Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday afternoon:
Thank you to Jay and to Scott for those generous introductions. Both these men have made real contributions to our nation. It’s good to be back at CPAC. I can’t think of an audience I’d rather be addressing today.
I spent the weekend in Vancouver. As always, the Olympic Games were inspiring. But in case you didn’t hear the late-breaking news, the gold medal in the downhill was taken away from American Lindsey Vonn. It was determined that President Obama is going downhill faster than she is.
I’m not telling you something you don’t know when I say that our conservative movement took a real hit in the 2008 elections. The victors were not exactly gracious in their big win: Media legs were tingling. Time Magazine’s cover pictured the Republican elephant and declared it an endangered species. The new president himself promised change of biblical proportion. And given his filibuster-proof Senate and lopsided House, he had everything he needed to deliver it.
They won, we lost. But you know, you learn a lot about people when you see how they react to losing. We didn’t serve up excuses or blame our fellow citizens. Instead, we listened to the American people, we sharpened our thinking and our arguments, we spoke with greater persuasiveness, we took our message to more journals and airwaves, and in the American tradition, some even brought attention to our cause with rallies and Tea parties.
I know that most of you have watched intently as the conservative comeback began in Virginia and exploded onto the scene in New Jersey. But as a Massachusetts man, who, like my fellow Bay-staters, has over the years, been understandably regarded somewhat suspiciously in gatherings like this, let me take just a moment to exalt in a Scott Brown victory!
For that victory that stopped Obamacare and turned back the Reid-Pelosi liberal tide, we have something to that you’d never think you’d hear at CPAC, “Thank you Massachusetts!”
2009 was the President’s turn to suffer losses, and not just at the ballot box, but also in bill after bill in Congress, and most importantly, in his failure to reignite the economy. In how he has responded to these defeats, too, we have learned a great about him and about his team.
He began by claiming that he had not failed at all. Remember the B+ grade he gave himself for his first year? Tell that to the 4 million Americans who lost their jobs last year, and to the millions more who stopped looking. Explain that to the world’s financial markets who gaped at trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. Square that with the absence of any meaningful sanctions against Iran even as it funds terror and races to become a nuclear nation. President Obama’s self-proclaimed B+ will go down in history as the biggest exaggeration since Al Gore’s invention of the internet!
Unable to convince us that his failure was a success, he turned to the second dodge of losing teams: try to pin the blame on someone else. Did you see his State of the Union address? First, he took on the one group in the room that was restrained from responding — the Supreme Court. The President found it inexplicable that the first amendment right of free speech should be guaranteed not just to labor union corporations and media corporations, but equally to all corporations, big and small. When it was all over, I think most Americans felt as I did: his noisy critique and bombast did not register as clear and convincingly as Justice Alito’s silent lips forming these words: “Not true!”
Next he blamed the Republicans in the room, condescending to lecture them on the workings of the budget process, a process many of them had in fact mastered while he was still at Harvard Law School. He blamed Republicans for the gridlock that has blocked his favorite legislation; but he knows as well as we do that he did not need one single solitary Republican vote in either house to pass his legislation. It was Democrats who blocked him, Democrats who said “no” to his liberal agenda after they had been home to their districts and heard from the American people. As Everett Dirksen used to say, “When they felt the heat, they saw the light.” God bless every American who said no!
Of course, the President accuses us of being the party of “no.” It’s as if he thinks that saying “no” is by definition a bad thing. In fact, it is right and praiseworthy to say no to bad things. It is right to say no to cap and trade, no to card check, no to government healthcare, and no to higher taxes. My party should never be a rubber stamp for rubber check spending.
But before we move away from this “no” epithet the Democrats are fond of applying to us, let’s ask the Obama folks why they say “no”– no to a balanced budget, no to reforming entitlements, no to malpractice reform, no to missile defense In Eastern Europe, no to prosecuting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military tribunal, and no to tax cuts that create new jobs. You see, we conservatives don’t have a corner on saying no; we’re just the ones who say it when that’s the right thing to do!
And that leads us to who he has most recently charged with culpability for his failures: the American people. It seems that we have failed to understand his wise plans for us. If he just slows down, he reasons, and makes a concerted effort to explain Obamacare in a way even we can understand, if we just listen better, then we will get it.
