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The Evening Keynote

Remarks delivered by the chairman of the House Republican Conference at The American Spectator's annual Robert L. Bartley dinner last Thursday evening.

By 11.23.09

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Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Congressman Mike Pence, Chairman of the House Republican Conference, delivered the following remarks last Thursday night at The American Spectator's  Robert L. Bartley Dinner:

(Remarks as delivered)

I stand before you today at an historic moment for the conservative movement and for this great country. The coming weeks and months may well set the course for this nation for a generation and beyond. How we as conservatives respond could well determine whether America retains her place as a beacon of hope in the world, or whether we slip into the abyss that has swallowed much of Europe in an avalanche of Socialism.

While some are prepared to write the obituary on capitalism and conservative values, I believe we are in the midst of a great American awakening. And it is breaking out all across this land, in townhalls and tea parties, coffee shops and church halls, in New Jersey and Virginia, and in the hearts and minds of everyday Americans, who are fed up with runaway federal spending, bailouts and takeovers by both parties and are saying with one voice: enough is enough.

The American people know what makes sense and what doesn't.

On the foreign stage, the American people know that weakness arouses evil. They know that bowing and kowtowing to foreign dictators only diminishes our standing in the world. And they know that standing idly by while the Ayatollahs in Iran crush innocent civilians, clamoring for free elections, is totally inconsistent with our history of standing with those who stand for freedom around the world. Ronald Reagan didn't stand before the Brandenburg Gate and say, "Mr. Gorbachev, that wall is none of our business." The American cause is freedom and in that cause we must never be silent again.

And the American people know that trying terrorists like ordinary criminals puts international public relations ahead of public safety and makes a mockery of American justice. This administration's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts in our civilian criminal courts is the most naïve and dangerous decision I have ever witnessed the United States government make. We should not be granting terrorists their wish to be tried at the scene of the worst enemy attack in American history.

We should not tell terrorists around the world that they have more rights if they kill Americans on our soil than if they kill Americans on the field of battle. The Obama administration must overturn this wrongheaded decision and try these enemy combatants in a military tribunal where they belong.

And on the home front, the American people know we can't borrow and spend and bail our way back to a growing economy. And they know that one bailout after another, and one government takeover after another, will undermine our national character and relegate our national economy to the permanent economic decline.

The freedom to succeed must include the freedom to fail. Even as Ben Bernanke told me this week, capitalism without bankruptcy is like religion without hell.

When you look at the failed Democratic policies on stimulus, cap and trade and healthcare, it looks like their recovery strategy is, "the beatings will continue until morale improves." Democrat policies in Washington, D.C. are taking our economy from bad to worse. The unemployment rate in this country reached a 26-year high, 10.2 percent, the worst since 1983, and the national debt reaches 12 trillion dollars.

And where was President Obama this week? In China visiting our money and being lectured on monetary policy by communist dictators. But seriously, the image is striking: a President of the United States, flying on one more foreign junket, to one more glamorous capital, as our nation continues to struggle in the city and on the farm and unemployment rises to record levels.

To get this administration to focus on creating jobs, maybe the president should spend less time at the Great Wall of China and more time at Wal-Mart!

The American people know what works and what doesn't. We know the time-honored path to recovery is fiscal discipline in Washington, D.C. and fast-acting tax relief for working families, small businesses and family farms. And, to borrow a line from a great American, more and more Americans realize every day that a recession is when your neighbor loses his job, a depression is when you lose your job, and a recovery is when Nancy Pelosi loses her job.

Clearly we've had it. But we see here tonight and at town hall meetings, tea party rallies across this country, and in the march on Washington in Washington, D.C., it is not the orchestrated theater of liberal special interest groups. It's authentic and it's powerful and it's real and it's American. And the American people know this is not just about dollars and cents, it's about who we are as a nation.

That became very clear to me about one year ago this weekend. It was in the aftermath of that Wall Street bailout vote. Along with a majority of House Republicans, I opposed that bailout not once, but twice. I just thought it was wrong to take $700 billion from Main Street and transfer it to Wall Street to pay for the bad decisions that had been made there.

You remember how it went. We stopped that bill once but the White House passed it over in the Senate, brought it back and rolled us. After it passed, I got on a plane to fly back to Indiana. Now you can probably tell that I'm a pretty upbeat guy, but that Saturday morning I was a little bit down. I was heartsick about what I'd seen our country do. But I had promised to speak at a Boy Scout jamboree in New Castle, Indiana, and I meant to keep that promise.

You know the scene. It was a cold October Saturday morning, a line of Boy Scouts, ties pulled to the side, one shirttail out, standing up straight. I gave them my best speech about American history and then a few adults waited to talk to me afterwards. A lot of them talked about the bailout vote from the day before, about where the economy was headed.

But there was one man standing off to the side, modestly dressed. And when the other adults dispersed, he walked up to me, hat in hand, and said words I'll never forget. He said, "Congressman, I'd seen in the newspaper that you were going to be out here. I lost my job yesterday, but I came out here to thank you for voting against that Wall Street bailout." I looked at him and I said, "Well, I'm sorry for your trouble, but I have to tell you, I admire your stand." And that American looked me in the eye that cold October morning and said words that are now chiseled on my heart. He said, "Congressman, I came by to thank you because I can get another job, but I can't get another country."

