Transcript of Remarks at the 21st Annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner
Ashland University – April 21, 2005
I appreciate that kind introduction and thank you for your outstanding work on behalf of the Ashbrook Center. It’s a pleasure to be amongst some many friends and fellow conservatives and to return to the Buckeye State. Election night, the exit polls put a lot of people in the dumps. And one of the sweet things about election night was I had this fantastic computer program and map. We were in the family dining room of the White House, and I had this, Governor Taft and Bob Putechek, and all of our people and people at every Courthouse and they were calling in the returns and going into a central database. And I had this map of the country on my computer screen and at any moment I could call up a State and get the statewide total and then click on a county and get the county and I had a notebook with all of our targets for every county in America and I was able to check minute by minute the results in Ohio. I’m getting old and my eyesight’s not so good so I couldn’t look at the little print in the notebook so I had to go over and get someone to be my assistant during the night. I wanted to pick a bright young able White House staffer who’d be able to do that, so I went over and I got a young academic type from California, a little girl named Condi Rice and she came over and was my assistant for the evening. And one of the sweet moments of the evening was the White House Staff was a little depressed over the exit polls and most of them were gathered in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House and most of them had called up their spouses and said, “Honey it looks like it might be a bad night, so why don’t you stay at home.” So at about 10:00 p.m. I got to go in and tell them that Ohio was in our column. I mean it was so powerful and so clear, and let me tell you, that room exploded. I’ve never seen my ‘distinguished colleagues,’ senior staff of the White House be so excited about anything except an early end to a 7:30 early morning staff meeting. But anyway it’s great to be in Ohio. It’s great to be with your governor. He is a really special guy, he’s a great favorite of the White House. He’s thoughtful, he’s smart, he’s quiet. In fact the more emphatic he wants to get the more quiet his voice gets. He loves Ohio. I mean I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with things Ohio with your governor. He’s always on the look for doing what’s right for your State and getting Ohio treated fairly nationally and worried about jobs here and the Federal this here. He is an emphatic campaigner for all things Ohio. But more important to that he is a good decent man and a great friend to this President and a great friend to this administration. Your Governor Taft….(applause)
Great to be with your Senate President, Senator Bill Harris. Mr. President, awfully nice remarks tonight, but it reminded me when he stood up though, you got a problem here in Ohio, your Legislature meets all the time. In Texas our legislature meets 144 days every two years, and our goal is to get them to meet. Our goal is to get them to two days every 144 years. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way forward…(applause)
Great to be here with President Benz. Dr. Schramm picked me up at the airport, and I said, Peter I’ve read a bunch of your stuff haven’t I? And he started to reel off all these books and I realized I had a bunch of it on my shelf. It reminded me of that moment in Patton. Where they’re at the battle at North Africa where Patton says, “Rommel you magnificent bastard I read your book!”
Great to be here with so many, your chairman of the Board Marv, Jim Dickey, got to meet Mel and Ralph Rittenhour earlier. There are two people here I want to warn you about. They may come up here afterwards, and play on the connection we have. One of them is Rob Schuler from Columbus…He is a liar. Don’t believe anything he says about me. And then a guy who was my roommate thirty years ago showed up tonight. My great friend Dave Brown is here. It was his responsibility to pick up the beer, my responsibility to clean and vacuum, and also he’s a liar so don’t believe anything he says about our younger years together. No, but it’s great to see them tonight if only briefly.
Let me begin that it’s useful for those serving government to get the heck out of Washington from time to time. In fact we are under orders of our chief of staff, Andy Card, to do so. John Kennedy famously referred to Washington as a place of Northern charm and Southern efficiency (laughter…applause). And one with referred to Washington as the city on the Potomac surrounded on four sides by reality.
I actually like Washington D.C. it’s a beautiful city. I live up in Northwest DC, but it’s helpful to get a dose of Midwest reality, so I am happy to be here. It’s also an honor to be speaking at the annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner. I actually met him once when I was a young man and I’ll never forget it. He was a man of great principle, and you could see that right away. He was hard. He was strong and tough. He was an admirable public official. He was principled and articulate and far more interested in ideas than in power. And he represented this District with skill and dedication for two decades and played a vital role in the rise of the modern Conservative movement. His death took from of us one of the Conservative movement’s most able advocates, and he is still missed today by his family, by his friends, and to those with whom he held a deep kinship about ideas.
Earlier today I got to meet with the Ashbrook Scholars. Impressive group you have representing the Center. And the Center itself is pretty amazing, pretty remarkable. One of the few great Centers of teaching students and teachers the purpose and deep meaning of America. Its work is characterized by academic rigor and good scholarship and an unwavering commitment to Constitutional government and our democratic way of life. And those of you associated with the Center and care about history and care about the country and you are owed the thanks by thousands of young people and hundreds of teachers that benefit from your great efforts each year. You know the Ashbrook Center and centers around the country like it are responsible for much of the energy and the intellectual vitality that’s brought us this moment where Conservatism is the dominant political creed in America and when we’re making progress on so many fronts. I want to think for a moment about the last 40 years, and think about how much has been achieved by Conservatives in the last 40 years, because 40 years ago last fall Conservatism received a landslide drubbing in the presidential election, and we were in the political wilderness. And yet we have gone from a small principled opposition to a broad inclusive movement that is self-assured, optimistic, forward-leaning, and dominant in America. Four years ago the Conservative movement and the Republican Party was relegated to the political margins, and today the Republicans and the Conservatives control the White House, the Senate, the House, the majority of governorships in America and more state legislative seats than we’ve had in eighty years.
