Redeeming the Dream

The following remarks were delivered by Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) at the CPAC 2007 Ronald Reagan Banquet Friday, March 2, 2007.

Fellow conservatives and friends, it’s a pleasure to be with you tonight at this Ronald Reagan Banquet.  I see so many who’ve served our cause for so many years.  David Keene and so many others.  You deserve our gratitude and admiration. It is an honor to be with you.

Three years ago at this conference I likened our party to a tall ship at sea that had drifted off course.  Last year, I said our ship was not just off course but set on a deliberate course heading into the dangerous and uncharted waters of big government republicanism.
Tonight, I have the duty to report that’s no longer the case.  We’re no longer off course.  We’ve run aground.  

Six years without a course correction was simply too much.

And I suspect that three years with the ship analogy is too.  So I’ll retire the old girl and the maritime allusions.  Though it is tempting to suggest our party scrape a few barnacles off the hull!
It’s also tempting to be cranky at a time like this.

I feel a little bit like a farmer in a story Ronald Reagan used to love to tell.  A farmer was driving his horse and wagon to town with a load of grain when he had a head-on collision with an automobile.  He was lying there seriously injured.

Later things followed the usual legal procedure with the insurance company and all.  The farmer was on the stand and the lawyer asked him, "When you were lying there at the scene of the accident, didn’t someone come up to you and ask you how you were feeling and didn’t you answer you never felt better in your life?"  

The farmer responded, "Well, yes, I guess I remember that happened."  

And later on redirect, another lawyer asked him, "What were the circumstances when you gave that answer?"

The farmer replied, "Well, I was lying there and a car came up and a deputy sheriff got out.  My horse was neighing with pain and kicking with two broken legs.  The deputy sheriff put the gun in his ear and put the horse out of his misery.  My dog had a broken back and was whining with pain and he went over and did the same thing to the dog. Then he came over to me and said, ‘And how are you feelin’?’"

After Election Day 2006, let me be clear, I never felt better in my life!

Actually, we might do well to take our cue from the namesake of this dinner.  His philosophy for dealing with mistakes was to face facts, take your knocks, learn your lessons, and move on.

We took the knocks in 2006.  So what are the lessons?  Democrats would have us believe that this election was all about the war in Iraq and a culture of corruption in Washington.  Some in our party would have us believe that too.

But I believe those excuses mask a much larger issue.
Our party lost its majority because it didn’t take care of its underlying health.  It continued to ignore the warning signs of the consequences of reckless behavior:  the freewheeling spending, ever-expanding government programs, the blind eye to social decay and personal ethical lapses. They finally took their toll.

Mark Helprin wrote, "The way out of the wilderness is the truth; recognizing it, stating it, defending it, living by it."

Here’s the truth:  
We didn’t lose because of the war or scandals. The real scandal in Washington, D.C. was runaway spending under Republican control.

This was not in the Contract with America.

Our opponents will say that the American people rejected our Republican vision.  I say the American people didn’t quit on the Contract with America, their leaders did.
Republicans did not lose this last election because America wanted liberalism.  We did not lose because voters wanted less defense, more spending, more  bureaucracy, more taxes, more abortion and gay marriage.

We lost because we did not govern as advertised.  We did not live up to our promises of limited government, fiscal conservatism and traditional moral values.

You know how, sometimes, when you don’t take care of yourself, don’t do the right things, that your body finds drastic ways to get your attention?

You keep forging ahead, ignoring the warning signs, thinking you can get away without tending to the basics.  Then suddenly, your body revolts.  "Okay, that’s it.  Enough of this abuse.   You didn’t listen to me before, but you’re going to listen to me now."

And this time you do.  Because now you have no choice. You just got knocked on your keister with what feels like a 2-by-4.

If you’re lucky, it’s something non-lethal, like the flu.  It only feels fatal.  Nature’s way of saying, "Stop what you’re doing. Now."

Three months ago, the Republican Party got hit with the political version of this 2-by-4:  The midterm elections.

The lesson was harsh.  It was painful.  But it’s nowhere near fatal. And, in its own way, it’s downright encouraging.
Because in it, we have proof that Americans still value what they always have:  People who mean what they say and say what they mean.

Americans are a tolerant people.  But they will not tolerate empty promises.  And they will not embrace continued abuse of their trust.

So, we are where we are.  What do we do next?

To win back our right to govern, I say we must do so on the merit of our ideas.  On our principles.  And the consistency of our actions.