Actually, Americans have been listening quite attentively. And they have been watching. When he barred CSPAN from covering the healthcare deliberations, they saw President Obama break his promise of transparency. When the Democrat leadership was empowered to bribe Nebraska’s Senator Nelson, they saw President Obama break his promise of a new kind of politics in Washington. And when he cut a special and certainly unconstitutional healthcare deal with the unions, they saw him not just break his promise, they saw the most blatant and reprehensible manifestation of political payoff in modern memory. No, Mr. President, the American people didn’t hear and see too little, they saw too much!
Here again, with all due respect, President Obama fails to understand America. He said: “With all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering, ‘What’s in it for me?’” That’s not at all what they were asking. They were asking: “What’s in it for America?”
America will not endure government run health care, a new and expansive entitlement, an inexplicable and surely vanishing cut in Medicare and an even greater burden of taxes. Americans said no because Obamacare is bad care for America!
When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush. It’s wearing so thin that even the late night shows make fun of it. I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly — he pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9-11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is — a war, and he kept us safe. I respect his silence even in the face of the assaults on his record that come from this administration. But at the same time, I also respect the loyalty and indefatigable defense of truth that comes from our “I don’t give a damn” Vice President Dick Cheney!
I’m afraid that after all the finger pointing is finished, it has become clear who is responsible for President Obama’s lost year, the 10% unemployment year — President Obama and his fellow Democrats. So when it comes to pinning blame, pin the tail on the donkeys.
There’s a good deal of conjecture about the cause of President Obama’s failures. As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency at a difficult time. That’s the reason we argued during the campaign that these were not the times for on the job training. Had he or his advisors spent even a few years in the real economy, they would have learned that the number one cause of failure in the private sector is lack of focus, and that the first rule of turning around any troubled enterprise is focus, focus, focus. And so, when he assumed the presidency, his energy should have been focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs, and to succeeding in our fight against radical violent jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he applied his time and political capital to his ill-conceived health care takeover and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.
But there was an even bigger problem than lack of focus. Ronald Reagan used to say this about liberals: “It’s not that they’re ignorant, it’s that what they know is wrong.” Too often, when it came to what President Obama knew, he was wrong.
He correctly acknowledged that the government doesn’t create jobs, that only the private sector can do that. He said that the government can create the conditions, the environment, which leads the private sector to add employment. But consider not what he said, but what he did last year, and ask whether it helped or hurt the environment for investment, growth, and new jobs.
Announcing 2011 tax increases for individuals and businesses and for capital gains, hurt.
Passing cap and trade, hurt.
Giving trial lawyers a free pass, hurt.
Proposing card check to eliminate secret ballots in union elections, hurt.
Holding on to GM stock and insisting on calling the shots there, hurt.
Making a grab for health care, almost 1/5th of our economy, hurt.
Budgeting government deficits in the trillions, hurt.
And scapegoating and demonizing businesspeople, hurt.
President Obama instituted the most anti-growth, anti-investment, anti-jobs measures we’ve seen in our lifetimes. He called his agenda ambitious. I call it reckless. He scared employers, so jobs were scarce. His nearly trillion dollar stimulus created not one net new job in the private sector, but it saved and grew jobs in the government sector– the one place we should have shed jobs. And even today, because he has been unwilling or unable to define the road ahead, uncertainty and lack of predictability permeate the private economy, and prolongs its stall. America is not better off than it was 1.8 trillion dollars ago.
Will the economy and unemployment recover? Of course. Thanks to a vibrant and innovative citizenry, they always do. But this president will not deserve the credit he will undoubtedly claim. He has prolonged the recession, expanded the pain of unemployment, and added to the burden of debt we will leave future generations. President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and their team have failed the American people, and that is why their majority will be out the door. Isn’t it fitting that so many of those who have contempt for the private sector will soon find themselves back in it?
The people of America are looking to conservatives for leadership, and we must not fail them.
Conservatism has had from its inception a vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda. That agenda should have three pillars: strengthen the economy, strengthen our security, and strengthen our families.
We will strengthen the economy by simplifying and lowering taxes, by replacing outmoded regulation with modern, dynamic regulation, by opening markets to American goods, by strengthening our currency and our capital markets, and by investing in research and basic science. Instead of leading the world in how much we borrow, we will make sure that we lead the world in how much we build and create and invest.
We will strengthen our security by building missile defense, restoring our military might, and standing-by and strengthening our intelligence officers. And conservatives believe in providing constitutional rights to our citizens, not to enemy combatants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed!