More importantly, we’ve seen the rise of a great cause. Republican presidents and Republican congresses have achieved a tremendous amount in the last two and a half decades, and I want to talk about some of that progress tonight, and I want to start by talking about the president’s victory in November and the ideas that will continue to work in our favor as political realignment in America moves ahead. The 2004 election was no easy thing. James Carville was right. He had a right in August to be optimistic about their chances in the Fall. We faced a united opposition, and catch this: we’re supposed to be the party of the plutocrats, if you add up what the Democratic national committee, the John Kerry campaign, and the Democratic 527’s raised and spent, and compare it to what the Republican National Committee, the Bush/Cheney campaign, and Rebulican-oriented 527’s raised and spent, you will find that they out-raised and outspent us by 40 million dollars. And that’s before you add on to the top of it all the money spent by labor that will never be reported because in America we have one kind of campaign laws for parties and candidates and a different kind of campaign laws for unions…not that I’m bitter (laughter).
The 2004 election was a steep political mountain and this President climbed it and he did so with energy and passion and decency and an unwavering commitment to principle. What is significant though about November’s election, is not simply that the President won, but how he won. In the 2004 campaign, President Bush pushed all of his chips on the table. There was no trimming on issues, no mid-campaign conversion, no backing away from Social Security or tax reform. The President persistently made the case for the ownership society, championed a culture of life and a responsible Judiciary, defended the institution of marriage, stood with the people of Iraq in their passage to Democracy, remained committed to spreading Democracy to the broader Middle East, continued to aggressively wage and win the global War on Terror, and never ever once woke up and said what do I have to do to curry the favor of the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post. (Applause)
He showed himself as he is. He wanted a referendum not on just what he’d done, but more importantly
what he wanted to do in the future. The victory was significant. He is the first Presidential candidate to win a majority of the popular vote since 1988. He won more votes than any candidate in the history of America, the previous high was Ronald Reagan in 1984. He increased his popular vote, and I hate to correct Peter, not by 8 million, but by 11.6 million votes over 2000. More than 4 and a half times more than what Clinton increased his vote from ‘92 to ‘96. He improved his percentage of the vote in all but three states. He improved his vote in 87 percent of the counties in America and won 81 percent of the counties in America. And he won in 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties in America. He’s also the first president since FDR and also only the second president in American history to be re-elected while his party gained seats in the House and the Senate. And the first Republican President to get re-elected while re-electing Senate and House Republican majorities. And next time one of your smarty-pants liberal friends tell you he doesn’t have a mandate, you remind him this delicious little fact: In winning, he won a greater percentage of the vote than any democratic candidate for president since 1964. He achieved what almost none of his critics thought could be done. Once again, they misunderestimated what he and the Conservative movement could do.
And now moving forward, we’ll defy expectations again. And let me tell you why: It’s because of our ideas. 25 years ago, Daniel Patrick Voinahan wrote an op-ed page piece in the New York Times. He talked about the Conservative movement and its impact on the Republican Party, and he said, “All of a sudden, the GOP has become the party of ideas.” It was true then, and it remains true today. We are the party of ideas. And as Richard Weaver wrote and John Ashbrook believed, ideas have consequences.
With this in mind, I want to talk about three ideas that I believe will have that will lead to further realignment of American politics. We, the Conservative movement and hence the Republican Party, are seizing the mantle of Idealism. As all of you know, President Bush is making a powerful case for spreading Liberty and defending human dignity. This was once largely the preserve of Democrats and Liberalism. Of John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt. But Ronald Reagan changed all of that. It was Reagan you’ll recall who said it was the policy of the United States not just to contain Communism, but to transcend it. And we would he argued because of the power of Liberty. I learned myself what that meant in a very personal way. I was on the Board for International Broadcasting that oversaw Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. And think about this: the fortieth anniversary of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty was celebrated in Moscow after the fall of Communism. Pretty remarkable.
We were at the Writer’s Union and you walked in the place. It was a great place during Communism apparently because it was a great place to get a meal. In order to be a member of the Writer’s Union you had to have done something significant, like write the 1954 Infantryman’s Guide. We walked in and there was this whole wall of pictures and I swear to God that about 5 out of 6 writers had military uniform on, the Writer’s Guild. And we had a reception there our chairman Steve Forbes and met with Gorbachov, had too much vodka with Gorbachov, had the reception, lots of the dissidents were there, really remarkable people who had fought for liberty in way that we can barely comprehend and will never be able to understand.
And at the end of the evening there was a little murmuring around the kitchen door and out came a couple of Bushkas, who worked in the kitchen, and they said we have a presentation to make. And they came out, and they had a cake, they had made a cake, and on it was a small Statue of Liberty. And in halting Russian, they told the story how, in the midst of the Communist reign, they had a secret radio that they kept in the kitchen and after the Apparatchiks went left their dinners and went back to their Dachas, the help took out the secret radio and listened to the voice of freedom.
When Ronald Reagan was at the Brandenburg Gate and said, “Mr. Gorbachov, pull down that wall!” he was speaking to the aspirations to tens of millions of people who thirsted for the idea of liberty. President Bush has built on these beliefs. He has committed to something that no past president has ever attempted, and that is to spread liberty to the broader Middle East. His eventual goal is the triumph of freedom and the end o tyranny in the world. This vision, which will require the concentrated work of generations is consistent with the deep idealism of the American people, and it is an idealism whose importance is being confirmed by events. During the past 4 decades, we have witnessed the most spectacular growth of liberty in human history. More nations are free than ever before, more people are free than ever before. Consider just a 4 month period this winter. In 113 days, the people of Afghanistan, the Ukraine, the Palestinian authority, and Iraq went to the polls. 100 million people on two continents, half of them Muslim, voting in elections and enjoying democracy for the first time in the history of their countries.
