Two years ago, when I presented the keynote address here at CPAC 2004, I likened the state of the Republican movement to a tall ship at sea — a ship that had drifted off-course from essential conservative principles.
I said we had lost our way. But I believed we could get back on course – would get back on course. We could make the corrections. We needed only to keep our eye on True North — our core principles of limited government and traditional moral values.
I believed that we were off course not because we’d abandoned these principles, or forgotten the shining city on the hill. We’d simply made honest, but flawed calculations on how to get there.
I no longer believe that.
It’s one thing to drift off course…
It’s quite another thing to continue that course when half the crew and passengers are pointing out that nothing looks familiar … not to mention the tens of millions of Americans lining the shoreline screaming, "You’re going the wrong way!"
In short, we’re no longer adrift. We might’ve been when we started but now "off course" is the accepted course.
The evidence for this is overwhelming … while President Bush has called for increases in non-defense spending of 4 percent for the last five years, Congress has delivered budgets spending more than twice that each year … Congress has spent $380 billion more than the President requested under Republican control.
Whether it’s called "compassionate conservatism" or "big government republicanism," after years of record increases in federal spending, more government is now the accepted Republican philosophy in Washington.
We are in danger of becoming the party of Big Government. And for the sake of our party and for the sake of the nation we must say, here and now, to all who would lead us in this new century, "the era of big Republican government is over!"
When I think of the state of our movement in Washington … it reminds me of a story:
There was this construction worker, Mac, who’d bring his neatly and lovingly packed lunch to work each day. Mac would sit down with his buddies, open the brown paper sack and pull out a cheeseburger, chocolate cake and peanut butter cookies. Without fail, he’d look at his fellow workers and complain, "I can’t believe it! A cheeseburger, cake and cookies again! How am I ever going to lose weight?!"
After about a month of hearing him complain about the burger, cake and cookies, one of his buddies finally said, "Come on Mac! If you’re so concerned about your weight, just ask your wife to send you off with something different."
To which the Mac replied, "What you talkin’ about? I pack my own lunch!"
Remind you of anybody we know?
The key question to remember is: who’s in control here?
Congress might ask itself the same question. We control the spending and the process … and we wonder how the things got to such a state?
And it’s not like we haven’t made important course corrections in many significant areas. There can be no diminishing those accomplishments.
Think about it, under Republican control:
We’ve dismantled and scattered the network of terrorists within our United States.
We’ve liberated nations from oppressive, murderous regimes and the American soldier has brought the promise of democracy and freedom to millions who have never known it.
We’ve cut taxes again and again.
President Bush has put the brakes on leftist, activist courts with his sound appointments, including two strict constructionist justices to the Supreme Court of the United States.
We’ve stopped the horror of partial-birth abortions.
But what of those other promises central to our nation’s values and liberty? The promises that said, "We’ll cut spending. We’ll rein in big government. We’ll restore ethics and honesty to government."
On these promises? All sizzle and no steak. The ship’s galley just keeps sending up giant pu-pu platters of pork, platitudes, promises and never-ending pleas for patience to the passengers on the deck.
"We’re working on it," Congress tells them. "But in the meantime, we’ve got to get re-elected so that we can get this ship back on course to cut spending, rein in big government, and restore ethics and honesty. We can’t do it without a majority."
Former Majority Leader Dick Armey said it best, "we do the things we ought not do, so we can be reelected to do the things we ought to do and never get around to doing"
We are not, as a party, bereft of ideas – we are bereft of will — the will to even consider ideas that might touch on the sacred cows of federal spending…
Too little discipline. Too many compromises. Too little resolve.
Americans have a right to be scratching their heads.
And for the past six years, we have had no excuse for the outrageous growth in the size and scope of government.
Six years is enough.
If we are still on the wrong course, it is because we choose to be-either because we truly do not see the urgency of course correction or we lack the will to bring it about.
And the American people get it. It’s the politicians who don’t.
The American people see a disconnect between what we’ve been saying and what we’ve been doing.
Far too many of those things we said we’d do if we got control remain undone.
There is no escaping the fact that many of the things we have done look more like the work of a Democrat majority. Like:
l The first new entitlement in 40 years;
l National testing and a 50 percent increase in the federal department of education;
l Record deficits, and;
l An $8 trillion national debt
Not to mention a pork barrel culture that saw more than 15,000 earmarks, including public funding for an indoor rainforest in Iowa, a weather center for Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, and, of course, a Bridge to Nowhere.
Our ship is running out of fuel, our crew is running out of patience, and we are running out of time.
Every day, we sail further into the dangerous waters of Big Government Republicanism … perilous straits for a society built on personal responsibility and freedom. We risk finding ourselves past the point of no return on the Road to Serfdom.
If we must look over our shoulder to see that shining city on a hill, we are sailing in the wrong direction.
