federal programs were created.
In 2004, when I was elected to the Senate, the spending binge continued. By 2006, Americans had seen enough and Republicans lost the majority in both houses. This was not a rejection of conservative policies. In 2008, things got even worse as Republicans helped pass bailouts for big banks on Wall Street and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Barack Obama was elected and Republicans lost more seats in the House and Senate.
But it wasn’t long before the far-left policies of Obama and the rudderless Republicans finally woke Americans from their apathy. Americans from all walks of life – conservatives, libertarians, independents, and even recovering liberals – came together in groups called Tea Parties all across the country. They had a unified, simple message. “Stop the spending, borrowing, bailouts and government takeovers … and restore constitutional limited government.”
The majority of Americans agreed with these ideas. This was the opportunity for Republicans to embrace the movement and build that big tent our leaders have been talking about for years. Instead, the national Republican leadership rejected the Tea Party and, along with the liberal media, participated in vilifying the movement.
But many Republican candidates did embrace the Tea Party and the ideas that were uniting America. Many of them defeated establishment Republicans and went on to help Republicans take the majority in the House and gain seats in the Senate. This was the election that brought us Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson and many champions in the House who ran their campaigns on cutting spending, banning earmarks and balancing the budget.
But even after these remarkable gains, some establishment Republicans blamed the Tea Party for keeping them from winning the majority in the Senate.
In 2012, with the Presidential election on the line, national Republican leadership rejected the lessons of 2010 and went back to the old way of campaigning – millions of dollars of negative television advertising telling Americans all the bad things about President Obama. They didn’t even try to inspire America with a bold positive vision. The Democrats, on the other hand, used the lessons of the Tea Party, built a grassroots network with voter registration in key demographics and states, and used a high-tech get-out-the-vote campaign to destroy Romney and defeat many Republicans.
As the leaders of the conservative movement, we need to recognize what worked in 2010 and build on it.
First: Republicans didn’t lead in 2010 … conservatives did. Conservatives from all walks of life made our ideas so persuasive and so pervasive across America, that many Republican candidates embraced them and rode our backs to victory. When we take control of our ideas and our message and convince Americans that these ideas will make their lives better, their futures brighter and their country stronger – the politics will follow us. If we do our job, candidates from all political parties will have to embrace our ideas and principles to get elected.
Second: We must have a permanent, from the ground up grassroots organization. That’s why Heritage created Heritage Action. They are promoting our ideas and holding Congress accountable by working with coalition groups across America to organize grassroots activists.
Third: We must learn how to communicate our ideas to all demographic groups and explain how conservative policies benefit 100 percent of Americans. School choice is a conservative policy that is specifically designed to help low income, minority students escape the shackles of failing public schools. Workplace freedom is a policy designed to increase the freedom of union members, to join or not join a union. Entitlement reform is designed to ensure low-income and middle-income Americans have the same freedom in retirement that wealthy Americans enjoy, the chance to control their own health care and income.
Fourth: We must tell the stories about real people whose lives have been transformed by conservative policies and contrast them with the stories of the people who are being victimized by liberal progressive policies.
People like Joe Kelley, a single father here in Washington, calls the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program a “blessing” for his children. By the fifth grade, his son Rashawn was three years behind in the public school system. Kelley had to get a court order for the school to provide Rashawn with a tutor after finding out that the school hadn’t fulfilled its requirement to update his son’s individual education plan.
Beyond the academic failures, Kelley says the school was so bad that “eight police officers patrolled it every day, yet kids were still scared of getting jumped.”
As a result of the scholarship, Rashawn was able to switch to a private school. He caught up to his grade level within two years and is today a high school graduate attending the University of the District of Columbia.
We must do more for the other Rashawns out there who need our help. The good news for us is that conservatives now control more states than ever before. Bold governors and state legislators are proving that our ideas work.
States like Tennessee that have eliminated their income tax and replaced it with a consumption tax have seen their economies boom. States like Indiana that have adopted freedom in the workplace and states like North Dakota that have opened their own energy resources have created new jobs and more opportunities for their citizens. States like Florida that have promoted education freedom have seen more students succeed … especially minorities. And states like Texas that have passed tort reform have seen the best doctors from all over the world move to their state – improving healthcare and lowering costs for everyone.
Our ideas work!
We know where Obama’s policies end up. Look at Greece and Europe. Look at California and Illinois. And look very closely at Detroit where big government liberals and union bosses have controlled city government for over 50 years. Detroit is bankrupt and elected officials have been replaced with a dictator … I mean director. Their population has decreased by more than half in the last 50 years. Only 7 percent of eighth graders read at grade level. Unemployment for Hispanics and African Americans is near 40 percent. Gangs and violence are rampant. There are over 400 liquor stores in Detroit, but not one chain supermarket. Detroit is a showcase for the liberal agenda. Like I said, “we’ve got em right where we want ’em.”
Our ideas make life better for everyone. Their ideas destroy lives and bankrupt cities, states and nations. If we can’t convince people of these facts, we are failing our fellow citizens.
Conservatives are committed to serve 100 percent of Americans – whether they vote for us or not. We will not rest until every American can reach the ladder of opportunity and climb as high as they can dream.
But none of our ideas, our policies or our communications will make any difference unless we show up. People won’t care about what we say until they are convinced that we care about them. We must engage Americans from all walks of life where they live. We must meet with those who are voting for policies that hurt them, listen until we understand why … and learn what words we must use to connect the right ideas with their hopes and dreams.