We must win back America’s heart.

But first, we must take heart.


Courage is the key. Courage is our watchword.

C.S. Lewis said, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point."

Courage then is the answer — not recrimination and retreat.  Neither in the battle to defend American values or the war on terrorism.

We are at a moment when the leaders of this movement must take a stand.

Our brave men and women in uniform exhibit courage every day.  If we cannot muster the courage to fight on the battlefield of words and ideas, we don’t deserve to lead them.

By our words and deeds, let us show them that courage still exists in Congress and in the conservative movement in America.

Our political opponents and our nation’s enemies are hoping that we don’t find that courage.  In fact, they’re counting on it.  They’d love nothing more than for conservatives to indulge in a non-stop pity party.  A two-year finger-pointing fest.  Nothing productive.  Nothing courageous.  Just hand wringing and I-told-you-so’s.
Picking one another apart because of differences on issues not central to the conservative cause is a great help to our liberal opponents.

But a circular firing squad will not get us over the next hill!

I’ve got a better idea…let’s unite this movement and go win some elections!

Lets get up off the couch, rediscover the courage of our convictions and take on the big government liberal agenda of the Democrat Congress every day!

Because now it’s the liberals’ turn.

The liberals will now have to deliver.  The conservative rhetoric they adopted for the election now comes due.

America will hold them to their promises.  Promises like respecting traditional values, fiscal discipline and "fixing" the war.

The new Democrat Congress is already busy breaking those promises and that is nowhere more evident than in the fight for life at home and the fight for liberty in Iraq.

Before the paint was dry on the sign on Speaker Pelosi’s office, Democrats had already begun to retreat on the values agenda that won them so many conservative seats in Congress.
Having promised voters more respect for pro-life candidates and values, Democrats in Congress wasted little time trampling the right to life.  In the first 100 hours, they passed legislation that would take the taxpayer dollars of millions of pro-life Americans and use them to fund morally objectionable research.

Now, I know that some say you can be a conservative and support abortion.  Others prefer to only say they advocate a "culture of life."  Let me speak plainly:

I am pro-life and I don’t apologize for it!

The sanctity of human life is the centerpiece of western civilization.

Ronald Reagan famously said, "we cannot diminish the value of one category of human life-the unborn-without diminishing the value of all human life."

To millions who cherish life, these are discouraging times.

But take heart, conservatives.  While the abortion movement may be gathering strength in this city of compromise, Washington, D.C. is the only place in America where life is losing.

In big cities and small towns, American women are listening and learning.  In the quiet counsels between mothers and daughters, and sisters and friends, the truth about abortion is being told. Young women are being warned.

Every day, every hour, compassion is overcoming convenience.  Life is defeating despair and hope is vanquishing a lifetime of regret.

Life may be losing in Washington, D.C., but life is winning in America.

As in the battle for life, Democrats are beating a fast retreat from their campaign rhetoric on Iraq.  While their candidates spoke of phased redeployments, we are already seeing the bait and switch.

Their cut-and-run plan, which they so mightily denounced as a Republican smear during the campaign is now revealed as-surprise-cut-and-run.

For all the Democrats’ furtive, back-room efforts and tortured explanations of their plan, it’s not nearly as complex as they make out.

The Democrat plan to fix the war is simple, straightforward, efficient.  It’s a strategy based on just eleven words written by George Orwell:

"The quickest way to end a war is to lose it."

What Orwell said in irony, the Democrat majority puts forth as policy.

Defeatism is not our way and it is not the American way.  Never has been.  Never will be.

With their plan to lose the war, to quit on freedom in Iraq, Democrats have determined to measure their success in failure.

Over and over the media tells us America is tired of the war-as if attention span is a legitimate measure.
Yes, America is tired.  It’s tired of what we’re being told about this war.  It’s tired of the incessant negativity.  Tired of the constant coverage of every roadside bomb while excluding mention of any of the many positive stories.

And it’s tired of the deliberate grinding down of our will and our spirit.

No, Americans don’t like this war.  Americans don’t like any war.  But they hate tyranny and oppression even more.

The media and the Democrats may be tired of this war, but America is not tired of this cause.

The American people want our troops to come home but they want us to win and come home.

In all my trips to visit our soldiers in Iraq, I’ve never met a soldier who didn’t believe in the mission.  I’ve never failed to be inspired by their professionalism and bravery.

Today, Democrats say they "support" our troops even as they prepare to choke off funds for essential training and supplies.  They support our soldiers but send out surrogates on air and in print to attack their actions and motives.  They say they support our troops even while announcing to the enemy dates-certain for withdrawal.  
And what if they’re wrong?  What if President Bush’s new strategy in Iraq, our soldiers in the field and the Iraqi military succeed?  What will my friends in the other party say about their opposition to the troop surge then?


Democrats in Congress would do well to remember that the American people don’t like losers, but they like quitters even less.   
The truth is we must fight and win a victory for freedom in Iraq.  We have no option but victory.  In their hearts, the American people know this, and the American people are willing to make the hard choices to choose victory.
The time has come for conservatives to declare, once and for all, victory is our national policy in Iraq.
On liberty abroad and life at home, my friends, by 2008 the American people will be more than ready to deliver their verdict to the liberals in Congress.

Conservatives can win in 2008!

But winning takes the right ideas, the right players and a lot of heart.

Just ask the Indianapolis Colts.  You just knew I had to get that in, didn’t you?

It’s not always the big play.  Victory is sometimes measured in inches.

As conservatives, we need to remember that.

Conservatives measure success by incremental gains in life, liberty and security.  The liberals, by advancing abortion on demand, bureaucracy and retreat.

These are stark, clear differences.  Our job now is to help the American people see them and regain their trust.

How do we do that?

The late Russell Kirk offered advice for this rising generation.

"Redeem the time," he said.  "Redeem the dream — in ways mundane as well as ways spiritual.

"Begin by brightening the corner where you are.  By improving ….yourself, and helping your neighbor.

"You will not need to be rich or famous to take your part in redeeming the time:  what you need for that task is moral imagination joined to right reason."

"Moral imagination joined to right reason."  What a concise definition of conservatism.  And the perfect guideline for success in things great and small.

With each corner we brighten, one more brick falls from the foundation of liberal rationale for big government programs, social engineering and bureaucracies.

With each corner we brighten, the institutions of failure, dependency and mediocrity crumble bit by bit.

While the Democrats issue non-binding resolutions aimed at defeat, I suggest that tonight we make our own very binding resolutions aimed squarely at winning back the confidence of the American people.

As I close, I invite you to consider embracing a few simple resolutions designed to redeem the dream of conservative governance in Washington.

These resolutions are for all conservatives.  They are not about specific bills or amendments or policy initiatives.  They are not about grand strategies to retake the House.  They are simple commitments for you to consider as we renew our movement in the service of this nation.

And yes, they are binding.  I want you to hold me to them.  And I’ll return the favor.

Number One:

Let’s resolve to be happy warriors.  I’ve often said, "I’m a conservative, but I’m not in a bad mood about it."  True conservatives accept defeat cordially and cheerfully return to the battle.  Let’s reflect the great joy of free people and squander not one minute licking our wounds.  No whining.  No complaining.  Just the courage and optimism worthy of our cause.

Number Two:

Let’s resolve to remain faithful to the ideals of our Founders, embracing the principles of limited government enshrined in the Constitution.  Let’s ignore the polls and pundits and the promise of electoral success where they stray from conservative values and know that every time the nation failed to embrace these timeless principles, it has been a failure of leadership and not this great people.

Number Three:
Let’s resolve to keep believing in the American people and to keep believing the American people are on our side.  Let’s renew our unshakeable belief in their enduring goodness, wisdom and selflessness.  To know that the values espoused by Washington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Reagan were the values of the American people and they still are today.

Number Four:

Let’s resolve to always remember that this is one nation under God.  That in all history, America is unique, rich with a purpose yet to be fulfilled.  Let’s keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who is also the Author and Perfecter of this miracle of democracy.

Let’s make these binding resolutions, subject to no veto except that of a flagging heart.

Beginning right here and right now, let us renew our faith in the American people, the ideals of our Founders, the power of optimism and the God of our fathers.

In a word, let us reflect the character of the man for whom this dinner is named.

If Ronald Reagan were here tonight, standing right here at CPAC as he did more than a dozen times, I think he’d look out at all of you during these challenging times, he would see the determination on your faces and he would be very proud.  But he would not be surprised.

And he just might say, as he did not so long ago, that the key to overcoming "…does require, however, our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together, with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.  After all, why shouldn’t we believe that?  We are Americans."

God bless you, and thank you.