In other recent months we have also seen the stirrings of democracy and signs of hope in Lebanon, and Egypt and in Saudi Arabia. And it is happening because of America’s confidence in the power of liberty. A confidence that is anchored in an understanding of human nature that in the words of the Declaration of Independence and the arguments of President Lincoln, holds that every person desires to live in freedom. “In the enlightened belief of the Founders”, Lincoln said, “Nothing stamped with the divine image and likeness, was sent into the world to be trodden on and degraded and imbruted by its fellows.” President Bush like President Lincoln before him believes that liberty is the design of nature. And in his second Inaugural Address he put it well, he said, “Americans of all people should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.”
The second reason our movement will continue to grow is because our movement contains the agents of reform in our society. Edmund Burke, on of the most important figures to the Conservatism was an advocate of reform. He understood that the essence of our Conservative beliefs is applying timeless principles to changing circumstances. Which is also one of our keys to political success. In 1860 Lincoln put it well when he said, “As our case is new, so must we think and act anew. Not discarding the principles that time has proven valid, but by applying those principles to new circumstances.”
This president understands the impulse for reform. He understands that so many of our fundamental systems: the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, public education, legal system, working training among them, they were created for yesterday, not today or tomorrow. He is committed to instituting and reforming institutions that need to serve the needs of our time and our children’s time. As our president said, “This is the important work of our time. We are putting government on the side of reform and progress, modernization and greater freedom, more personal choice and greater prosperity. The great goal of modern day Conservatism is to make our society more prosperous and more just.” Let me talk briefly about two reform movements in which we Conservatives can take great pride. One achieved and one sought.
One of the most remarkable things about traveling with the President is that you get to see a great part of America. I will never forget the day we went to Mecklenburg County, North Carolina to visit with single moms who had benefited from the reforms of welfare that had occurred in 1996. Remember, this was something that we as a movement had talked about; the Republicans as a party had fought for; that we twice passed through Congress in 1996, only to have it vetoed by Clinton. Finally, a third time it was passed, with the election approaching Clinton was forced to sign it. It was based on the belief that dependency saps the soul and drains the spirits of our very best. The dependency on government is a horrible fate to which we have consigned too many of our friends and our fellow citizens. And I sat there in the room listening to women who had gone through welfare reform and it was unbelievable. A woman had gotten her GED through welfare. She’d been on drugs; her life was hopeless; she’d been put in the welfare reform program. They told her, “You shape up, you’ve got a limited number of years to get your welfare check. You’d better get your act together. You’re capable of doing great things but you’d better get about doing it.” And she’d gotten her GED, she’d gotten a job. She read a poem that she had written herself about what this meant to her. And when she finished speaking, I looked around the room and the hard-bitten business guys, academics, government officials, there was not a dry eye in the place. There was a woman who stood up and she said, “You know, I’m not certain I’m making as much today, working, as I made on welfare.” She said, “I had the transportation assistance, and I had the free housing, and I had the food stamps, and I had the health care thing, and I had the this, and I had the that.” She said, “I think if you added it all up, and compared it to my paycheck today, it wouldn’t be as large. My paycheck wouldn’t be as large.” She said, “You know what, when I get up in the morning, I make three lunches: One for me and two for my kids. What I have learned is that I have given my children the best and most important gift that a parent can give their children and that is the belief that if you work hard, stay in school and be responsible, that they can be anything they want to be in life. There’s no greater gift that I can give my children. And I learned it in welfare.”
We made the mistake of having an academic or two talk because one of the academics started talking about the time limit on welfare. And he said, you know one of the great reforms, part of this reform was a limit of how long people could stay on welfare. And there’s this discussion of whether there aught to be three or five or whatever, and one of the women interrupted. She said, “Wait a minute! You’re telling me you could have gotten me off of welfare earlier?” And you suddenly realized that what this reform had done was empower people to be the best that they could be in life, to think, and to achieve, and to contribute in a way that was impossible for them when they were dependent upon government. That is what we have done as conservatives. That is the reform that we have helped to make. And think about the optimistic and hopeful future that we have created for millions of Americans who only knew dependency on government before.
Let me talk about another great reform that we must seek, and that is the reform of our social security system. You know the numbers. In 2008, the annual social security surplus will start to decline. By 2017, we will start paying out more money each year in social security checks than is coming in from social security taxes. By 2041, the system goes bankrupt. This great experiment started by Franklin Roosevelt with the purpose of empowering and enabling seniors to move out of poverty in their golden years is on the verge of a fiscal crisis that will be years in coming and be absolutely horrible when it hits for one simple fact: demography. It’s a pay-as-you-go program, and when it was set up in the 1940’s, there were over forty workers for everybody getting a check. By the ‘50’s, it was sixteen workers for everybody drawing a check. Today it’s 3.3 workers for everybody drawing a check, and by the time our kids and grandkids—by the time my 16-year-old retires, there will be fewer than two workers for everybody drawing a check. If you’re retired today—if you just retired today—you’re going to get a 2% return on your social security contributions. By the time my 16-year-old retires, he’s going to be getting a -1.8 percent return on his money. We better make changes in the system and allow younger workers the voluntary decision—their decision, their choice—to take some of what they pay into social security and put it into a personal retirement account until they can get a better rate of return.
