Last week, I had the pleasure of addressing the Senate-House Annual Republican Dinner. The MC for the evening was actor Jon Voight. Before he spoke, a video tribute for Voight was shown, including clips of him playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a movie.
In one scene, Roosevelt is being told by his generals and advisors all the reasons why achieving victory in World War II was too hard.
In response, Voight — playing Roosevelt, who, remember, was confined to a wheelchair due to polio — dramatically lifts himself up using the table and stabilizes himself on his non-functioning legs. He then stares down every shocked person in the room and says:
“Don’t tell me it can’t be done.”
It occurred to me, sitting in the audience preparing to speak, that those seven words — “Don’t tell me it can’t be done” — should be the rallying cry for all Republicans (not to mention all Independents and Democrats who want a better future for America — more on this idea later).
I decided to make it the theme of my speech that night. Why? Because history shows us that it can be done.
America has been here before.
1964, 1977 and 1993 — in each of these years Republicans were gleefully pronounced dead by the news media. But in each case, they came back.
On Inauguration Day 1977, Carter’s Popularity Was Higher Than Obama’s
1964 was followed by 1965, in which Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California. Two years later we began a 40-year period in which no overt liberal won the presidency.
In 1977, Jimmy Carter’s popularity on inauguration day was higher than Barack Obama’s. But in 1980, Ronald Reagan won a decisive victory and changed the course of America.
In 1993, they said Bill Clinton was creating a new, stronger Democratic Party.
In 1994, the Democratic Party suffered its worst defeat in 40 years.
So don’t tell me it can’t be done.
“My Fellow Republicans… and Independents and Democrats Looking for a Better Future”
History also shows us this:
Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 and 1984 by appealing, not just to Republicans, but to independents and unhappy Democrats as well. In fact, it’s hard to find a Reagan speech in which he doesn’t speak to “my fellow Republicans, and those independents and Democrats who are looking for a better future.”
Like Reagan, we have to be inclusive, not exclusive. I’m happy Dick Cheney is a Republican. And I’m happy Colin Powell is a Republican
But here’s the key: Being inclusive doesn’t mean going wobbly. It doesn’t mean abandoning our principles.
Key to Winning the Majority? Returning to First Principles
Reagan called them “first principles.” They are our bedrock beliefs. And in a center-right nation, they are the touchstones that will guide us back into the majority.
Today I’m going to discuss some of these first principles and how they should guide us in the years ahead.
We Must Strengthen Our Unique American Civilization
If you go to the National Archives, you will find the words that are fundamental to America written in the Declaration of Independence.
All men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These words make us unique. We are the only country in history that says, “your personal rights come from God directly to you, the individual, and you loan the government sovereignty.”
That means if we truly believe that each of us is endowed by our creator with rights, then we have a deep moral obligation to save the unborn. It also means we have a deep moral obligation to care for them after they have been born.
That means that when judges like Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor judge Americans by their ethnicity or their gender, it’s wrong.
It also means that rationing health care is wrong. No government bureaucrat has the right to take from you the rights that God gave you. Rationing health care is inevitably limiting your life at the whim of a bureaucrat and at the manipulation of a politician.
Individual Rights and Individual Responsibilities Are At the Heart of the American System
This commitment to the principle of the sovereignty of the individual can guide us in profound ways in the coming months and years.
It means that we must have judges who understand that an America that has driven God from the public square will no longer be the America that has extended freedom and prosperity for 400 years.
It means understanding that individual rights and responsibilities are at the heart of our system, that there are no quotas and no group identities in the American system.
And it means understanding that at Jamestown, our first permanent settlement, they established the principle “if you will not work you will not eat” — not for the poor but for the aristocrats who thought they could buy their way out of work. The work ethic was at the heart of our welfare reform in 1996. It is the most successful conservative reform in modern times.
We Must Defend America Against Our Enemies
More than any other of its responsibilities, government’s highest priority must be to defend America against those who would do us harm.
Tragically, under the Obama Administration, we have fallen back into the utopian fantasies and self deception of the 1977 Carter Administration and the 1993 Clinton Administration. Again and again the legalisms and self deceptions of treating enemies as criminals under these administrations led to more and more disastrous results.
Today, many of the same civil libertarians who believe terrorists deserve Miranda warnings and civilian trials are in the Obama Justice Department. It’s amazing how many of them come from law firms which were eagerly giving pro bono representation to alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.
By 3-to-1, Americans Believe We Are Safer with Terrorists at Guantanamo Bay
But Americans know better than to accept utopianism and self-deception in our national security policy. Nowhere was this more clear than in the contrast between President Obama’s and former Vice President Cheney’s back-to-back speeches on Guantanamo Bay a few weeks ago.
