Our Conservative Principles: The Path To Victory
November 20, 1998
Leadership Conference, Washington, D.C.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
I've got to say, it is remarkable to see so many faces--it's "conservative" leadership conference, is that right? I mean, if you read the papers these days, you would think that conservatism was dead and gone. I don't think that is true.
But at least in the interpretation they are giving at the polls, in the general media, they want us to believe that the meaning of the last election day was that Republicans, somehow or other, were too conservative for the last couple of years.
Have they been living in a different country than I have?
They also want us to believe that part of the problem, or maybe the main problem, was that they were so obsessed with impeachment. I saw a comment last night on CNN, in the wake of Ken Starr's very fine and capable presentation, in which, after Schippers had gone back and forth with Starr, and for the first time that I can remember, he actually managed in the course of his questioning to present the best and most serious argument as to why the President's conduct is an impeachable offense--that it is in fact an assault on the Constitution, on the judicial branch, and so forth. And after the whole thing was over, the reporter said, "you know, if the Republicans had presented this view of things in August, then the President probably wouldn't be in the position that he is in today"--and he meant by that with the likelihood of surviving in office. And that is true.
Somehow or other, in the course of the last couple of years and especially in the last couple of months, we watched as the Republican leadership abdicated their role, in the hopes, I suppose, of making things better for themselves at the polls. They in fact did just the opposite. I think they managed thoroughly to de-energize and demoralize that conservative base which had elected them in 1994 in the first place, and which constitutes their only hope for election in the future.
And I would predict--as I did some time back; I was one of those folks who was confidently predicting that if they continued down the road that they were going down, they would lose the base and do badly in this election. Sadly speaking, they did.
And I will predict to you confidently now that if they continue down the road that they have gone, if in fact Mr. Livingston and others complete their promised agenda of conciliation, bipartisanship, and further compromise with the left wing in this country, then in the year 2000, I predict confidently that the Republican Party will not only go the way of the Whigs, they will undoubtedly go the way the Conservatives went in Canada. They will go suddenly; they will go without warning, and they will go totally and completely--you cannot win an election when you have betrayed your base in the country.
I wouldn't want anybody to suggest, though, that I was welcoming that outcome. I do not. Nor am I suggesting that I am going to sit back passively and let it happen. I believe, in point of fact, that over the course of the next couple of years--if not, sadly speaking, in the next couple of months; and I'll explain that--the fate of this republic, of this system of self-government, is going to be decided.
I think we sometimes fool ourselves into believing that we are going to continue, with the course of action we have seen, with the elections and the hoopla, and we will go on with this constitutional system of government for just as long as we please, and we can take it for granted that we will lose a little, and fight back, and win again. I think that the evidence of the last several months is clear: we now have elements in this country who have abandoned their allegiance to the constitutional system. We have elements, particularly in the Democratic Party, who no longer believe in the rule of law, no longer believe in the constitutional structures, and who have stood before the American people in the course of the last several months and boldly made the argument that the President is above the law, elected officials are above the law, and that if you follow the right left-wing party line you will not be held accountable for your violations and abuses of power.
That means that we are close to the time when an election in this country is going to decide it all, and we've put into place those who will not relinquish power on the right terms of the Constitution, or maintain themselves in power with respect for the Constitution. And it is time that we began to recognize it. This republic is entering its last days, if we do not act decisively.
And I say that with no sense of satisfaction, obviously, but with a real sense that right now we are living in a delusion. And that includes, by the way--and this may make some folks uncomfortable--a bunch of conservatives. You are living in la-la land. You are living in a land that would actually follow what I watched in the last several weeks, when Steve Largent--who was an individual I put the greatest hopes and trust in--actually conducted a campaign based on the notion that it would be possible to place on the back burner in this country our concern with the moral issues, with the pro-life issue, to walk down the path of "money-is-God" conservatism, and act as if that is in any sense going to help this country or even lead to victory for conservatives. This is wrong; it will not work this way.
And those of you who believe this, who think that an agenda of tax cuts and budget discussions is going to save America--you have not been watching. We are in the midst of the greatest moral crisis this nation has ever known. And that crisis is exemplified in the crisis in the White House right now. It is not an accident that a scandal that involves a crisis of personal and moral responsibility is threatening the integrity of our foremost federal institution and threatening the integrity of our philosophy of self-government.
If you think that is an accident; if you think that this is just a coincidence of Bill Clinton's character, you are wrong. The abuse of the human person that is represented in his instrumental manipulative attitude toward women, toward Monica Lewinsky, toward his colleagues, and toward the American people, is the same abusive attitude toward the individual that Bill Clinton exemplified when he signed away the executive orders that protected the rights of the innocent unborn from abuse by the executive branch, the same abuse that we saw when he vetoed the partial-birth abortion ban and allowed the crime of infanticide to continue sanctioned by the laws in this country. We are seeing the same moral corruption.
And we will not deal with that agenda of moral corruption by entering into it ourselves, with an abused agenda, focused on tax cuts or anything else, that has in fact been turned, in the last couple of years, into a tax bribe that imitates the New Deal's contemptuous attitude for our people. Tax cuts were never a way to bribe the middle class into supporting some political coalition.