On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”
Our conservative agenda strengthens our families in part by putting our schools on track to be the best in the world. Because great schools start with great teachers, we will insist on hiring teachers from the top third of college graduates, and we will give better teachers better pay. School accountability, school choice and cyber schools will be priorities. We will put parents and teachers back in charge of education, not the fat cat CEO’s of the teachers unions!
Strong families will have excellent health care. Getting health care coverage for the uninsured should be accomplished at the state level, not a one-size-fits all Pelosi plan. The right way to rein-in health care cost is not by making it more like the Post Office, it’s by making it more like a consumer-driven market. The answer for health care is market incentives not health care by a Godzilla-size government bureaucracy!
When it comes to our role in the world, our conservative agenda hews to the principles that have defined our nation’s foreign policy for over six decades: we will promote and defend the American ideals of political freedom, free enterprise, and human rights. We will stand with our allies, and confront those who threaten peace and destroy liberty.
There’s much more on our positive, intellectually rigorous conservative agenda. Not all of it is popular. But the American people have shown that they are ready for truth to trump hope. The truth is that government is not the solution to all our problems.
This year, I have taken the time to write a book that tells the truth about the challenges our nation faces, and about the conservative solutions needed to overcome them. I have titled it: No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. I’ve set up a booth outside so that you can buy a few hundred copies each. Well, maybe one or two.
Sometimes I wonder whether Washington’s liberal politicians understand the greatness of America. Let me explain why I say that.
At Christmas-time, I was in Wal-Mart to buy some toys for my grandkids. As I waited in the check-out line, I took a good look around the store. I thought to myself of the impact Sam Walton had on his company. Sam Walton was all about good value on everything the customer might want. And so is Wal-Mart: rock bottom prices and tens of thousands of items.
The impact that founders like Sam Walton have on their enterprises is actually quite remarkable. In many ways, Microsoft is a reflection of Bill Gates, just as Apple is of Steve Jobs. Disneyland is a permanent tribute to Walt Disney himself — imaginative and whimsical. Virgin Airlines is as irreverent and edgy as its founder. As you look around you, you see that people shape enterprises, sometimes for many years even after they are gone.
People shape businesses.
People shape countries.
America reflects the values of the people who first landed here, those who founded the nation, those who won our freedom, and those who made America the leader of the world.
America was discovered and settled by pioneers.
Later, the founders launched an entirely new concept of nation, one where the people would be sovereign, not the king, not the state. And this would apply not just to government, but also to the American economy: the individual would pursue his or her happiness in freedom, independent from government dictate. Every American was free to be an inventor, an innovator, a founder. America became the land of opportunity and a nation of pioneers.
We attracted people of pioneering spirit from around the world. They came here for freedom and opportunity, knowing that the cost was incredibly high: leaving behind family and the familiar, learning a new language, often living at first in poverty, sometimes facing prejudice, working long and hard hours.
All of these pioneers built a nation of incomparable prosperity and unrivaled security.
After its founding, our national economy grew thanks to more pioneers — people like Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, William Procter and Robert Wood Johnson, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard and Thomas Watson. These are names we know — but the less well known are just as vital American innovators, and they number in the millions.
That American pioneering spirit is what propelled us to master the industrial age just as today we marshal the information age.
This course for America, chosen by the founders, has been settled for over 200 years. Ours is the creed of the pioneers, the innovators, the strivers who expect no guarantee of success, but ask only to live and work in freedom. This creed is under assault in Washington today. Liberals are convinced that government knows better than the people how to run our businesses, how to choose winning technologies, how to manage health care, how to grow an economy, and how to order our very lives. They want to gain through government takeover what they could never achieve in the competitive economy — power and control over the people of America. If these liberal neo-monarchists succeed, they will kill the very spirit that has built the nation — the innovating, inventing, creating, independent current that runs from coast to coast.
This is the liberal agenda for government. It does not encourage pioneers, inventors and investors — it suffocates them.
In a world where others have lost their liberty by trading it away for the false promises of the state, we choose to hold to our founding principles. We will stop these power-seekers where they stand. We will keep America, America, by retaining its character as the land of opportunity. We welcome the entrepreneur, the inventor, the innovator. We will insist on greatness from every one of our citizens, and rather than apologizing for who we are or for what we have accomplished, we will celebrate our nation’s strength and goodness. American patriots have defeated tyrants, liberated the oppressed, and rescued the afflicted. America’s model of innovation, capitalism and free enterprise has lifted literally billions of the world’s people out of poverty. America has been a force for good like no other in this world, and for that we make no apology.