40 Years in the Fight: Selected Remarks from Resource Bank
On the morning of May 10 at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, conservative and classical liberal leaders from around the country and the world will convene to discuss ideas and strategies for promoting public policies based on individual liberty and the rule of law. It will be the 40th such gathering of the annual Resource Bank.
The event spans five decades (from 1978 to 2017—or, from the pre-Reagan era to the Trump presidency). Over those years, the panelists and the speakers at Resource Bank have discussed issues aplenty. But more than that, they have presented ideas on how to win battles for liberty. We present here a selection of those ideas. To sum up this amalgam of advice, in order to win battles for liberty, we must: take the fight seriously and expect to sacrifice personally for the cause of liberty; challenge the cultural institutions controlled by the Left; reach people in their daily lives not just on the campaign trail; support liberty-based reforms from wherever they spring; be willing to lose the political battle in order to build the movement for liberty; and appeal to people’s moral instincts with a vision of man as worthy of liberty.
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Politics Is Civil War by Other Means
Remarks delivered April 21, 1988, at the 11th Annual Resource Bank.
[U]p until the [Robert] Bork nomination [to the Supreme Court], all of us failed to appreciate that the Left in this country has come to understand politics as civil war. The Left at its core understands in a way that Grant understood after Shiloh that this is a civil war, that only one side will prevail, and that the other side will be relegated to history. This war has to be fought with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars. While we are lucky in this country that our civil wars are fought at the ballot box, not on the battlefield, nonetheless it is a true civil war. So the deliberate, systematic smearing and destruction of Bork was normal. It was precisely what would happen in a civil war. You can expect from here on that the hard Left […] will try by chameleon-like actions to destroy our country. In fact these individuals practice being chameleons; they are who they have to be today in order to be acceptable. But they do not represent American values. The hard Left will systematically root us out and destroy us if they can. We underestimated that, and frankly we underestimated how socially dominant they would be. For instance, there are corporations that insist on funding socialists who then teach their grandchildren to despise them. We also underestimated how dominant and entrenched they would be in academia, the news media, and on Capitol Hill. As a consequence, the Left continues to seize the moral high grounds in policy debates. […]
What must we do to address our problems adequately? First, we must begin to teach the simple model of visions, strategies, projects, and tactics. This is particularly important for those of you who are policy entrepreneurs in your own states. If you do not have a vision to define what you are trying to accomplish, how can you have strategies to accomplish it? If you do not have strategies, how can you possibly assign projects? […] Finally, you have to have tactics. But how can you have tactics unless you know what the vision and strategy are? […]
It is very important to understand this model in order to address issues at an adequate order of magnitude. At what level are we dealing? President Reagan never understood, for example, that the problem of getting the State Department to call Nicaragua a Communist state was a vision-level problem. But if he could not solve that one-word problem, he could not win the struggle for public understanding in America. The President did not understand why the State Department rejected the word: They do not believe the Soviet Union is a Communist country. […] They think of Communism as the strange fantasy of right-wing Neanderthals who occasionally are allowed to occupy the White House. During these periods the State Department believes it is saving the world from the U.S. Because the president could not raise his understanding to the right level, he would just get irritated occasionally about this tactical failing. […]
[L]et me suggest that it does not matter how biased the media is: In the long run it will cover you, because it is in the media’s interest to fill up the paper and air time. Ultimately they will begin to cover your activities. They may not cover you favorably. That does not matter. Bad coverage beats no coverage, and eventually bad coverage leads to better coverage. Hiding from the media because you cannot control what it says never works in America, because the news media is the nervous system of our culture. Sooner or later you will find an audience and you will have communicated with enough people who will like what you are doing despite the bad coverage.
Mr. Gingrich represented Georgia’s 6th Congressional District from 1979 to 1999 and was the Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999.
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Conservative Reforms Happen from the Ground Up
Remarks delivered April 23, 1999, at the 22nd Annual Resource Bank.
I think what historians will most stress when they look back at these closing years of the 20th century is the dramatic public policy reforms in state and local government.
You remember that song from the Woodstock generation: “This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius”? Well this is the dawning of the age of accountability and governors and mayors of both parties are using conservative ideas to have conservative policy achievements that will go down as one of the great domestic policy transformations of this century—as significant as the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Great Society or the tax cuts and deregulation of the Reagan years.
One of the most dramatic policy victories has been the 50 percent reduction in crime in New York City. Think about that—50 percent reduction in just a few years. This achievement had nothing to do with President Clinton’s pathetic federal program to put more cops on the street. It resulted from conservative ideas and from commonsense police management policies.
Police commissioner Bill Bratton decided to hold police precinct commanders responsible for cutting crime in their precincts and to replace them if they failed to do so. He replaced more than half of the 76 precinct commanders. That’s commonsense, but commonsense is missing in the liberal welfare state. Other cities are now replicating his policies and they’re achieving similar results and guess who benefits the most from this—poor people who now see stores coming back to Harlem, who can now raise money for their schools without getting robbed, who can take the bus home at night.
The liberals said poverty causes crime. It turns out it was crime that caused poverty and as we diminish crime, we are helping lift people out of poverty. […]
I want to share with you very briefly, three concerns I have about the conservative movement that are limiting our effectiveness. The first is our disarray over the war in Kosovo. Thanks to the ineptitude of President Clinton and his disastrous air campaign, foreign policy and defense have once again become central to national debate. But if we conservatives are to persuade the American people that we can manage foreign policy better than the liberals, we need a consensus among ourselves about the first principles of using military force.
My second concern is the sharp decline of conservative, grassroots activism on federal tax and spending questions. Congress and the public hear from the labor unions, the rent seekers, the special interests. They don’t hear as much from the tax-and-spending limitation movement. So, guess which way Congress is voting. And guess why federal taxes as a proportion of national income are at an all-time peace-time high.
Our movement is devoting extraordinary creative energy to building the case for long term, fundamental tax reform and that’s good. But, we also have to push for the spending cuts that can give us tax cuts today.
Finally, I’m not sure we’re doing enough to repair the fabric of American life in communities like Littleton, Colorado, and other towns across the land. This should be conservatism’s cultural moment. We offer the ideas that America needs—marriage, family, religion, personal responsibility, and common decency in the way people treat and talk to each other. This is not primarily the work of public policy; this is primarily the work of civil society. And conservatives are creating successful models of private, voluntary institutions that are repairing our culture: Prison Fellowship, Best Friends, the National Fatherhood
Initiative, Cornerstone Schools, the Marriage Savers Movement, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. You know many others. We’re just not doing this enough.
Mr. Myerson was Vice President of Education Affairs at The Heritage Foundation from 1993 to 2001. Since 2001, he has been the President of the Philanthropy Roundtable.
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Competition Spurs Self-Government
Remarks delivered April 11, 2002, at the 25th Annual Resource Bank.
There are countries where impossible dreams have been achieved. This year, for the first time, a former Communist country has a free economy according to The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom. And even more remarkable, it is not only a “free economy,” but one of the freest in the world. This country is called Estonia, and I had the honor to serve two terms as its Prime Minister.
Estonia’s ranking in fourth place in the Index of Economic Freedom makes it Europe’s most free-market-oriented economy. […]
A large number of experts and politicians have asked how we did it. In planning our “jump to nowhere,” we tried to learn from the experiences of other countries that had undertaken a transition from Left-wing socialist utopia to free-market economy.
Some key lessons emerged. One is to take care of politics first and then to proceed with economic reform. Don’t underestimate the importance of a new, modern constitution and democratic legislature with free elections. In some transition countries, the importance of the rule of law has not been understood, and this has been a huge mistake. No kind of general understanding, best effort, or wishful thinking can replace a sound and constantly improving legal environment. There can be no market economy and democracy without laws, clear property rights, and a functioning justice system.
The second lesson is summed up by a well-known advertising slogan: “Just do it.” In other words, be decisive about adopting reforms and stick with them despite the short-term pain they bring. To put it briefly: no pain, no gain. Of course, that is easy to say and hard to do.
The most basic and vital change of all, however, must take place in the minds of people. In the era of socialism, people were not used to thinking for themselves, taking the initiative, or assuming risks. Many people had to be shaken free of the illusion—common in post-Communist countries—that somehow, somebody else was going to come along and solve their problems for them. It was necessary to energize people, to get them moving, to force them to make decisions and take responsibility for these decisions.
To achieve this change, we had to wake up the people. First competition had to be supported. In 1992 Estonia abolished all import tariffs and became one big “free trade zone.” Foreign competition pressed local enterprises to change and restructure their production. At the same time, Estonia stopped all subsidies, support, and cheap loans to enterprises, leaving them with two options—to die or to begin working efficiently. Surprisingly, a lot of them chose the second option.
Mr. Laar was the Prime Minister of Estonia from 1992 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2002.
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In Defeat Lies the Seeds of Victory
Remarks delivered April 30, 2004, at the 27th Annual Resource Bank.
A decade ago, when I first ran for Congress, Republicans dreamed of eliminating the federal Department of Education and returning control of our schools to parents, communities, and states. Ten years later, I took my oath of office in the 107th Congress to join the revolution and they hand me a copy of H.R. 1. One—as in our Republican Congress’s number one priority: the “No Child Left Behind Act,” the largest expansion of the federal Department of Education since it was created by President Jimmy Carter.
In the end, about 30 House conservatives and I fought against the bill and were soundly defeated by our own colleagues. Our Reaganite belief that education was a local function was labeled “far right” by Republicans and the President signed the bill into law with a smiling Ted Kennedy at his side.
Conservatives were told to bear up: This was the exception, not the rule.
And so, relieved to have that experience behind me, I anxiously awaited a new H.R. 1 for a new Congress—an H.R. 1 that I could be proud of. At the onset of the 108th Congress, I was handed another H.R. 1: the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, the largest new entitlement since 1965.
To the frozen man it was obvious. Another Congress. Another H.R. 1. Another example of the ship of our movement veering off course.
Actually, this bill started out promising. The President asked Congress for a very limited program: extending existing welfare benefits to seniors just above the poverty level—where most of the one-in-four seniors without prescription drug coverage reside.
Many conservatives, myself included, were prepared to support this limited benefit. I told the President that we shouldn’t make seniors choose between food, rent, and prescription drugs. We were a better country than that.
Yet instead of giving the President the limited benefit he requested, Congress set sail to create the largest new entitlement since 1965—a massive one-size-fits-all entitlement that would place trillions in obligations on our children and grandchildren without giving any thought about how to pay for it.
Conservatives in the House were faced with a difficult choice: Oppose the president we love or support the expansion of the big government we hate.
In the end—with the stalwart support of The Heritage Foundation and its courageous president—25 rebels decided to make a stand for the principle of limited government.
It is said, “In fire gold is tested,” and so it is. While much has been made of the pressure that my colleagues and I endured, we also witnessed the unprecedented pressure placed on The Heritage Foundation and its president to conform to the majority’s will. Instead of capitulating, Ed Feulner, Stuart Butler, and The Heritage Foundation confirmed the confidence of tens of thousands of their supporters over the decades by standing firm.
When all the votes were counted, we were one rebel short. In the end the bill passed. The welfare state expanded. And the ship of conservative government veered off course. […]
However, as recent developments suggest, I will always believe that the stand we took mattered—even in defeat. Sometimes a small group of people can take a stand, be defeated, and still make a difference.
In 1836, less than 200 men fought against thousands of Mexican forces to defend an ancient Christian mission on the plains of Texas. Though they died to the last man, the Texas volunteers within those missionary walls exacted such a horrific toll on the army of Santa Anna that Colonel Juan Almonte privately noted; “One more such glorious victory and we are finished.”
And so they were. The inspiration of the men who made their stand at the Alamo fueled the victory that Sam Houston would lead just six weeks later.
“One more such glorious victory and we are finished.” One more big-government education bill … one more new government entitlement … one more compromise of who we are as limited-government Republicans and our majority could be finished.
What then is the state of the movement? It is strong on the advance, but veering off course from our commitment to limited government.
The time has come for conservatives to retake the helm of this movement and renew our commitment to fiscal discipline and to what we know to be true about the nature of government: Conservatives know that government that governs least governs best. Conservatives know that as government expands, freedom contracts. Conservatives know that government should never do for a man what he can and should do for himself.
Mr. Pence represented Indiana’s 6th Congressional District from 2003 to 2013, was Governor of Indiana from 2013 to 2017, and is currently Vice President of the United States.
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Freedom Withers Unless We Sustain a Moral Vision of Man
Remarks delivered April 24, 2008, at the 31st Annual Resource Bank.
The proper response to human need is neither the welfare state nor the Randian sneer, but a reverence for the human person. To confront such needs requires a full sense of that majestic dignity that each of us bear in our nature, as well as a good grasp of the truths contained within economics. The principle of subsidiarity aids us in limiting the power of the state, precisely in reverence for people.
This principle says that human needs are best met at their most local level where people can act as neighbors to people in need. It says that government assistance should normally occur in cases of emergency, and even then it must be limited both in depth and duration. It must never be a substitute for the private institutions that bear the prime responsibility for helping the poor to raise themselves out of poverty. To politicize charity—as I’m afraid the Bush administration’s faith-based initiatives have done in using tax money to enable alleged good works—disregards the passion and the power of people working in their local congregations, in their local municipalities and neighborhoods, and even discourages those authentic efforts. It is these very efforts that are critical to the creation of a harmonious, prosperous, and caring society. To set up a mechanism whereby the best private and religious charities end up becoming beholden to politicians is to forget that one day it may not be George Bush that they’re beholden to, but it may be a President Obama or a President Clinton. […]
In a trenchant analysis of the free society, Friedrich Hayek offered the following sobering speculation: “It may be that as free a society as we have known it carries within itself the forces of its own destruction, that once freedom is achieved it is taken for granted and ceases to be valued.” Hayek then asked: “Does this mean that freedom is valued only when it is lost, that the world must everywhere go through a dark phase of socialist totalitarianism before the forces of freedom can gather strength anew?” The answer is, says Hayek, “It may be so, but I hope it need not be.”
For a deed of moral courage on behalf of human liberty? We will be able to raise a vast army.
Hayek offers what I consider a partial remedy. He says:“If we are to avoid such a development, we must be able to offer a new liberal program which appeals to the imagination. We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage.” He is right of course. But I would add something which I think Hayek would certainly agree with. We must make the re-building of the free society a moral adventure as well. For its construction was morally inspired in the first place. It emerged from a particular moral vision of man and his inherent and transcendent dignity.
In an essay, “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis memorably describes the anthropology that I’ve attempted to outline tonight. He says, “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
By all means, let us go about the critical task of demonstrating the hows and the whys and the utility of economic freedom. But in doing so, let us remember one thing: People will never go to the barricade for a point of utility. But for a moral adventure? For a deed of moral courage on behalf of human liberty? We will be able to raise a vast army.
Rev. Sirico is Founder and President of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.