According to our conservative principles, they represent the desire to return power and control of our economic resources to the grass roots people of this country. THAT is our agenda. It is not a money agenda. It is the moral agenda of self-government. And we should not allow it to be turned into some kind of a political game. We are making an error if we believe that we can compete with the Democrats on their ground. It is not possible. That violation of fundamental conservative principles will prepare us for destruction.
Because I believe that it was never the case that conservatism in this country meant conserving the fruits of anybody's greed. I think conservatism in this country means conserving our liberty, and the system of self-government that makes it possible.
And the ground of that system of self-government, for all our talk about it, is not our money success. We do forget, don't we, that this nation was founded long before we became the world's economic power. That its great institutions were put in place long before it was proven that this continent would produce anything but a gaggle of backwater states. The principles on which this nation is based were not principles that aimed simply to free the greed and greed corruption of the American people. The were principles stated in terms of some of the highest moral ideals that human beings have ever articulated, and that understood that at the end of the day, one truth is clear: we have no claim to rights, we have no claim to worth, we have no claim to human dignity, except in terms of the God-given rights that come to us not from the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, but from the hand of our Creator.
The fundamental premise of this nation's life is not a money premise, and it is not an economic premise. It is the moral premise that all rights and all justice rest on the authority of almighty God.
Rightly understood, then, that conservative principle involves us in respecting, in the exercise of our rights, the authority from which those rights derive, and in that respect offering to our people not a philosophy of big government or small government or no government, but a philosophy of self-government, grounded in the view that human beings are indeed capable of governing themselves, beginning with their own passions, their own person, and their own family. That is the key principle that I think runs through every aspect of the conservative agenda.
It runs through, of course, the moral agenda, which I believe is fundamental and which, in our day, must be put first. And in this I disagree with some folks who are out there now touting all kinds of things, and offering them for the future, as if we are going to put together some kind of a coalition in the next couple of years that puts our moral concerns on the back burner, pays a little lip service to them, and enters into an agenda in which we compete with the Democrats to see who can do the most to buy and sell the votes of this electorate.
I think that this is degrading. I think that it represents the kind of destruction of our political life that Bill Clinton epitomizes. And I think that the Clintonizing of the Republican Party and of America will simply do to us what he is already doing to the presidency--it will destroy our integrity, and destroy us.
The antidote to that has got to be an agenda that understands: put the moral concerns first. Not as an afterthought; not on the back burner; not with hesitation; not with shame. But first, at the top of the agenda, because without moral discipline, nothing else will work. We will not have decent schools, we will not have thriving free enterprises, if we destroy that moral foundation which is the basis for all discipline, for all initiative, and for all order, civility and decency in our country.
And that means that at the top of our agenda we have to deal with those issues that corrupt our moral heart, starting . . . not ending . . . starting, and without embarrassment, addressing the issue of abortion first and foremost. That issue represents the corrupt principle that we can substitute human choice for God's choice in the determination of human rights and human worth. That is a vicious lie, and on that vicious lie this republic will flounder if we do not tackle it, front and center, now.
It also means recognizing that the agenda of family must start out with the restoration of that understanding of moral discipline and responsibility which is in fact the foundation of family life.
And here I have to digress, for a moment, into a matter of contemporary concern, because, you know, there is this debate--you've heard of it--and inquiry going on in the Congress right now about impeachment. I'm sure you haven't missed that. And I'm sure also that some of you have not missed the fact that there are now Republicans in the Congress who are coming forward--like Congressman Souder from Pennsylvania, or Senator Specter--somehow to make the argument that it is going to be possible for Republicans and conservatives to treat the impeachment issue as if it is simply a matter of polls and political calculation.
I think we need to be very clear. Anybody in this country who stands up and pretends that they care about the family, pretends that they care about so-called "family values," and restoring and rebuilding the foundations for family life--anyone like that in our politics, anyone like that in the Congress of the United States, who then casts a vote to let Bill Clinton off the hook in terms of this incredible and degrading scandal . . . they are liars, they are phony, and we should actually kick them out of office.
Some people have been making the argument that "his adultery is not really an impeachable offense, but if he lied about it . . ." Of course if he lied about it, he should be impeached. Of course if he lied under oath about it, he has assaulted the judicial branch and should be thrown from office--we know this. There shouldn't even be any debate over it.
But do you want to know the truth? If we are serious about our families, if we are serious about our children's consciences, then there should be no debate about the fact that if an individual who occupies the highest and most visible office in our land conducts himself in such a way as to shock and denigrate the ideas of moral responsibility and spousal fidelity needed to maintain family life, that is also an impeachable offense. That is an offense for which he should be thrown out of office.
We cannot have strong families if we have fathers who lie to their spouses and disrespect their moral responsibilities to their children. That is what Bill Clinton has done; he has done it from an office he begged for that put him on a platform that nobody in this country, including our children, could ignore. And now that he has stained and abused that platform, he is no longer fit to occupy it. And if we leave him there, the damage that is done to our moral fabric, to our children, and to our families, will be the moral equivalent of a nuclear war. And we will not survive that holocaust as a free people.
