LEXINGTON, VA - Today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) will address Washington and Lee University’s 2012 Republican Mock Convention. At 4:00PM EST, the speech will stream live at www.mockconvention.com. The embargoed text of his speech, as prepared for delivery, appears below:
Thank you Student Delegates, faculty and, most especially, thank you Washington and Lee University! I want to thank Brandon Allred for the kind introduction and also, a special thanks to Tricia King, for her work as General Chair in hosting another terrific Convention!
Our gathering here and the state of our nation today emphasize the timelessness of Washington and Lee's motto: Non incautus futuri, meaning "Not unmindful of the future." Not unmindful of your future and our country's future, let me begin with a look at the past. W&L's proud past includes the establishment of three traditions shortly after the Civil War by its president at that time, General Robert E. Lee.
Those three traditions helped shape the future of this university and they can help shape the future of our country. The first was an honor system – run by students. The second was a tradition of speaking out about the course of the country and its leadership – exemplified by this Convention. And the third was an emphasis on national unity–characterized by the recruitment of students from both the north and the south, at a time when the country was deeply polarized.
Giving young people the responsibility to uphold those three traditions will help steer our country toward an exceptional future. I use the word exceptional because America has traditionally believed that it merits that description. But to earn an accolade is not merely to declare it – It is insufficient just to talk it. It is necessary to live it – to walk it.
I therefore challenge each citizen of our country – and our country's leaders – to measure their mettle against these questions related to W&L's traditions: What about our country's honor code makes us exceptional? What high standards should our citizens be held to? Who or what should enforce our honor code? What are the subjects that the times demand that citizens speak out on, regarding the direction and leadership of an exceptional country?
What do we have to do to be worthy of exceptionalism (individually and collectively) and what should we do to stretch ourselves to further excellence? What must be done to produce exceptional national unity, to lift the country to ever - higher achievement in many arenas?
I believe the answers to those questions go back to W&L's honor code, where two virtues intersect: responsibility and freedom. I believe that freedom is the outgrowth of responsible behavior. I do not believe that the granting of freedom necessarily results in responsibility. The few students who have broken W&L's honor code have demonstrated that truth. But where responsibility plants seeds, not just freedom but also opportunity and success can grow.
Let me illustrate by telling you about my grandmother. She came to this country as a young woman at the turn of the last century to escape the pogroms – the slaughter attacks and religious persecution – against Jews like her in her native Russia. She settled a couple of hours down the road from here in my hometown of Richmond.
For my Grandmother, the dream of coming to America was based on her belief in our nation's honor – our exceptionalism. She believed the United States to be a place of opportunity and a potentially better life for her children. As you can imagine, in the early 20th century, the South wasn't often the most accepting place for a young Jewish woman. It was a time of the Ku Klux Klan and vicious discrimination against blacks and Jews – among others.
Widowed by age 30, my grandmother raised my father and my uncle in a small apartment above a tiny grocery store that she and my grandfather had opened. She worked day and night and sacrificed tremendously to secure a better future for her children. And this young woman – who had the courage to journey to a distant land with hope as her only possession – lifted herself into the ranks of the middle class. Through hard work, thrift and faith, she was even able to send her two children to college.
All she wanted was a chance – a fair shot at making a better life for her two sons. And if she were still alive today, she would be shocked to know that her grandson is not only a Member of the U.S. Congress, but also the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Today, President Obama is saying in many of his speeches that, quote, “if we work together with common purpose, we can build an economy that gives everybody a fair shot.” I'm flattered that the president is using the term “fair shot” for all Americans.
This idea is something that I've spent a lot of time thinking and talking about, and it's part of what should be America's honor code. But the president's concept of a “fair shot” and mine differ. It's not a fair shot when Democrats and the president keep shooting down policies aimed at making the American economy and American society exceptional. To me, what makes our country so special is that no matter who you are, where you come from or what your background is if you work hard and play by the rules everyone has a fair shot at earning success.
Republicans in the House have done our part. We passed a budget to pay down debt and stimulate the economy, but the president has rejected that and pilloried Republicans as the party that favors the rich. What is rich is the president's recent adaptation of language many Republicans have been using for the last three years, regarding the challenges we all face.
Let me quote from a recent speech by the president in which he called for “a renewal of American values – hard work, responsibility, the same set of rules for everybody, from Wall Street to Main Street.” Speaking of a needed renewal of values later in that same speech, the president referenced “fair play.” Fair enough. But while the president has co-opted how Republicans talk, he has not co-opted how Republicans walk.
America's honor code as we see it, stems from our nation's Constitution, which calls for limited government and primary power residing in our citizens and their state governments. President Obama has demonstrated by his health care and financial reforms that he believes that working together means a collaboration giving disproportionate power–including mandates and regulatory overreach – to the federal government.
In the president's State of the Union address, he said, “I laid out a vision of how we move forward. I laid out a blueprint for an economy built to last.” But the president's very use of a term like an economy “built to last” calls on us as citizens to honor the W&L tradition of speaking out on subjects regarding the direction and leadership of an exceptional country.”
Free, flourishing economies are not “built to last,” least of all by government technocrats, bureaucrats and autocrats. Exceptional economies are “built to grow” and that growth is generated by the intersection of personal responsibility and personal freedom. Prosperous, dynamic, job-producing, innovative economies are free markets, regulated by government controls on lawless behavior but not strangled by governments bent on setting industrial policies and forcing marketplace mandates.