Let me tell you a story. The President talked about it today. I saw it in a letter to the editor in the Desare News that somebody sent me, and the guy told a story about his life. And we called him up on the phone, and it turned out to be absolutely true. At the age of nineteen, he started working and paying into social security. At the age of 23, when the social security tax was about 2%, he said to himself, “You know what? I don’t know that this is going to be enough money. So I’m going to start setting aside the same amount of money each month that I pay into social security into a personal retirement account.” At the age of 23. Now, he did this for the rest of his working life except for six years when he was a farmer, and as you know, anybody that’s farming, you don’t make enough money to set aside anything big. There we go. He’s retired. Now think about it: from the age of nineteen to the age of sixty-five, he paid into social security. From the age of twenty-three to the age of sixty-five, he put the same amount of money aside each year except for six years around the middle. So in other words, he funded them with roughly the same amount of money in his personal retirement account as social security except for he paid ten years less in his personal retirement account. He gets two checks: his social security check—his $1,100—and his personal retirement account sends him $4,500 a month. Albert Einstein said the most powerful force on the face of the Earth is compound interest. It’s absolutely right. 2% rate of return today that you get out of your social security money means that it doubles in value every thirty-six years. You get a 4% rate of return, it doubles in eighteen; a 6% rate of return, it doubles in twelve. There’s a difference, even to a Texan, between twelve years and thirty-six years. Wealth is too important to be left to the wealthy. We’re not worried about Bill Gates and Warren Buff. Their retirements are going to be just fine. But we’ve got a lot of people who are working from paycheck to paycheck, and are lucky to set aside a little bit of money so they can help pay part of the tuition that their kid needs to go to community college on. They don’t have money to fund a 401k because they don’t have enough work, and they don’t have enough money. That’s the person we aught to make certain has the chance when they’re starting out life to be able to set aside some money and be able to tap the power of the market.
And yet we’ve got people on the other side who say it’s not a problem or if it’s a problem, it’s going to happen well after I’m dead. Well, guess what? Our kids and our grandkids are going to be very much alive when this hits the wall in 2041. If we act today, the changes could be gradual. People have time to make adjustments; people will have time to tap the market. People will have time to grow their retirement funds, and we will leave America a better place for our kids and our grandkids, but only if we act today. Those who oppose these reforms are in a difficult position. They are attempting to block reforms to systems, whether it’s social security or legal system, that almost any serious-minded person could see needs change. They are in a position of arguing against modernizing systems created for four or five generations ago. Their risk is that they will appear to be obstructionist, oppositional—wedded to the status quo instead of the future. And in politics, that’s not a good place to be.
The third reason that conservatives will continue to progress is that we are defending time-honored values. Conservatives have long known that political liberty depends upon a healthy social and moral order. And so the President and conservatives are committed to strengthening society’s key institutions: families, schools, and communities, and protecting those mediating structures that are so important to our freedom like our churches, neighborhoods, and private groups. The institutions that inculcate values, shape character, and provide the young with moral education. That is why the President supports adoption and responsible fatherhood initiatives. That’s why he’s working to build a culture of life and upholding the dignity of every human person and seeks a world in which every child is welcomed to life and protected in law. And that’s why he’s provided unprecedented support for religious charities that provide a safety net of mercy and compassion. It is why he supports the protection of traditional marriage. It is why he is appointing federal judges who will interpret the law rather than attempt to legislate for the bench. It is why he signed education reform legislation that insists on testing high standards and accountability in our schools, and why he has helped foster a culture of service and citizenship. He supports these things because he believes they will lead to a society that is more compassionate, and decent, stronger, and better. As we attempt to spread liberty abroad, we must show that we are worthy of liberty at home, and we do that by protecting the values that have made America.
Let me roll to a close where I began. Forty years ago, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat and proud liberal, won the presidency in a landslide. Democrats, after the election, held 68 Senate seats, 295 House seats, and 33 Governorships. In 2004, George W. Bush, a Republican, a Texan, and a proud conservative, won the presidency for a second time receiving the most votes of anyone in history. Republicans have now won 7 out of the last 10 Presidential Elections. They hold 55 Senate seats, 232 House seats, and 28 Governorships. It’s a sign of what our conservative movement has been able to bring about. And it has come about because our movement has changed. At one time, the conservative movement was largely a reactionary movement, and there was a sense of pessimism even among its most ardent champions. I suspect many of you remember the moment that you saw the book Witness and you picked it up. You recall that Whittaker Chambers gave up his affiliation with communism to join the west in its struggle for freedom, and when he did so, he said he believed that he was joining the losing side. He was a consequential figure and a brave man, but how wrong he was about joining the losing side. For decades, Democrats and Liberals were setting the agenda, the pace of change, and the visionary goals. Today, Republicans and Conservatives, instead of simply reacting to the other side, we’re shaping history, not simply trying to stop it. We’re articulating a compelling vision of a better world. And many of you in this room have helped bring it about. Our progress of the last four decades has been remarkable. But it is also a cautionary tale of what happens to a dominant political party when its thinking becomes ossified, when its energy begins to drain, when an entitlement mentality takes over, and when political power becomes an end in itself rather than a means to achieve the common good. We need to learn from our successes and from the failures of the other side and ourselves. As the governing party in America, Republicans cannot grow tired or timid. We have been given the opportunity for governing, and now we have to show that we are worthy of the trust that our fellow citizens have given us.