That man got it and he said it better than I ever could. The agenda of the left is about changing the very nature of this country, from a culture of independence to a culture of dependence on the state. As President Reagan said in his famous 1964 speech, it's "about whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives better for us than we can plan them for ourselves."

In 1999, Thomas Sowell predicted that the American left would attempt a "quiet repeal of the American Revolution." So what was the American revolution and is it possible to abandon or repeal?

For the answer, we need look no further than the writings of one of our founders, President John Adams. In response to a public debate that was raging over the origins of the American Revolution, John Adams wrote a series of letters over a period of several years, describing his views on the coming of the Revolution. In a letter addressed to Mr. Niles, written in Quincy on 13 February 1818, John Adams wrote:

But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People… The People of America had been educated in the habitual Affection for England as their Mother-Country; and while they thought her a kind and tender Parent (erroneously enough, however, for she never was such a Mother,) no Affection could be more sincere. But when they found her a cruel Beldam, willing, like Lady Macbeth, to "dash their Brains out," it is no Wonder if their filial Affections ceased and were changed into Indignation and horror. The radical Change in the Principles, Opinions, Sentiments and Affection of the People was the real American Revolution.

According to our second President, the real American Revolution was a revolution of self-reliance and independence, casting off dependency on the crown, in the hearts and minds of the American people. It was a rejection of the spirit of dependence in favor of a society of free and independent people.

As Thomas Sowell wrote, "What the American Revolution did was give the common man a voice, a veto, elbow room, and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of his 'betters.'" And, I submit, it is that revolution of independence and self-reliance that liberal elites are seeking to overturn. Barney Frank recently said, "We are trying on every front to increase the role of government." Not just the size but the role.

With the role of the federal government tightening every day on our economy, our finances, our natural resources, and our everyday lives, the common American values of life, liberty and limited government are being trampled by the urgency of the moment and the judgment of people who "know better" than everyday Americans.

The late Jack Kemp said words in 1996 at the Republican National Convention that speak to our time about the politicians and the political elites here in Washington. He said: "They don't have faith in people. They're elitists. They have faith in government. They think they know better than the people, but the truth is, there is a wisdom and intelligence in ordinary men and women far superior to the greatest so-called experts."

Washington, D.C. is overrun with such politicians -- people who consider the ideals of our Founding Fathers as quaint artifacts, as out of style as powdered wigs. Well, consider me quaint and out of style. I hold fast to the principles that minted this Republic: the unalienable rights to life, limited government, individual liberty, private property and due process of law. I took an oath to protect and defend these ideals. I vowed to bear obligation with true faith and allegiance. And if that's not quaint enough for you, I've even got a little of that powdered wig thing going.

And I'm happy to report that House Republicans are fighting to turn things around. But the reality is we just don't have the numbers. But there is a force in America great enough to redeem our national government and reaffirm our revolutionary ideals -- a minority in Congress, plus the American people, equals a majority.

Our 16th president knew that as well. Passing through my home state of Indiana, Abraham Lincoln stopped at the Clay Pool Hotel on 11 February 1861. Headed to Washington to assume the presidency, he said words that are now chiseled in a modest bronze plaque, and I quote: "I appeal to you, to constantly bear in mind that it is not with politicians, it is not with presidents, it is not with office seekers, but with you is the question: Shall the union and shall the liberties of the country be preserved?" Lincoln went on to say, "It is your business if the union of these states and the liberties of this people shall be lost, and it is your business to rise up."

So what is our part to play? What is your role in this unfolding drama? It is to rise up. To do freedom's work. Like a great patron of conservative causes, the late J. Patrick Rooney of Indiana.

At this dinner in 2005, featuring Justice Scalia's remarks, I sat with the late J. Patrick Rooney. We had an exchange at the table that has never left me. I told my mentor, and friend, that I admired him for staying in the fight when he could be on a golf course or on a beach instead of working the halls of Congress for school choice and health savings accounts. Pat scowled at me and said, "We are not put on this earth for our amusement or enjoyment, we are put on this earth to do our d--n duty.'

Now comes the time for all of us to do our duty in this battle to preserve all that makes America great. If you can give, give. If you can speak, speak. If you can write, write. If you can run, run. But do all you can. Now is the moment.

The Bible says, "If the foundations crumble, how can the righteous stand?" The foundations of this country are found in our Declaration of Independence, and in the spirit of personal responsibility and equality of opportunity that beats in the heart of every American.

Through the work of The American Spectator, you have done your part to preserve that foundation. Now we must do more. And we will not fight alone. Winston Churchill said before Congress in 1941, "He must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honor to be faithful servants." There is a great purpose being worked out and, as President Bush said so many times, the Almighty's purpose is freedom.

You have a role to play; a duty to fulfill. You are to be the faithful servants of freedom in this hour. You've gathered in this nation's Capital to take your stand for what makes this country great. A Capital filled with memorials to America's heroes, men and women whose faces are carved in bronze, whose names adorn monuments, and just across that river, whose remains lie quietly as testament to their heroism for our freedom. In their time they did their part. Now it's your turn.

Let us do as generations of Americans have done before, let us stand for what has always been the source of American greatness: our faith in God and our freedom. And if we hold that banner high, I believe with all my heart, the good and great people of this land will rally to our cause. We will take this Congress back in 2010 and we will take this country back in 2012, so help us God.

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About the Author

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana is chairman of the House Republican Conference.