You know you’re not at a MoveOn.org meeting when “America the Beautiful” blasts through an American flag laden room — rock n’ roll style — and clips of Ronald Reagan smilingly shouting “We the people!” appear on the screen. That’s how the Friday morning session of Americans for Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit began.
Signs posted above sections of the Mayflower’s Grand Ballroom declared the names of the 20 representing state chapters of Americans for Prosperity and the grassroots activists who traveled to Washington DC for the Summit.
A conference of more 1500 people flooded the ballroom for the Friday morning event featuring the most sought-after speakers in the Republican Party — one year before the 2008 election.
The Summit, which began with dinners and press conferences Thursday, relied heavily on Reaganesque economic theories and AFP’s strong stance against government corruption through big-dollar Congressional earmarks and pork barrel spending.
Attendees packed the ballroom for the most eagerly awaited session of the conference, where presidential nominees former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Senator Fred Thompson, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Ron Paul, would each address the audience to remark on the work of AFP and champion the cause of lower taxes and a free market.
Commencing the first “Defending the American Dream Summit”, AFP President Tim Phillips — accompanied by U2’s “Beautiful Day” — came on kicked off the morning applauding Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn as “the best US Senator there is” for his role in building up AFP and telling Phillips several years ago to “take these people [grassroots activists] to Washington.”
Front-running Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani led off the lineup of top speakers, saying he was proud to speak to people dedicated to lower taxes and actually — “dedicated to common sense.” Giuliani lauded his proven experience as a supply-sider saying, “I am the only one running for President that has actually made this work.”
Giuliani quoted stat after stat on his solid crime and economic record as Mayor of New York, adding that “even France is considering tax cuts under Sarkozy,” which prompted a wave of applause and laughter.
Speaking of Hillary Clinton’s healthcare iniatives, Guiliani said, “Bad, socialist ideas never die, they just resurrected.” He also took Republicans to task for their out of control spending habits in the last administration but added that “Republicans are amateur spenders, Democrats are professionals.”
Earmark reform champion Sen. Tom Coburn followed Giuliani, applauded enthusiastically by a loud group of fellow Oklahomans. He thanked the audience “for participating in our country” as grassroots activists and injected the phrase he’s made famous since the 2006 Earmarks Express bus that crossed the country to counter irresponsible pork spending: “earmarks are the gateway drug to overspending.”
A gaggle of Ron Paul supporters crowded the audience — raising a significant noise when the Texas Congressman took the stage. Paul invoked his libertarian-leaning views of government saying that we can “restore the American dream by following the constitution.” He said personal liberties in America “have been neglected” and that “the constitution was written to restrain the government, not the people.” He advocated completely eliminating the income tax, getting rid of the National Bank, and said that many “great nations and empires end because of economic problems.”
GoPac Chairman Michael Steele received a standing ovation as he grabbed the mike and told the audience, “2006 — get over it,” referring to his Senatorial loss to Maryland’s Ben Cardin. He said after growing up in DC with a single mother who “never worked for more than $3.26 an hour, “I learned there was an alternate universe called Capitol Hill.” While his mother — a modestly educated woman — taught him that “thoughtful discipline and hardwork” were the key to success, “why can’t these (mild expletive deleted) on the Hill figure that out?”
“We need a revolution in the attitude of our government officials,” Steele said. “Policies must empower citizens, not government.” He said grassroots activism is the “heart and soul” of achieving economic prosperity and this dream will “move us from sitting at the lunch counter to owning the diner.”
Sidling up to the stage to a full-speakered version of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American,” presidential candidate, pastor and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said, “If Jesus were here, he would have said, ‘blessed are the brief for they shall be invited again.” And he was brief, respecting the seven-minute slot he was allotted.
“Reforming the tax code is not enough…we need to completely scrap it,” Huckabee said. “We need to remove all taxes on productivity.” He advocated a tax code “simple enough that a kid running a lemonade stand could understand it.”
Huckabee said he’d heard that people are now more afraid of being audited than being mugged. “Every transaction in government should be subjected to your scrutiny and sunlight,” he said, adding that there is “something wrong with a system that discourages work and encourages the economy to sit on their hands” in reference to the corrupt welfare system that currently paralyzes parts of the economy.
Following Huckabee was self-defined libertarian ABC News consumer reporter John Stossel. He spoke of his younger, more ignorant self, freshly-schooled at liberal Princeton University where he was taught to criticize the “evil Capitalists” who were “cruel and unfair.” He said over 15 years of consumer reporting and rarely finding any national scams for 20/20 and Good Morning America, he learned that “In a free market system, good companies grow.”
“The unintended consequences of regulation” are not something most people think about, Stossel said. “Thomas Payne didn’t say, ‘give me ultimate safety or give me death.’”
Saving the most anticipated speaker until last left some wondering if Fred Thompson would show up. But after two and a half hours, Thompson appeared at the podium with his wife, Jeri, who stood at his side during the introduction.
Thompson said we are “at a crossroads” right now in the political atmosphere, as a Democratic Congress takes a path “toward the economy of Western Europe” that does not work. He said Congress should live by the same rules as everyone else, not all solutions are found in DC, and that “a government powerful enough to give everything to you is a government powerful enough to take everything away.”
He paraphrased a famous John Wayne line from “The Alamo,” takng the last word in the name of the AFP — prosperity — saying, “’I like the sound of the word,’” in reference to “prosperity.” Gathering up his simple, sound wisdom on leadership in government, Thompson said we need to “keep doin’ the things that work and quit doin’ the things that don’t work.”
Those are words that AFP wants to champion with their message. Transparancy in government works for the people and that is what government is for.