If you ever want to discombobulate your neighbors, I’ve got a simple recommendation: invite the President of the United States to your house for dinner. Or better yet have him invite himself. When we lived in Austin, Texas, the President and I—before he was a candidate, before he was Governor—we would go hunting every year. We’d kill a lot of birds, me more than the President. Rule number one: never be around the President with a loaded weapon. Rule number two: never be around him with an unloaded weapon. Number three: never be around him with a chainsaw. These are three dangerous conditions. But we’d go hunting, and we’d kill a lot of birds. Then in the spring, about this time in Austin—Austin’s a little farther south of here so we’d green up a little earlier than you do here—we’d cook up the birds and eat them at my house. I had a fantastic house in Austin. Being a true conservative, I bought my house for $1,200. True story. It was a fantastic old 1884 farm house that I bought for $1,200, cut it in three pieces, and moved it 54 miles and slapped it on the side of a hill in Austin. But I had a fantastic porch looking to the west, and so, every spring, we’d have a dinner and we’d cook up the birds. And because our legislature met every other year, when the President became Governor, when they were at session, he’d invite the legislators who wanted to put the arm on, and when the legislature was not in session, he’d invite the Supreme Court. This being my house, he would invite the guests. Don’t ask me why. But we were having dinner in the private quarters in the family dining room at the White House, and it was after the end of hunting season, and I was bragging on about how many birds I’d shot on the last weekend of the season, and Laura Bush, who was really actually the reason why we had these dinners because she loves game bird, she said to me, “We haven’t had out game dinner since we came to Washington. When are going to have our game dinner?” And I thought hey, this is easy. “Any time you want, Laura. Any time you want, Mrs. Bush,” thinking, hey, this is the easiest thing to offer since it’s never going to happen. Well the next morning, the social secretary calls and says “These are the three dates the Bushes are available to come to your house for dinner.” So, of course, when the Vice President found out that we were eating game birds, him being one of my hunting buddies, he invited himself to dinner. So for one night, our modest little house in northwest Washington was the “undisclosed location.” The President; Vice President, Mrs. Bush; Mrs. Cheney; Andy Carr, Chief of Staff; Cathy Carr, his wife; Condi Rice; the Roves, and some friends of ours from Texas. In a reassuring move that morning, the Secret Service calls me and says, “We’re moving in the small package tonight.” This meant there were only sixteen vehicles including the ambulance in front of my house. A bunch of guys with night vision and weird automatic weapons lurking under bushes. I was very popular with my neighbors for weeks afterwards. Fortunately, nothing but a few small animals were killed. But, you know I’ve thought about it a lot since then because we had our friends up from Texas then friends of the President, the First Lady, and the Roves. I suspect some of you know Texas and the truth of what I’m about to say. We’re weird people—Texans, and one of our friends —I remember it like it was yesterday. I cook for these meals incidentally so it was a fantastic meal. Quail marinated in orange juice, quail with jalapeño peppers and the bacon it’s fantastic. We were getting down to the end. We were having my world famous apple blackberry pie, and one of our friends was sitting next to the President. It was a casual evening. Very casual no tie, and she leaned over to hi. I was at the over end of the table. My wife was down there sitting next to the President. But it was a small gathering so you could hear the conversation. She leaned over to him and said to him, “How are you doing? We’re worried about you. Are you ok?” Yeah, you got some Texas friends I can tell. You’ve been there. “How are you?” I’ve thought about it a lot since because its one of those meaningless conversations that nonetheless has deep meaning. Because you know, he said, “I’m doing great.” First thing he said, “My marriage is the best it’s ever been” which I thought was a wonderful insight into his priorities. He said, “I’m exercising five or six times a week therefore my energy level is high.” He said, “As a result I’m feeling good. He said I feel like I am surrounded by the best people one could be surrounded by. He pointed at the Vice President. He pointed to Andy Card. He pointed at Condi Rice. He didn’t point at me. He said, “I have every confidence that things will turn out right.” And then the conversation went on to whatever kids, mutual friends, Austin gossip, but I’ve thought about that a lot because I know what kind of responsibilities come with the office. I see how it ages him. I see what awful things you have to think about and do. Decisions that’s easy to do easy to make. But some of those decisions. It must be horrible to know that by your decision men and women went into harms way. I just can’t imagine. I keep in my office. A picture given to me by George Kristy, Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary it’s a picture of Lyndon Johnson in the cabinet room. Its 1966 and he just received the days causality reports. Remember we lost 55,000 good men and women. He literally has his head in his heads and he is weeping. I keep it as a reminder that the job can break anyone who lacks a certain set of core convictions and is not going to falter or change with the rising and setting sun. I consider myself sort of an amateur historian. I know a heck of a lot about the White House and Presidency before I showed up to work in the White House. I had lots of favorite presidential quotes. I’m sure you have your favorite. “Ask not what your country can do for you” “four score and seven years ago” “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” “Mr. Gorbichov pull down that wall.” I’m sure you have your favorite. You know what mine is? It’s from an Ohioan Warren G. Harding. He said, “This damn job will kill you.” And of course it did. I keep that photo of Lyndon Johnson because I want to remember what it does to people. But I will tell you this. Our movement has come a long way, and it has much yet to do. I know it will not break this man. He will be compassionate and committed, and energetic to the last moment of the last hour of the last day he serves in office. Thank you for what you did to bring him there. Thank you for what you do to sustain him in office. Thank you for what you do for the Ashbrook Center and this great University. And I would be happy to answer or duck your questions.
Question: Mr. Rove what is your opinion on the media coverage of the campaign, Fair and True?