Vice President Cheney had a fairly simple message: The reason we have Guantanamo Bay is that we have people there who want to kill us. They are called terrorists. It’s good not to have terrorists anywhere near us because it makes it harder for them to kill us.
President Obama, on the other hand, used his considerable oratorical gifts to hide from these fundamental facts. He spoke a lot of words that meant very little and managed to convey the impression that he didn’t understand the nature of the men being detained at Guantanamo.
The average American listened to Vice President Cheney and President Obama and understood that one speaker got it and the other one didn’t. By 3-to-1, the American people believe that we are safer with prisoners in Guantanamo Bay than in America.
Economic Freedom Leads to Jobs and Prosperity
Another first principle we must keep in mind while building a center-right majority is that economic freedom is necessary to building a productive America with the best jobs and greatest prosperity in the world.
Here our first principles are particularly clear about the disastrous path our country is on:
We will not have new jobs when bureaucrats micromanage companies.
We will not have prosperity when politicians dominate the economy.
Barney Frank and Chris Dodd are not substitutes for a sound market economy. And Tim Geithner and Larry Summers are not replacements for Warren Buffet and Bill Gates
We Will Not Have Prosperity When Politicians Dominate the Economy
So how do we get back to economic growth? Here, as well, our first principles lead the way:
High taxes kill jobs and growth. Low taxes encourage jobs and growth
Instead of spending $787 billion to reward Democratic interest groups, an effective economic stimulus would get the money to the people that work and the businesses that hire them in the form of lower taxes.
• If we had a two-year, 50% reduction in the Social Security and Medicare tax for both the employee and the employer, we would have an extraordinary explosion of small business.
• If we want to compete with China for jobs, we should match the Chinese on capital gains. Their rate is zero.
• If we want to compete for profitable businesses creating good jobs, we should adopt the Irish tax rate of 12.5 percent for corporations.
• If we want to build up capital for investments permanently, we should abolish the death tax.
For American Jobs and Prosperity We Need an American Energy Policy
Beyond tax policy, for American jobs and prosperity we need an American energy policy.
We need a policy that emphasizes the energy we have in America — from coal and natural gas to wind and solar — and recognizes that the problem isn’t a lack of resources or innovation. The problem is government.
America is the Saudi Arabia of coal and the global leader in technical and scientific innovation. But both these advantages are weakened by government policies that favor imports over American energy.
If We Are Endowed by Our Creator with Rights, Then Every Child Deserves to Learn
We also need to educate our children in order to have future jobs and prosperity.
Now is a time to be bold. If we truly believe that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, then every child deserves to learn.
We should take President Obama up on his commitment to unlimited charter schools. And we should go much further.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander supports giving low income kids the chance to go to a better school through a proposal called Pell Grants for Kids. We should welcome the debate about why Pell Grants are good for after 12, but not good for K-12.
“We Carry the Message They Are Waiting For”
At the 1976 Republican convention, having lost the nomination for president, Ronald Reagan was invited by President Ford to say a few words.
This is how he closed:
“Better than we have ever done before, we have got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world that we may be fewer in numbers than we have ever been, but we carry the message they are waiting for.”
Reagan’s advice is as good today as it was in 1976.
We believe in individual human freedom.
We believe in protecting American civilization.
We believe that the future of America is one of prosperity for our children and grandchildren.
Millions of Americans share these beliefs. They’re ready to hear our message.
Don’t tell me it can’t be done.
[Today’s newsletter was based on my speech to the Senate-House Annual Dinner. You can watch and read the entire speech at www.newt.org.]
Newt’s Quick Links
• The federal government today spends nearly 400 times more on the treatment and care of Americans with diabetes than it does on programs to prevent diabetes. This is grossly misdirected spending.
At the Center for Health Transformation, we believe that preventative medicine not only saves lives, its saves money. The National Changing Diabetes Program agrees, and is calling on Congress and the Obama Administration to create a National Diabetes Coordinator to develop and implement a national strategy to prevent and intelligently manage diabetes in America.
• I was a little surprised to see that President Obama quoted me in his health care speech Monday, referencing my frequent use of FedEx as an example of the world that works. He was talking about electronic health records, and you can learn more about the Center’s health information technology initiatives at www.healthtransformation.net.
• And if you haven’t seen it before, here is a video of using the Fed Ex example applied to our immigration challenges.
• The paperback edition of my NY Times bestseller, Real Change, is now on sale. It includes a new introduction on the first months of the Obama Presidency. Buy it here.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter