Remarks to the 33rd Annual
Fourth of July Conservative Family Soiree
Thanks Morton [Blackwell, president of the Leadership Institute, which hosted the event]]. I was a bit worried when I read that I was speaking at a “soirée,” but then I realized that we were fellow Louisianans and that word is Cajun—not French!
I’m honored to speak before this group in this state. Note that it was a Virginian, Richard Henry Lee, who proposed that Congress vote on independence, that the delegates sign the declaration written by his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson—and it is their decision to do so that we honor today.
I was raised in Louisiana—one of the best introductions to the world ofWashington politics available. We’re realists. Now, there are people from Lake Wobegon country who seem to believe that all one need do to make the world better is pass more laws. But I’m from Louisiana, a state that does not tolerate corruption—we insist on it!
I grew up at the edge of Honey Island Swamp— oops, “national wildlife refuge.” Once I thought it my duty to drain the swamps, to spray for mosquitoes—now these acts would get me a jail sentence!
Louisiana was good training for Washington, but we should be aware that our founders, too, had no illusions about people and government. America was to be a nation of laws—one that would be reasonably safe even if we could not find an adequate number of Mother Theresas to staff it.
George Washington said it clearly:
And our founders who set America on the course to today crafted the Constitution as a firebreak, to ensure that government—leviathan—remained in check.
The last century has seen a steady weakening of those safeguards. From Teddy Roosevelt onward, the Progressives have sought to replace a nation of laws with a nation of themselves—the self-proclaimed “best and brightest” who should be freed from all restraints so that they can “do good.”
This fatal conceit—as Friedrich Hayek noted—poses the greatest threat to freedom. In his famous Road to Serfdom, Hayek demonstrates how this coercive utopian lust for power threatens liberty. It is a lesson that our chattering class has yet to learn.
We are all soldiers in the fight for liberty, the struggle to restore the American dream, the promises and pledges embodied in the Constitution. A word of caution: We should all realize that the Constitution is not perfect—no human document is. Still, it’s a lot better than what we have today.
I take my theme today from basic Americana: Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet!
I’ll argue that there’s much wisdom buried in that jingle, it suggests the core cultural values that make up the American spirit
- The individualism of Thomas Jefferson
- The entrepreneurial focus of Alexander Hamilton, our first Treasury Secretary
- And the thirst for egalitarian justice of Thomas Paine.
These distinct individuals focused on differing values but joined to create an America that strives for freedom, security and justice.
Despite the Michael Moores and the Jessie Jacksons of the world, we’ve done pretty well. Not as fast as we would hope (more than 70 years passed between the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation and with all–too-frequent retreats, but we remain that “shining city on the hill.”.
As suggested by the phrase: Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet!
Let me explain:
First, baseball, the quintessential American game, the individual standing alone and exposed against the collective strength of the opposition, a wonderful exposition of the individualistic spirit that has always been a core part of America from the days when the Minutemen stood against the Redcoat legions to the heroic acts of the passengers on United Flight 93. Americans realize when something must be done—each of us must step forward.
Second, where would baseball be without hot dogs? Of course, hot dogs are now under attack by the same people who took down tobacco (it was “their” fault!), the nanny state regulators, the food police, and the trial lawyers!
And on that topic, (pulls out Oreo cookie). To you and me, this is one of America’s favorite cookies—but to our ever vigilant state attorneys general and their trial lawyer allies this is a deadly assault weapon!
Third, apple pie, a wonderful example of America’s liberation of the human creativity— the important role played by science and the market. Note that those of us who today will enjoy mom’s (or perhaps grandma’s) favorite apple pie should realize that some years ago someone’s dad had to work with nature to make it possible, for apples rarely breed true from seeds. Someone had to graft a cutting from the original tree to ensure that they would be around. Mother Nature doesn’t do it by herself.
Indeed, the apple tree can be seen as the Tree of Liberty—work is required to keep it healthy. It also extols man’s ability to work with nature to produce the bountiful land in which we live.
Americans working with nature have transformed a world of famine into a world obsessed with dieting. Americans realize this fact—we reject the radical environmentalist view. You know their agenda: Had God not done it first, they would have certainly kicked us out of the Garden of Eden! Sometimes, it seems that they would define EPA as a plan to “Eliminate People from America!”
It is hot today – but, of course, it was hot last summer and indeed it was sweltering when the first battles of the Civil War were fought here long ago—and if it had been cold, or dry, or wet, or anything else, they would have claimed that it was evidence of global warming.
Now some of you may learn your science from Hollywood—but I suggest you consider the remarks of Russian President Vladimir Putin: “People say we are a northern country and a temperature 2-3 degrees warmer would not be scary, maybe it would be good,” he said. “You would have to spend less money of fur coats and other warm clothes.”
Some of you have probably seen The Day after Tomorrow? Strange, we know that Hollywood is partisan, but consider poor New York: First it is inundated by a massive storm surge, then frozen under ice. Rank partisanship—couldn’t they have waited till after the Republican Convention? But note that the movie ends with the northern tier of the United States buried under ice—I looked at that map and there are not many blue states left!
And finally Chevrolet, because it reminds us that America is a nation that does not restrict the good things in life to the elites. Europe, we may recall, invented the automobile, and then (and now) produced some wonderful machines for the wealthy. But it was Henry Ford who put the world on wheels, who democratized automobility.
Note also the history of the automobile illustrates well the power of the individual consumer. Ford produced the Model T, but he disregarded (initially) consumer preferences. Yet, his two rules—“You can have any color you want, as long as its black!” and “pay cash or don’t get a car!”—soon changed as GM joined with DuPont to produce the colors that in time allowed the entrepreneurs of Mary Kay their pink Cadillacs and the rest of us the rainbow of colors on our highways today. GM also expanded to GMAC, allowing working Americans to gain access to this most important capital asset.
In Europe and much of the world, the elites still dominate consumer choice—they decide for us. The rest of the world talks the egalitarian talk; America makes it a reality!
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet is actually a pretty good way to think about the Fourth of July. Yet, one cannot avoid the sad realization that all is not well in our Republic. America has veered far from Jefferson’s view that government should leave the people “free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement” and that government should not “take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
Today, governments at all levels rush to impose the most intrusive and restrictive regulations possible. The nanny regulator state seeks to control almost all aspects of our economic and individual behavior. It sees no virtue in allowing us the freedom to regulate our own behavior. And the Constitutional safeguards that once checked these threats to liberty have been weakened over the last century. As I’ve noted before, the Constitution may not have been perfect, but it is vastly better than what we have today.
We are members of that thin line of defense of liberty. And we recognize that this battle will never end—the collectivist utopians will always be with us. We cannot elect a few politicians, defeat a few bad bills, win a few legal cases, and go home. The defense of liberty cannot afford summer soldiers.
Ronald Reagan warned us that while we should elect good people, that we want a good choir, that even the best church choir needs good music—we must keep them in tune! He went on to note: We can hope that our politicians will see the light—but we must ensure that they feel the heat.
That is essential if this nation, conceived in liberty, does not vanish from this earth— essential if America continues as the shining city on the hill for a world seeking always greater freedom, security, and justice.
But today is a day of celebration for what has been achieved to date—to enjoy Americana, including baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet—and the values they represent. So let’s celebrate today; soon we should, we must, return to wage the war for liberty!