It stunk. I’ll tell you a funny story. About five days before the election the all-powerful, all-knowing new editor of the New York Times, actually a nice guy named Bill Keller, showed up on the campaign trial. Those of you who know campaigns know they are tough, and if your five days out from a Presidential election you’ve been involved in for two years you don’t have much energy left. So he shows up on the campaign trail and we’re in Florida, St. Petersburg Florida, and he invited the communications director at the White House Dan Bartlett and I to have a drink with him. (A) I don’t drink (B) I’m not a night person, I mean lets have an early morning breakfast, but have a drink at 10 o’clock at night? So we sit down (we’ve worked out that Dan is going to be the good cop and I’ll be the bad cop) so we let Dan set the right tone be positive and upbeat and maybe latter on I could offer a few comments. So we sit down for a drink, and they say well what do you think about the New York Times coverage? What do you think about our recent articles? And I could not contain myself. I said you have done a lousy job covering this campaign. “Well could you give us an example?” I said yeah I would be happy to give you an example. I have an article here you wrote about Ohio and Florida in which your writer uses every single nostrum of the democrats and the 527s. You say that they’re out registered us and are going to have a bigger ground game you say they’ve out registered us in Ohio by 300,000. You say they have out registered us in Florida by 300,000. You may be able to make that argument. I don’t think so. We’ve been monitoring the situation closely. We think we’ve been keeping pace with them in Ohio because we’ve been working on this since 2003 and 2004. But you know in Ohio you do not register voters by party. So while I know how many people we’ve registered lets say it arguable. But you what in Florida they register by political party, so all your reporter had to do was spend 35 cents from the gray ladies money in order to call the secretary of state and ask one simple stupid question. How republicans did you have registered in November of 2000 and how many democrats did you have registered in November of 2000 and how many independents were registered, and if that sorry no good SOS bothered to pick up the phone and call the secretary of state in Florida. He would have found out they are more registered republicans in Florida than there were four years ago, and there are more new republicans that have been registered in the last four years than there have been democrats. I said it a little bit more spiritedly. Its so much that they’re liberal they are. It just that they focus on the horse race not on the substance, and they can be easily spun and the other side does a better job of spinning. Its just an institutional problem we have to deal with. Thank God for the internet. Thank God for talk radio. Thank God for when you can come to places in Ohio and talk to people and they can actually hear listen to you and make up they’re own minds. And I’m very popular at the New York Times.
Question: In order to make the victory of 2004 more lasting how do we reach the voters of our inner cities and urban areas?
By simply doing it. After the 2000 Campaign when we got 9% of the African-American vote, no party can be a major political party if its getting 9% of the African-American vote, so we started planning the 2004 election shortly after the 36 days. And one of the questions was: Why did we do so badly? There was an interesting study done in Kansas City. Someone said let’s assume everybody reads the Kansas City Star black, white, and latino. Let’s assume that everybody watches Kansas City TV, so they see roughly equal numbers of television ads. But radio is demographically narrower, so urban radio largely African-American listener-ship and other kinds of stations largely white listenership and other kinds of stations largely Latino listener-ship. So lets look at the African-American radio stations in the Kansas City area and count up how many democrat, Pro-Gore, Anti-Bush, anti-republican ads there were, and count up how many Pro-Bush, Pro-Republican, Anti-Gore, anti-democrat ads there were and see how many in essence messages the African-American community got. There were 13,000 that were pro-democrat and anti-republican. There were six republicans. Now I don’t mean 6,000. I mean six, so how can you get the vote if your not even asking for the vote? Now think about it the African-American community and to a lesser extent the Latino community, the structure, if you will, the political socialization that takes place in informal structures at the coffee shop at the place of worship at the place of work over the back of the fence with meeting the parents of kids who go to school with yours. All of those institutions particularly in the African-American community tend to communicate democratic messages. So if you’re not showing up your not gonna win. In the 2004 campaign we under the radar started putting a vast sum of money into urban radio and we started showing up. And we started showing up well before the President became a candidate, and continued showing up in the inner city to make the pitch to get the vote. You are not gonna get it unless you make the pitch. I also talked about 2000 and 2004 with the political people at the RNC and the campaign and said it took 50 years to dig ourselves into this hole we are not going to dig ourselves out of this hole overnight, so we cannot have as our measure of success did we go from 9% to 25% in one election cycle. If we go from 9% to 9.5%, we ought to be happy for it because we only have ourselves to blame for it. And I’m convinced part of the reason we won Ohio is that we went from 9% to 16% of the African-American vote in this state. All across the country is was remarkable I could just smell it in the final weeks of the campaign wherever we’d go there’d be somebody who would come up and say I’m a small business guy, an African-American small business guy, I’ve never been involved in politics before but because of this the President’s stand on Iraq, or the President’s stand on marriage, or the President being for tax cuts, or the President being for school choice, or education reform I’m for Bush. And it was everywhere we went and it was a lot of pastors in particular who took a lot of heat to be able to stand up and say because of the values of this President I’m going to be for him. Now the problem is not going to go away overnight, but the main lesson was if you’re going to get the vote you’re going to have to go after the vote.
Question: There were rumors that Amish were coming out to vote especially in places like Holmes County. Can you talk about this a little bit? Do you know anything about it?
