WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) delivered remarks at the Alliance for Global Good's Bipartisan Congressional Conference on Innovation in Giving and Philanthropy held at the Library of Congress. The text of his speech appears below:
Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here. I want to thank you for arranging this to take place because I actually can join my wife in the middle of the weekday and that’s a big deal.
Thanks for coming in from around the country on behalf of a cause which really is, and should be, near and dear to all of our hearts and that’s giving. That is what I know you are about, trying to figure out ways for us to work together towards the common goal of giving. There is a lot of room for difference here in this town, and I think differences often are magnified in Washington. But there’s a lot more that all of us have in common. No matter where we are from, philanthropy should be where we rally.
I am delighted to be here to join the Alliance for Global Good, David Brand, and the whole team that is dedicated to imposing some innovation in the world of philanthropy and giving. There’s no question that today in Washington, we are all becoming accustomed to the notion that we are going to have to do more with less. While we are becoming very used to doing more with less, it’s a tough thing to get used to. But it does bring about the need for innovation, because innovation necessarily means looking at new ways of doing things so that we can increase the return. That’s what this forum is about and it’s what we are about here in Washington, trying to find out what the goals are and how we get there in a much more expeditious and efficient way.
Now the discussion here in Washington, and I think the rest of the country, is almost in an existential realm right now. As you know, there is a lot of focus on the Joint Select Committee, which really reflects the urgency that the nation has before it in trying to address the fiscal crisis. But the fiscal crisis discussion is also a very real discussion about the economy, jobs and people’s outlook for the future. So we want to try and address both of them, but underneath these two crises, is the existential question of really what America is. What is it to be America or American? What kind of country are we? What will we become? What will we leave to our kids? I think that is a very vexing question. I think it is one that will continue to linger throughout not only this month and the next, but certainly the next twelve months as we approach another day of national choice, or election, as to what kind of country we’re going to be.
On the one hand, we know that this country presented itself in history as a place where people can come and it shouldn’t really matter where they come from, it’s about where we are going. Now most of us, not all for sure, came to this country out of choice because some came without their own will and we didn’t always get it right in this country. But most of us came here and all of us are part of that grand promise of America, that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.
If you look at what the goals are towards happiness in America, it’s about pursuit and we know that because it’s the definition in the Declaration of Independence. It is the pursuit of happiness, and all of us should have the opportunity to gain that pursuit, to be able to earn our happiness and success.
That’s what this discussion about: what America is; are we going to be able to continue to provide that equality of opportunity? Many of us think that if we are going to provide that equality of opportunity, we have to resist what many others would say about conferring the equality of outcome. Because the government conferring the equality of outcome is something that is not going to work for all of us. Instead, I think the appropriate role for government is to ensure that everyone has the ability to go after that opportunity.
Now all of us don’t start life’s race in the same place, we know that. That’s the challenge, how do we help those who are born into families or situations where they don’t have the right tools to equip them to go after their pursuit of happiness and success? I think that’s certainly where you come in. Because government can do a lot to try and even the playing field and give them the stability from which they can jump onto that ladder of success in America.
Philanthropy, charity is very much about that. What I hope is coming out of your conference here today are some proposals that we can work on together to bridge that gap between public policy here in Washington with the innovation that is going on in the philanthropic community. As we try to see where our future is in this country, as we talk about the domestic issues, they very much bear on America’s role in the world and what it is we’re going to be as a country, and whether we’re still going to be able to continue to be a superpower. Shimon Peres often says, you in America are very special, you are the world’s sole superpower, and the very unique way you obtain that super power should, if you stay that course, allow you to maintain it. It is because America is a country that pursues a foreign policy of giving, not taking.
If you think about it, we give because our men and women in uniform are sent abroad to foreign lands to give, sometimes of their lives, and we give of our treasure to protect other people’s freedom. And that is then conferred upon us because it endures to our benefit and secures us here at home. It’s about that giving. It is through that giving that we have maintained a global posture of strength, together with that domestic ingredient of a strong economy, that enables us to do that.
America is a place that has that ladder of success unlike anywhere in the world. People believe that they can come here and succeed because it really does not matter, nor should it, where you come from, who your parents are, or frankly what your education level is. It’s about that grand promise of working hard and playing by the rules here.
We have a debate ongoing right now about that ladder. The distance between those at the very top of that ladder, versus those at the very bottom continues to grow. You can’t argue with the facts that there is a growing disparity of wealth. So the real question is, how do we go about closing that gap? What is the fair way to close that gap? What is the most expeditious and effective way to close that gap?
Now there are people saying simply, take more from those at the top and give more to those at the bottom and we can fix our problems. Well I am one who believes that simple redistribution of wealth is not going to fix the problem altogether. It may be a band-aid and it may seem fair in the beginning. But ultimately we need to be about giving a hand up on that ladder, not just a hand out, because that’s what’s sustainable.
Again, that’s what I would say to you in the philanthropic community - you are about that hand up. We need to find more ways to work together and spread the word to those who have been successful and those who are at the top. Because much of the discussion again is about fairness. What should those who are at the top do? Is it a question of fairness that they pay their fair share and they are not somehow? And are we going to entrust the building across the street to determine what that fair share is? Or are we going to somehow take the success that has been managed in the private sector, try to spread the success, in other words try to design the system in a better way so that more can achieve that success. But at the same time ask those who have been successful to give back to the community.
I have been speaking on college campuses lately, and I hear a lot about jobs, that’s what they are all concerned about. Diana and I have three kids, two in college who are very concerned about jobs. And I always say, America doesn’t necessarily need a jobs plan, we need a Steve Jobs Plan. It’s because successful people like Steve Jobs whose inventions and innovations ended up giving iPads and iPods to millions and changed the world also gave back. Successful people can do that. Successful people can build infrastructures, can support educational institutions of reform to help those who aren’t given the tools to start with.
Again, I come to you with the message that there is a real awareness here in Washington of the critical role that the philanthropic and charitable community plays in the fabric of this country. I look forward to partnering with you on that and I look forward to hearing about ways of employing new communications tools to get the word out, and get more people engaged in the process of giving and the process of public policy making so we can have a win-win for everybody.
Thank you very much.