It is time we took this seriously. And in taking it seriously we will restore the sense that at the root of our agenda of self-government and liberty there is a strong recognition that, without moral responsibility, freedom is a curse. Without moral discipline, self-government cannot survive.
That also ought to put us in mind of what I think is really the fairly simple practical agenda that we face in the course of the next several years. Some folks like to act like it is terribly complicated, and we need this list of twelve, fifteen, twenty different things we've got to do with the government, with Social Security, with this and with that. The Republicans went down this road for the last several months--trying to prove that somehow or another they were going to become the "party of good government." They were going to show that they could "take the reins of power" and they were going to do wonderful things with government.
I wish that somebody had reminded them forcefully along the way that they were not elected to make the federal government more effective. They were elected to take power and resources out of the hand of the federal government and return them to the hands of our people--control over our money, control over our institutions, control over our schools.
And that recommends a very simple and straightforward agenda, which they should have pursued by now.
Step number one: we need to take back control of ourselves by tackling the issues of moral priority.
Step number two: we need to take back control of our future, by making sure that it is parents at the grassroots, not federal educrats or politicians or bureaucrats, who control our schools and the education system in this country.
Just as abortion should have been on the front burner, so should school choice have been on the front burner. They should have fought for it, and they should fight for it, until they make Bill Clinton and everyone like him put up or shut up in terms of returning control of our schools to our people. That is going to restore the integrity of our educational system.
And we need also to restore the control of our dollars to our people. But how do we do that? A few tax bribes here and there? I'm rather getting sick and tired of having these folks approach us and say "I'm going to offer you $2,000 for every family." Steve Forbes said that the other day, saying that's what we ought to do as a down payment on the flat tax.
When are we going to stop acting and thinking like slaves? We should not get down on our knees and thank "massa" government because they let us keep a little more of our own money. It is our money! We earn it. We have earned it in the sweat of our brow. And the agenda of tax cuts turned into tax bribes for politicians to use to manipulate our people must be rejected!
I think there is only one thoroughgoing way to make sure that we will get back control of this economy and control of our economic lives. And radical as it sounds, it is actually merely returning to the original traditions and Constitution of this country. We should stop messing about with tax cuts, and stop messing about with phony slogans about abolishing the IRS.
I want to abolish the IRS, but I'll tell you something--you are not going to abolish the IRS in reality until you have abolished the slave tax that the IRS administers. There is no half-way house. As long as you give government the presumptive claim to any percentage of your income, they will, in effect, be in control of your economic lives.
And that is why I believe that there is one platform, and one platform alone, that represents the economic liberation of our people. And the first step in that platform is to abolish the income tax, and return to the original Constitution of this country. Fund the federal government with tariffs, duties and excise taxes as the Founders of this nation envisaged--return to the system that in the 19th century produced surplus after surplus after surplus in the federal government's budget, until there was so much of the surplus that it became an embarrassment in the early part of this century.
Well, they were successful in getting rid of that embarrassment. And every since, under the regime of the income tax, we have lived with the surrender of more and more of the economic control over our lives.
I think that the spectacle that most disturbs me about the course of the last several weeks and months is the spectacle of this people. Some people say that they are all upset--I'm upset that Bill Clinton turned out to be such a lying, lawless man. But do you know something? I am more upset at the signs that we have become a people uninterested in the truth, and willing for the sake of our dollars, and our greed, and our materialistic delusions, to tolerate this lawlessness and immorality.
I believe that if conservatives wish to achieve victory in this country in the course of the next several years, then we should stop up our ears to all of the editorial writers, and all of the phony liars, telling us to abandon our conservative principles. The heart of this nation hungers above all right now, I believe, for one thing--integrity. Integrity understood as an unwillingness to buy and sell ones soul for the sake of ANY material thing--not power, not money, not the satisfaction of ambition and lust. For NOTHING should we be willing to give up that gift of moral capacity which is the highest grace that God has granted to our nature.
And I believe if we stand up before the American people and offer them forthrightly, without equivocation and without compromise, an example of that integrity, in the way we stand for and about those issues that matter most to the future of this country, then we will be able to put our faith, in the end, in the better angels of the American nature, and in our almighty God. And with that faith we will turn this nation around. Not by polls; not by calculation; not by clever argument--but simply by the willingness to look for and accept the simple truths without which the integrity of this nation cannot be preserved.
No self-government without self-discipline.
No continued representative government, if we do not reclaim the power and responsibility that belong to us and cannot be vested in government institutions.
And no real prospect that we shall achieve victory of any kind if we are not willing, in every case, before every region and audience of this country, to represent those principles boldly and without shame.
I think that if we are willing to adopt that stance in the presentation and the understanding of our principles, then we will do more than achieve some success for our conservatism. We will in fact do what, in a sense, only we, I believe, have a calling to do in this nation's life right now. And that is save our Constitution and save our free way of life. It has come down to that. And in the next few years WE shall decide how it turns out. Act with integrity, and we shall hand to our children intact the heritage and the challenge of our freedom. Act without it, and they will live to curse us for the day we lost God's gift of our great land of liberty.
I pray that you, with others, will understand and do what is right.
God bless you.