This is what I plan to do at Heritage. Our plans are bold and it will take several months before we can ramp up to full speed. In the meantime, there are at least four important things we must do right now.
First: We cannot give up on repealing Obamacare. Accepting Obamacare is giving up on America. We must cut the funding for Obamacare and support all the governors who reject the expansion of Medicaid and the creation of healthcare exchanges.
Second: America’s proud heritage of immigration has fueled our nation’s strength and diversity, but today we have a broken and politicized system that makes it easy to come here illegally. We have to fix the system, but we cannot design our national immigration policies to accommodate those who broke our laws. Granting citizenship to those who came here illegally violates the basic principles of freedom. It is wrong because it undermines the very reason immigrants flee other countries and come to America: our rule of law. And we know from history amnesty and citizenship does not solve the problem, it only encourages more law breaking. There were 3 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 1986 when they passed the first amnesty. Today, there are an estimated 11 million illegals immigrants. Congress should take a step by step approach that streamlines our legal process to encourage those yearning for freedom and opportunity to come here the right way.
Third: Conservatives must lead with a plan that balances the budget in the next decade without raising taxes. My oldest grandson is 6 years old. Is it too much to expect that by the time he gets his drivers license, we will stop borrowing money from his future? The next battle over the debt will be in a few weeks when we reach the debt limit … again, and we know the chicken littles will squeal and tell us how the sky will fall if we don’t let the President borrow more money. The debt limit is simply a balanced budget. It prevents us from spending more than we take in.
So, we have three options. The first, and my preferred option, would be to balance the budget within 10 years. The second option, which is the President’s preferred option, is to never balance the budget … ever! Just keep borrowing and taxing and spending. The third option, which is ironically the easiest option, is to balance the budget immediately. In other words, just don’t pass the debt limit increase.
Here’s the conservative proposition: Mr. President, we reject your plan to never balance the budget, so you have two options. We can either balance in 10 years — without raising taxes — or we can balance immediately. It’s your choice.
And lastly: We cannot hope to limit government if we do not stand up for our core civil society institutions, beginning with marriage. Marriage is the foundation of America’s cultural stability and economic prosperity and the courts have no business overruling the people’s democratic decisions in the states. People can love whom they want and live the way they choose, but no one is entitled to redefine a foundational institution of civil society that has existed for centuries.
In two weeks, the Supreme Court will hear arguments against the right of states to protect marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Judicial activism is to blame for the Court even considering these cases. The Supreme Court should uphold these laws. It must recognize that the American people should make these decisions, not unelected judges.
We are told that the social issues divide Americans and that we should stop talking about them. We cannot.
Economic and social conservatism go hand-in-hand. They’re natural allies. Strong families, churches and voluntary institutions build strong character and economic independence. And government must always remember we are endowed by our creator with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is true for you and me, and it is true for the unborn. When government understands its limited role, it can be smaller, people can be freer and our economy can create prosperity for everyone. And when government grows larger with programs like Obamacare that consume so much of our lives, it tramples on both economic freedom and religious liberty. This has united conservatives of all stripes to fight to end Obamacare so we can all be free to live our own lives.
Conservatives can unite America with a platform of federalism that moves dollars and decisions back to the states and the people. Let’s encourage the states to compete for the best business environment and quality of life. States should have the freedom to determine how best to meet the needs of their students. For health care, let states use private contracting for Medicaid to deliver better health care for more people at lower costs. Federalism means letting more states have Medicaid waivers to serve those most in need more effectively and efficiently.
More dollars would be available for roads and bridges if states kept more of their own gas tax dollars and made their own decisions about infrastructure. States could grow their economies if the federal government would get out of the way and let them develop their energy resources.
The less we try to do at the federal level, the more we can unite the country around our ideas. Federal programs are failing and they are bankrupting our nation. The states are proving that conservative ideas deliver better results for all of our citizens.
Another area where conservatives can unite America is foreign policy and defense. Americans want a strong defense, but they are tired of endless wars. The conservative platform for defense and foreign relations can be summarized with two words: strength and focus. The White House, by contrast, has created confusion around the world by not leading and threatened our security by gutting defense.
If we want a strong defense and a foreign policy that serves the interests of the American people, we must act with clarity and judgment. We must defend our homeland, protect American interests abroad and limit foreign entanglements. The world expects us to lead, but we must do it with strength and focus.
I’ve talked a lot tonight about what conservatives need to do to take control of our ideas, our message and how we need to connect with the American people. We can’t wait for Republicans to advance the conservative cause, it is our job to make our ideas so winsome to the American people that they become irresistible to the politicians. The voices of the new and bold conservatives in the House and Senate will certainly help, but it is our responsibility as conservative leaders to build support for our ideas among the voters.
Milton Friedman explained it this way when he said: “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or, if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”
That’s my main point today. It’s why I left the Senate to lead The Heritage Foundation and to help lead the conservative movement. We must take control of our ideas and our message. We must win the hearts and minds of the American people … all of the American people. We must help Americans see the connection between their hopes and dreams and the public policies that will help them achieve their goals. Then they will vote for the right ideas and the candidates who support them.
We can and we will unite America around the principles of freedom. We will develop a simple inspiring platform based on competitive federalism that unites rather than divides Americans. That is my hope and dream and it is my commitment to you. Please pray for our country and all those who defend it – those in uniform and all those who stand with us for the cause of freedom. Thank you.