Speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
January 23, 1999
Now, I could begin my talk
today--because I have for a while been starting all my talks with a simple
declarative sentence, because I wanted to be sure I spoke at least one
sentence of absolute truth in my speeches--so I was beginning all my speeches
with the declarative statement, "Bill Clinton is a liar."
But, my friends, this is old news. So I think that the more relevant statement right now would be the expression of a hope on behalf of the United States, and that hope is very simple: that is, the hope that Bill Clinton will soon be removed from the high office of President of the United States.
Now I know that there are some people out there who have already surrendered to what they regard as the inevitable truth that the corruption which prevails in the Democrat Party will block that result, and that, in a vote characterized by the utmost partisan bigotry and depravity, they will stand firm with the most sordid President we have ever seen.
I don't know. For the sake of the country, I hope not. Because it will be a terrible blow to have to live with this sordid mess for another two years, and I think affirming, rather than rejecting, his conduct will help to destroy the moral foundations of this country. And that will be deeply threatening, not only to our moral character, but, as many people seem to fail to realize, immediately to our safety.
I ask you to ponder one question: what if the soldiers in our military start to have the same contempt for their oaths that the Commander in Chief has shown for his oath? How safe will we be? And until the Senate of the United States awakens to the implications of that question, I fear we will not get a vote with integrity on the issue of his removal.
But that is not solely what I came to talk about today, though you will see it is very relevant. I wanted to discuss another point, because we are coming to a critical juncture, in terms of the choices we have to make--particularly as conservatives. And I want to make a simple case today, and that simple case is the following.
This country, as is evidenced by the great crisis we are in, in our national institutions, is in the midst of the greatest moral crisis in our history. That moral crisis threatens the survival of our free institutions. We must deal with that moral crisis as the top priority of our national concern, or we will lose our republic and lose our freedom. It is simply true. [applause]
But the sad truth is . . . [applause] No, no, no . . . . See, I honestly don't believe many of you appreciate this. You are foolin' yourselves. And I want to be clear--crystal clear--about this. You are not helping.
You THINK that we can talk about taxes, and Social Security, and education. "We've got this conservative agenda. We have to pursue it, and then we're gonna win support," and so forth. "And we can put those moral issues on the back burner somewhere, and deal with them as they come along." And the only reason you think that, I think, is that you haven't thought it through.
So today, let's try to think it through on some clear areas of the agenda where, in point of fact, we are all pretty much in agreement. All the people are going to come up here, and they are going to parade, and they are going to tell you that they support things like school choice, and vouchers for education, and so forth. And they are going to tell you that they want a Social Security system that gives people the right to make decisions to invest their own money. And they are going to tell you that they want to cut taxes and give people control over their own money.
You are not going to be able to distinguish among people on that basis. They've all hired the pollsters and consultants; they know what you want to hear. And most of them aren't quite honest enough to tell you what they really think, so they'll tell you what you want to hear. And this isn't going to do you any good. Because you have noticed, haven't you, that they tell you what you want to hear, you support them, you put them in office, and then no matter who they are, they turn their backs on you and betray everything that they declared themselves to believe. When are you going to wake up and stop playing this game? I don't know. But we won't wake up until we see what ought to be governing our own judgments. So let's look at these issues.
What is the core of our conservative approach to education? The core of our conservative approach to education--based, as it is, on returning power to parents, on vouchers, on giving parents the control over the choice of where education money goes, on breaking the government monopoly on education--it is premised, in the end, on one simple principle: that we should put parents back in the authoritative driver's seat of our educational system; that, not educrats and bureaucrats, but parents, should be recognized as in the first instance responsible for the education of their children; and that their choices should govern the use of our education dollars. [applause]
But, before you applaud . . . . I want you to do me a favor, by the way. Could you do me a favor? Don't applaud; just listen. I know that everybody likes applause; I don't mind applause myself. But just listen. Because there are things more important than applause. Right now we need to focus on some clear facts.
The premise of that is that parents should be responsible, and we should respect their authority--isn't that right?
You then look at what we recommend on Social Security--and we talk about privatization, and we talk about coming up with schemes where people can invest their money. What's the premise of that? That we should recognize individuals, working people, and we should recognize their responsibility to take account of their future, and we should give them the authority and control over their own hard-earned dollars so that they can invest those dollars where they will win the greatest return--isn't that it? Once again the same premise, it turns out, isn't it? Isn't it interesting? There, too, we are talking about responsibility, recognizing that responsibility, and providing policies that will be built on it and respect it.