Yeah this is a setup. We actually were talking about this riding over in the car because we went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in late summer. And Amish showed up. We were in a local business there, and there were several farms nearby and about 40 of them came up, and asked if they could meet the President. It was very interesting it was sort of a machine shop operation meeting with the workers and everything, then in the next room as the President went to go leave here were the folk. And they wanted to see him, then we received word about 3 weeks or 4 weeks before the end of the campaign that they wanted to come meet him when he was next in this part of Pennsylvania. Because we saw them when we came to Ohio, we saw them when we came to Pennsylvania, and so we had another rally near Lancaster. I guess the first one was in Lancaster and this one was near York, and about 40 or 50 of their leaders showed up, and I guess one guy had flown from Ohio. He said, “It was the first time I have ever been on an airplane, and I will never be on an airplane again, but it was important for me to be here.” They met with the President; they said we would like to meet with the President for 20 minutes. We set aside 30 minutes. The President sat down with them. They had specific questions they wanted to ask him about himself as an individual and about things that were important to their community, and if you look at the results in Holmes County and especially in Pennsylvania in the Amish country. Turnout is significantly higher than it was four years ago, and I am convinced that it is because the Amish community talked to friends and neighbors and said this is a man who’s values we can respect and we can feel comfortable voting for.
Question: Please comment on the Bush administration’s positions on the border immigration problem?
We have two problems on the border. One is, it’s awful long and we have to do a better job of securing it because we now have not only the normal problem that we’ve got of people wanting to come across the border for work but we’ve got to be very careful of people coming across the border carrying bad things. We have dramatically beefed up the border. In part by, before the passage of the Homeland Security in 2002, we had a customs and a border patrol and they didn’t talk to each other and they duplicated functions and we had roughly the same number of people, slightly fewer in the customs service than we had on the border patrol. They sort of stood right behind each other. Now what we have done is integrated them into one and beefed up their numbers. And we’re going to keep beefing up their numbers and we’re going to keep doing things like internal repatriation. That may seem like a mouthful to you but for example when people cross the border from Nuevo Laredo, the old practice was if you caught them, you sent them back to Nuevo Laredo and said, “Hey, don’t come back again.” Of course, they came right back. What we’re doing now is we’re finding out where they’re from, if they’re from Oaxaca 400 miles into Mexico, and flying them back to Oaxaca. And if they’re from Nuevo Laredo, we’re flying them over to Nogales, over to Douglas, Arizona and dropping them off in Nogales, and say, “Find your way home.” Because we want to raise the risk/reward ratio for people coming across our border.
But let me tell you, the border is long enough, and as a Texan, I can tell you, it is hot and thorny and desert enough that we’re not going to be able to protect our border by that alone. What we’ve got to do is recognize that a significant amount of pressure on our borders is coming from people that are making 50 cents a day in Mexico, Guatemala or Nicaragua and can make five bucks an hour coming to the United States. And until we have a willing worker program that says hey, if you want to work here in America, slinging tar on some roof in August, in a job that nobody else wants and picking apples in Washington in a job that most Americans don’t want to have, until we have a program that says we’ll recognize you coming into the country and doing the work, allowing us to protect you, keep you from being exploited, protect your rights, let you put together a little money and then go home, we’re not going to stop the pressure on our borders.
These people, when they come here, they’re coming here to take care of their families but they aren’t coming here necessarily to live in America; its just that once they get here, it’s impossible to get home. They can’t go home and visit their families; they can’t go home for mama’s birthday; They can’t say, “I’m going to go get on a Greyhound bus and ride down to the border and then catch the Mexican bus and ride four hundred miles for mama’s birthday.” No, they’re stuck. Why should we be surprised, after five or ten or fifteen years, they wake up and say, “You know what, I’m no longer a Mexican. I’m a Mexican-American.” We have to recognize that it is a powerful impulse to feed your family. And that’s what we’re talking about here.
So we’ve got to match border security with a willing worker program so look I have a hunting lease Kennedy County, Texas. It’s half the size of Connecticut and 973 people live in the county. My hunting lease is the size of the island of Manhattan and nobody lives there. And I could be out there and it could be cold in the winter or hot as Hades in the summer, and you’re just—either time of the season, you’re likely to find ten or fifteen Mexicans coming across the—I mean it is a 70 mile walk from one end of the county to the other, and these guys are carrying a little water jug, a milk jug, and a plastic bag with twinkies in it. And, I’ll tell you, I found a couple of them where the plastic bag and the water didn’t hold out and what is left there is molding bones and a carcass. And yet, they keep coming because the impulse is that strong, and we’d better figure out how to deal with it and regularize it to reduce the pressure on the borders so that we don’t have to have a guy twenty-four hours a day standing all along the Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California borders standing shoulder-to-shoulder in order to keep these people from coming in because we’ve got to do it on both sides of the border; both the border in the south and the border in the north. In White River Junction, Vermont, we set up a border patrol crossing in Vermont. White River Junction, Vermont. Last six months to the last year, you want to know how many illegal aliens we caught cross the border from Canada to Vermont? At White River Junction? Six hundred. We’ve got big borders with Canada and the United States and in order to be able to plug—we’ve got to work both sides of the equation: security and willing workers.
Question: Justices Priscilla Owens and Janice Rogers Brown cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party line vote today. What do you make of the Democrats using the filibuster to block these qualified women and minority nominees? If it continues, what should Republicans do?
Well, it’s going to be up to the Senate to figure out what it’s going to do. We are respectful of the institution of the Senate, and the Senate needs to figure out what it’s rules ought to be. I was looking for the word “filibuster” in here in the Constitution of the United States. I can’t find it, because it’s not in there.
What the democrats have done on these judges is a travesty. I know some of these people. Let me tell you about Priscilla Owens. I happen to know her. She’s a friend of mine. This is a woman who when she graduated from Baylor Law School—graduated at the very top of her class, she was number one in her class—when she took the state bar in Texas, and we have a lot of people take the state bar—we have too many lawyers in Texas—she was number one in the state bar. Editor of the law journal, number one in her class, number one on the state bar. She was an appellate specialist. Those of you that deal with lawyers know that the appellate specialists are sort of like the jet fighter jockeys. She was an appellate specialist. If you had a tough, thorny case in Texas, on appeal, involving a complex business litigation matter, you hired her.
She was totally apolitical. We had a supreme court that was worse than the Ohio Supreme Court used to be, if you can imagine that. I mean, we were the subject of a Sixty Minutes exposé when a judge, a city judge, ruled one way in a case, then took a $172,000 contribution from the plaintiff in the case and switched his vote. And that was common practice. She ran for the court. She was recruited by Democrats and Republicans to run for our Supreme Court. Totally apolitical. I know that because she was my client. First thing she says to me, she says, “I’m really uncomfortable with the size of campaign contributions. I want to voluntarily limit the size of campaign contributions I’ll take.” Great news to a political consultant—she’s not going to raise and spend as much money as you want her to. She got elected in an upset. She served with such distinction that when she ran for reelection, she got endorsed by every single newspaper in the state of Texas that endorsed in Supreme Court races. We have 110 daily newspapers. You do not get the endorsement of the Amarillo Globe News and the Austin American Pravda, the Dallas Morning News, and the Corpus Christi Commie Times by being some right-wing wacko. She served with such distinction that she won reelection with two-thirds of the vote in a state where politics is a blood sport.
And this is a woman that they are castigating as some out of the mainstream, right-wing lunatic. I want you to think about this for a minute: Put yourself in Jones County, Mississippi, 1966. Laurel, Mississippi. You are the county attorney. Would you have the guts to take on the Ku Klux Klan? I’m not certain I would have. But you know what a young county attorney named Charles Pickering did? He took on the Ku Klux Klan and went to court to bust up the Klan. You know what happened to him in the next election? They threw him out of office. This is the man who picked up the phone as the state Republican Party Chairman and called the Democrat former governor and said, “You know, our state of Mississippi needs racial reconciliation. I’m a conservative Republican, you’re a moderate to liberal Democrat. Why don’t you and I bring together black and white, business community and religious leaders, privately, to talk with candor and honesty about what must be done to heal our state racially.” And you know what they did to this good man? They attacked him as a racial bigot. Now maybe they had the right to do that if they were marching with Martin Luther King. If they were on the freedom march in 1964 maybe they had a right to criticize him, but I don’t think most of them were to be found taking on the Klan in 1966 in Jones County, Mississippi.
The Democrats have not yet figured out that they lost the United States Senate in 2001 because of judges. They have not figured out that they lost the Presidential Election in part because of judges. And they certainly have not figured out that they lost a net of four seats in the United States Senate in 2004 because of judges, and if they want to continue to show that same kind of lack of historical knowledge, I can’t do anything about it. But it is wrong for America, wrong for our courts, wrong for our Judiciary, and, most important of all, wrong to men and women who are serving our country and serving their states and their communities in an incredibly selfless way by being judges, and deserve far better than they have been given in the last several years.
Question: What is the major obstacle that you think is currently facing the Republican Party in the next decade, and what do you believe we must do to overcome this obstacle? What races should we watch in 2006?
I’m going to leave the race picking to my friend chairman Bennett over here. I acknowledged him earlier, and I’m going to hear about it for the next several days. I hope you all know Bob Bennett. He’s the only guy here who made me bow to him before I could approach him and shake his hand. He’s a great friend of mine. Look, there are plenty of interesting contests that are going to be on the ballot in ’06 and ’08. I think the most important thing is something I referenced earlier, and that is the lesson of the last 40 years, that political parties rise and fall based on the quality of their thinking and the quality of their candidates, and there is a clear and evident link between those two things. You can’t have good candidates without having good ideas, and for some reason other good candidates have good ideas. And good ideas are based around finding a positive and optimistic vision for the country’s future. It’s not tearing down the other guy. It’s not being able to run down the opposition. It’s being able to tell the American people with conviction and authenticity what it is that we want to do and to have ideas that make sense. The Democrats began to lose power when their thinking ossified and when holding office became an end in and of itself. When holding office was the end. And if we do that, if we say, if we become tired and timid and say, “You know what, let’s just hold on to it,” then we will get exactly what the American people will give us which is defeat at the polls. Now there is going to be a rise and a fall in the fortunes of our party and of our movement, but I’m convinced that it’s on an upward trend. Think about 2000. There couldn’t have been a closer Presidential Election. The Senate was divided 50/50, Republicans lost seats in the House races, and yet since then, we have seen—you know, 2002, only one other time in the history of our country has the presidential party gained seats in the House and the Senate in its first off-year election. Only one other time in American history did it happen. 2002, and the only other time was 1934—The Great Depression. 2004 the president gets reelected in the face of united opposition that outspends us and is energized. You know, in the midst of an unpopular war and a recovering but yet not fully recovered economy. And we gained seats in the House and Senate and the only other time it happened was 1936 with Franklin Roosevelt—the only other time. That shows to me that something is happening in American politics that is fundamentally positive for the conservative movement and it is positive because we have had the courage to take on the big issues and to fight for big ideas and to not tire or become timid in the face of the opposition. And that’s our challenge. And it is a challenge that cannot be solved by one person alone. It can’t be solved by President Bush or Governor Taft. It has to be solved by a broad movement of individuals all across this country who care about this nation and are willing to work on behalf of conservative ideals. I suspect there are a few of you in this room. And I thank you for being here tonight, and thanks for letting me head back home.