And I know some of you want to abandon ship, head for the lifeboats and let the ship hit the unforgiving reef of the midterm elections.
But anyone who thinks that a Democrat Congress would do any better has (as we say in Indiana) "another think comin!"
In my five years in Congress, despite all their talk about deficits and the national debt, I have never seen the Democrats bring a bill to the floor that wasn’t a lot bigger and a lot more intrusive than what we Republicans were selling.
So the answer is not mutiny.
It’s not time to abandon ship.
It’s time for a major course correction!
We need to stop, set anchor, and reset our heading based on what we know to be true about the nature of government:
l That government that governs least, governs best;
l That as government expands, freedom contracts;
l That government should never do for a man what he can and should do for himself;
l That societies are judged by their treatment of the most vulnerable: the aged, the infirm, and the unborn.
But it’s not enough to know these truths. We need to choose to put them into practice.
Therefore, we have come to another time for choosing.
Our party and many of you — its rising generation of new leaders face an age-old choice:
A choice between the belief in limited government and tradition — and the siren song of the central planner, who says that big government is good government if it’s our government.
The conservative movement is at a crossroads. Are we committed to the ideals of limited government, fiscal discipline and traditional moral values or not?
If we are, we must act accordingly. It is why voters gave us a governing majority.
And make no mistake about it — the time for choosing is at the crossroads.
We once walked the path with heads held high — with energy, hope and determination.
Remember when America walked it together? Twenty-five years ago, when another son of the heartland came east with the ideals of our founders, we walked into our future of liberty, prosperity, security, and values.
It is as if Ronald Reagan’s 1975 address to CPAC was meant for us today. He said, "A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers."
He said in that speech over 30 years ago, "I do not believe I have proposed anything that is contrary to what has been considered Republican principle. It is at the same time the very basis of conservatism. It is time to reassert that principle and raise it to full view. And if there are those who cannot subscribe to these principles, then let them go their way."
President Reagan described the path that led to morning, the shining city on the hill and a national majority.
And it will still lead us there.
We will find our way to Morning in America. But first, we must go back to the future-back to doing the hard thing because it’s the right thing
And there are signs that we are doing just that … signs that our party is beginning to rekindle our commitment to limited government and reform.
Let me tell you how:
2005 will be remembered as a year of good intentions, bad disasters and promises kept. Congress, early last year, adopted the toughest budget since the Reagan years and under the leadership of the Appropriations Committee reported one bill after another on time and on budget.
And then came Katrina … 90,000 square miles of our Gulf Coast destroyed and $60 billion appropriated in just six days.
Now back in Indiana, when a tree falls on your house…first you tend to the wounded, then you start the cleanup, then you sit down and figure out how you are going to pay for it … but not in Washington D.C.!
After the storm, many in Congress thought that fiscal discipline was the last thing that Congress should be thinking about … preferring to raise taxes or increase the national debt instead of making tough choices.
But not House conservatives.
Seeing that a catastrophe of nature could become a catastrophe of debt, dozens of conservative leaders in Congress challenged our colleagues to offset the cost of Hurricane Katrina with budget cuts. We called it "Operation Offset" … And I will always believe that our efforts sparked a national debate that galvanized into fiscal discipline.
The American people wanted Washington to pay for Katrina with budget cuts, and Washington got the message.
In direct response to the call for cuts, Speaker Dennis Hastert unveiled a plan which would cut spending in every area of the federal budget.
And just last Wednesday, I joined the President at the White House as he signed the first Deficit Reduction Act since 1997, saving taxpayers nearly 40 billion dollars.
A real vote with real results.
Suddenly, we didn’t just say the hard things, but for the first time in a long time we did them … and it really wasn’t even all that hard.
You see, the conventional wisdom – which is a Washington term; back in Indiana they use the term "excuse" – the conventional wisdom is that these things are just so complex, just so involved, that nothing can simply "just get done."
Yes, a lot of these issues are complex. Yes, they’re involved. But so is electricity. You don’t have to be Thomas Edison to turn out the light at night. Anyone with a lick of common sense and initiative can pull a plug.
And you don’t have to be a genius to turn out the lights on big government or to pull the plug on wasteful government spending!
This is just a start — a small step down the road toward fiscal discipline. But for Americans troubled by a rising tide of red ink here in Washington D.C., 2006 begins with reason for optimism, as this Congress begins to make tough choices in tough times to put our fiscal house in order.
There’s also reason for optimism as we see this Congress rekindle our commitment to honest and open government in Washington DC
The headlines announcing one scandal after another have eroded public confidence in our commitment to government of the highest moral caliber.
I am here to tell you that even as we speak, Congress is preparing to fight for ethics reform, not because such scandals hurt our party, but because they hurt the nation. The Bible says "Righteousness exalts a nation," so the converse must also be true. The scandals, which have beset our national government in recent days have grieved the heart of the American people.
And while we must reform the rules, install more, tighten the process, understand this: such tinkering does not substitute for genuine restoration of honesty and integrity to our halls of leadership.
There is a legitimate role in deterrence.
But compelled ethics is an oxymoron and a poor substitute for real integrity.
True servants of the people do not need to be compelled to keep their hand out of the cookie jar.
For all others, we can only make it harder to play the system and easier to catch them.
But as we reform our rules of ethics, we will do so with the understanding that these are but symptoms of the core problem.
The real scandal in Washington D.C. is runaway government spending.
Fiscal integrity and moral integrity are inseparable issues. You can’t complain about the sharks while you’re holding a bucket of chum.
So it’s not enough to change the way lobbyists spend their money. We must change the way Congress spends the people’s money.
Only by marrying budget reform and ethical reform can we restore the confidence of the American people in the fiscal and moral integrity of our national government.
So on fiscal responsibility and reform, there are signs that our ship is turning.
And while fiscal and ethical renewal will not be easy, I’m puzzled by those who say it will take courage to make these changes.
Perhaps they confuse courage with will. It takes no courage to cast a vote or speak from the well of the House of Representatives. There are no grenade launchers or snipers in the visitors’ balcony.
Let me tell you about courage. Twice I had the privilege of visiting Iraq with our brave American soldiers – men and women who chose to leave the comforts of their home, put their lives on hold and on the line, in the fight for liberty.
Sadly, there are faces I was never privileged to see. Men and women from my district whose hands I will never have the honor of shaking on this side of eternity.
Let me tell you about one of them.
Raymond White grew up in Elwood Indiana, a small town in my district. This red-headed Boy Scout "always had a smile on his face," was upbeat and a young man of faith … he carried pocket-sized King James Bible everywhere he went and had what his folks called an "others first" attitude from early on.
Ray was still in his teens when our nation was attacked on 9-11.
As the nation watched in horror the images on TV, and as smoke billowed from the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, there came for this 6’4" Hoosier a personal time for choosing.
Ray told his father, "Dad, I have a higher calling, and I’ve got to go serve my country." He joined the Army, and was eventually deployed to Baghdad.
Ray did have a higher calling.
On November 12, 2004, there came for Ray another time for choosing. His convoy came under fire in an ambush. There was no time to think. No time to weigh options. In an instant, in a single moment of decision, Ray chose life. Not his own, but his friends’.
Instead of taking cover, he provided it for his fellow soldiers to evacuate to the trenches. He stood at the gun turret mounted on his Humvee and returned fire, fending off the assault until everyone was safe. His Dad, Hank described it this way, "In the final few moments of his life, the best of him came out. He had a job to do and he did it to the very bitter end."
Raymond White was 22 when the Lord called him home. Because of his heroism, there were no other casualties. "No greater love hath man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends."
If it ever crosses my mind to think my job is hard … when I’m tired and weary of the battle on Capitol Hill, this is what sets me straight.
Most of our men and women in the armed forces are less than half the age of most members of Congress, yet possessed of a timeless wisdom, strength, and commitment to freedom that shall survive to inspire generations.
They fight and die for the cause of liberty. Surely we can muster the will to cast a vote for it.
Their courage is not shaken by the whine of a bullet. Shall Republicans cower at the whine of liberal democrats or special interests?
Surely we can face mere objection and bureaucracy in the cause of liberty. I believe we can … and I believe we will.
Plutarch said millennia ago, "The real destroyer of the liberties of the people, is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits."
The destroyers of liberty, whether they are butchers and tyrants, or the false prophets of socialism, do not fall meekly. They cling to power as stubbornly as Saddam’s statue clung to its base in the square of Baghdad.
But I am confident, for they are no match for the spirit of liberty, for the will of the American people, and the resolve of millions with their eye on True North. People like you, here at CPAC, the future of our country, whose passion for freedom strengthens our will to right the course of our party’s wayward ship.
It is you who will steer our ship toward Morning in America and to that shining city on the hill.
If there were not cause for hope, you would not be here today. Each of you has chosen to stay and fight for this country’s future, its course, and its place in history, as a defender of freedom and a beacon to all nations.
You have chosen to stand against the defeatists and the preachers of inevitability. Each of you is armed with unique strengths, talents and skills, but most of all, conviction — the strength of knowing that our cause is just and our cause is right. And that the American cause is mankind’s cause for it is in the hearts of all people to be free.
Thank you for your love of liberty, your love for this country and your evident love of our God who watches over this nation that He placed on these, our wilderness shores.
Our founders understood, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty."
Let us appeal to the Author and Finisher of our faith that He might grant us wisdom in the choices to come. And may He bless us with energy, optimism, hope and resolve as we once again set sail to a renewed era of limited government and liberty … as we set sail to morning in America.
May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.