The same thing is true in economics. We talk about tax cuts. Others of us, like myself, talk about going to a system where we abolish this invasive income tax, go back to the system our Founders intended, that would be based on excise taxes, sales taxes, so that government no longer has a preemptive claim to even one penny of our income, until we have made decisions about where to invest it, where to save it, where to spend it. It is the right thing. And there, too, it is premised on what? Premised on recognizing the responsibility of individuals, and giving them authority once again over their own hard-earned resources, so they can make the choices that are best for their country, and their community, and their family.
Isn't it interesting? Every element of our key conservative agenda is founded on the same assumption: that people are responsible enough to make choices for themselves; that they have the capacity to do what is right for themselves, for their children, for their parents, for the family.
And the key argument that is made against us in each of these areas . . . what is it? See, we don't stop to think about this. We are fooled by all these folks who come up here and say, "We have these economic debates we are involved in. We have these social issue debates." That is a lie.
Because, look at what the liberals and the socialists do when they are responding to our proposals. When we start talking about Social Security, what do they say? They have panels where people sit and say, "Well, if you do that, people won't provide for their futures, and they won't make the right decisions, and they won't be responsible." And then we talk about education, and what do they come back to us and say? "Well, if you do that, what about the bad parents--the ones who won't provide for their kids, and won't take care of their kids? We can't trust them to do that."
The other day, Bill Clinton was talking about what to do with the surplus, and what did he say? In speaking in Buffalo about why America's tax over-payment should not be returned in the form of tax cuts, he said, "We have no permanent deficit anymore. The natural condition is a surplus, okay? So the question is what do we do with it. We could give it all back to you and hope you spend it right. But I think here is the problem. If you don't spend it right, here's what is going to happen." And then he goes into the parade of horribles that will be the result of the fact that people will not be responsible, that they won't make the right choices, that they won't make choices that reflect their capacity to care for themselves and their families, that they won't care about the poor, they won't care about the elderly, they won't care about the downtrodden in society. It will all be a terrible spectacle of hard-heartedness and cruelty and suffering--if we leave it up to people themselves.
Now, see the contrast? We stand for individual responsibility and the recognition of it. They stand against it, but based on what? I'll tell you what--what we don't want to see, what many of you don't want to look at. The arguments that we are based on, and they are making, are not economic arguments and they are not political arguments. They are arguments premised on the moral capacity, or lack thereof, of the American people.
If we have the moral capacity, then we conservatives are right. If we don't have it, then the liberals are right, and we are going to lose.
You don't get it yet! We have been attacked most successfully on our moral plank, on the basis of the premise that you can't trust people because they don't have the moral capacity to do what is right. They won't do it. They will be selfish, they will be greedy, they will be careless, they will be indifferent to the future and to the obligations they have to one another--even to such an extent that they will neglect their own futures if the government and the socialists and the bureaucrats don't step in.
That is not an economic argument. And that is not a political argument. It is a moral argument.
And that is why, by the way, people who are acting as if we should try to get past the Clinton scandals in a hurry . . . . I don't understand these people; they are not conservative. We shouldn't be interested in getting "past" the Clinton scandals. We shouldn't act like it is a big problem for us to have to address it.
The most important crisis we face as a people is the moral crisis of our country's judgment and principles. And the most important practical illustration of that crisis today is the DEPRAVITY of the man in the White House and the harm that it has caused. We should not run from this issue. We should embrace it. And we should help the American people to understand what it really means.
Bill Clinton is the poster boy of American moral depravity and incompetence. You think that the liberals and socialists like him in spite of his vices. They like him BECAUSE of his vices. They like him because he represents the proof that, no matter what the background, no matter what the level in our society, individuals can't control their lusts; they can't control their passions; they have no ability to discipline any part of their lives. He is actually the most effective argument they have against the moral premise of conservatism.
And if we accept it, even for a minute--if we fail to hold him accountable, even for a minute--then we will have lost the most important argument and we won't win any of the others.
I have, as you know, a fairly broad background. I have been involved in foreign policy. I have been involved in budget issues. I could stand up here and tell you what you want to hear, probably a little bit better than most other people, on any issue you want. Why is it that instead I have spent and will spend every chance I get, before you and every other audience in this country, emphasizing one fact? We are in the midst of a moral crisis; we must return to the fundamental moral principles that this country was based on. We must address the issues that involve our rejection and destruction of those principles, starting with the issue of abortion and the need to reverse Roe vs. Wade, and get ourselves back on track in terms of our Declaration principles.
And why do I put it first? I put it first, I put it at the top of the agenda, I say it everywhere, I will never leave it behind--because we will not win as conservatives until we have won the battle for America's moral renewal. We will not win as conservatives until we have done what is necessary to defeat the liberal lie that our people do not have the moral capacity to be free. We will not win as conservatives until we have once again reestablished the strong moral heritage and foundation of this nation, and the principles of judgment and right action that allow us to know with confidence that we will not abuse our freedom, we will not abuse our money, we will not abuse those rights which God has given us, any more than we did when we built this country great, and strong, and free.
We have got to understand that there is no hope for us as conservatives if we follow the pied pipers of political expediency who tell us to "put all that stuff on the back burner. Let's talk about the taxes; they love that. Let's talk about Social Security; they love that. Let's talk about what we are going to do for school choice; they love that."
All that is important, but we will win none of those arguments, as long as the American people are led to believe that they are not morally fit for the role that our policies give them; as long as they believe that they will abuse the money, abuse the freedom, turn their backs on their responsibilities as parents and human beings.
So you see, the reason that I spend so much time talking about it is because there is no hope for America if we don't put the moral crisis at the top of our concern. And sadly, there is no hope for conservatism either.
I wouldn't stand here today if I really believed that there was no hope. But there is. We are going to see this truth. And we are going to push our way past all the phonies, and all the would-be pretenders. And we are going to stop asking people where they stand on the issues, and we are going to start asking where the issues that are most critical to the survival of our freedom stand on THEIR agenda of concern.
And if all they are doing is paying lip service to those issues, and unwilling to take the stand--before being asked--that are necessary for the country's health, we will know they are not the right leaders. And right now, I've got to tell you, I don't find anybody who really stands up to the plate to volunteer the hard truths that America needs to hear--and to do so everywhere, always, all the time, in such a way that no platform will be wasted on anything except what helps us to understand how thoroughly each issue we face is affected by and imbued with the consequences of our moral corruption.
And that's why I do it, and that is why I think we are going to have to do it as conservatives, if we want the country to survive. That is why, on my program right now, all I talk about right now is the impeachment trial. I don't talk about anything else. There are others who want to talk baseball, and this and that; they want to talk about every issue under the sun. There is nothing more important going on in this country than the decision as to whether we are going to put a stamp of approval on the most depraved president in the history of the country.
If we put that stamp of approval, then we are in trouble. Not only because our children will watch that, and we will plant the seeds of that slow moral poison that will result, in the end, in the erosion of their capacity for citizenship, but in the more immediate sense, the resentment we will arouse in the military, the destruction of oaths. All of this will come back to destroy us as it destroyed the Roman Empire, as it destroyed every republic in the history of the world that did not understand that, in order to sustain self-government, you must sustain the character that it takes to be free.
Our Founders knew that. That is why built this country on moral premises that reflect the basic truth that is, I think, at the heart of all moral probity: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."
So many people speak the language of rights these days: the left, the right, everybody's all about rights. Why is it that we forget that that great Declaration is actually a statement, first and foremost, about the authority from which our rights derive? And that authority is NOT the Constitution; that authority is NOT the Supreme Court; that authority is NOT the President; and it is NOT the will of the people. That authority is the will of the Creator, God. And our willingness to accept the truth that, in our exercise of freedom, we must stand before the tribunal of that authority, is, in fact and in the end, the bedrock strong foundation of moral discipline--we must restore our respect for that truth, in order to restore the foundations of our moral will and judgment.
And every issue that involves a distortion thereof, including the issue of abortion--the real problem with abortion is that it tells you that our rights come from a mother's choice. I loved my mom. I love the mother of my children. I don't think that either of them were God, though. And if God is the source of our rights, then it is not the mother's choice, but God's choice, that determines the right to life.
So I believe that, as conservatives, we need to think this through, we need to get it straight, and then we need--in a polite sort of fashion--to reject every single person who stands before us for leadership who puts something else at the top of the agenda. We need to do that for our own sake. For, we shall not sustain our arguments if we allow the moral self-confidence of this people utterly to be destroyed. And we must do it for the sake of America, because we will not sustain her liberty, her self-government, her great and shining example of hope for human kind, if we do not sustain that moral foundation which is built on our respect for God, and which allows us to respect ourselves.
God bless you.