It is revealing that in many of his past speeches, President Obama has referred to the economy as a “car,” which he claims was driven into a ditch by Republican policies. The language once again reveals a president with an unusual view of our economy – that it is a machine, similar to a car.
But a successful economy is not a machine, which can be built and reengineered – jiggered with and finely tuned for maximum efficiency – by elected or appointed officials (whether in the federal government or The Federal Reserve). A successful economy does not grow from a machine-like construction by government. It grows from the somewhat chaotic but wonderfully inventive and creative networking and interactions of people – sellers and buyers in a free market.
Far from being “built to last,” a prosperous economy is built to evolve, adapt, even mutate into previously unimagined forms – with a maximum of freedom exercised by the intelligence, ingenuity and imagination of the economic innovators among us. If an economy were “built to last,” we'd still be relying on candles for illumination, relying on horses for transportation and relying on quill pens for written communication. That's not an economy built to last, but built to come in last.
Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with one of our nation's leading innovators and listening to his story. It's a story of a young boy who was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States at the age of six with his family. Like his father and grandfather before him, he studied math and computer science. He excelled in both subjects. He enrolled at the University of Maryland where he would stay up all night tackling his studies and coming up with ideas.
After graduation, he moved to Stanford University to follow his passion of earning a Ph. D. in computer science. There, in a crammed dorm room, he and his roommate, worked day and night. He had an idea. He wanted to revolutionize how information is found online. Using math to organize the web - they designed a system to help navigate the endless sea of information on the Internet.
That innovator was Sergey Brin and the idea they had became Google. Not only has Google revolutionized our everyday life; it has reshaped the entire technology industry. Today, Sergey Brin and his partner Larry Page are billionaires.
President Obama believes that a way to reengineer America economically is to raise taxes not only on billionaires like the inventors of Google, but also on other much less wealthy people, whom he mysteriously conflates with a billionaire like investor Warren Buffet. Here is what the president says, “Let's follow the Buffett Rule -- named after Warren: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent.”
We don't need a Buffet Rule. We need a Buffer Rule. A buffer is a shield to protect against the harm and hostility of an intrusive government. Let's look at reality. First of all, many people whom the President talks about are small to medium sized business owners, who create most of the new jobs in an economy stalled by the “built to last,” top down control policies of the current administration.
Secondly, beware the phrase “at least 30 percent.” Much of what President Obama characterizes as lightly taxed income comes from investments – the kind of investments that grow new businesses and create new jobs. If this kind of income gets taxed heavier and redistributed supposedly to other citizens but largely to big government, what do you think those millionaires and few billionaires will do? Will the future Sergey Brins – maybe people like you - be inclined to grow, invest and hire under these types of policies?
The president says that he has to tax the biggest generators of growth in our economy because of what he calls “basic math” – the need for government to spend more and supposedly pay down the debt. However, the president's math is a math of division – dividing the country into a war between rich and poor. Countries that play this game end up losing their economic prosperity, losing their freedom and losing their honor.
In contrast, my vision – the Republican vision – is a math of multiplication: multiplying job creation, innovation and experimentation by multiplying the money and power given back to hard-working individuals and taken away from bureaucrats. This will lead to job and business formation by small businesses, entrepreneurs and investors.
It is a vision of multiplication by getting rid of government red tape hampering the growth of the private economy. It is a vision of multiplied choices. This includes patient-driven health care that will lead to lower costs and more competition and market-driven energy development that will narrow our dependency on oil-producing foreign countries that are hostile to us.
The president's machine - like view of an economy breaks it down into limited working parts which technocrats like the president believe can be resized and redistributed. A dynamic, growth economy powered by people in private exchanges creates infinite working parts. These parts are unlimited in size and number and provide rising prosperity. That doesn't make everyone rich but it gives everyone a fair shot at a bigger pie of wealth in a society.
This begs the questions I asked earlier.
What do we have to do to be worthy of exceptionalism (individually and collectively) and what should we do to stretch ourselves to further excellence? What must be done to produce exceptional national unity, to lift the country to ever-higher achievement in many arenas? The truth is we are not growing enough small businesses that power hiring and expansion in our economy. In the past three years the number of new businesses launched each year has fallen by an unprecedented 23%. Why?
The simple answer is it has become too expensive to start your own business. Time and time again, successful CEOs say to me that, “There is no way I could start a business today”. The environment has put too many obstacles in front of small business men and women. In order to reclaim the promise and spirit that brought my Grandmother to our shore and the same promise that brought families like Sergey Brin's here – we must restore the trust between our government and its people.
Government must be downsized. The private sector must be upsized. We must restore the opportunity for entrepreneurialism that drives Americans to succeed. We must encourage more entrepreneurs to start small businesses and provide the environment so risk takers will again take risks.
This is where the jobs will come from. And our efforts should be to create an environment to foster job creation. That is why I propose a 20% small business tax cut to help the backbone of our economy – American small business people. We need to get government out of the way so investors are more freely able to invest in start-ups.
So let's be BOLD. I believe that it's time for a rebirth of that American dream. We should all aspire to success. We should all dream to achieve. Restoring the American dream, restoring prosperity, restoring not a guarantee of outcome but a fair shot at opportunity will dramatically reduce the polarization that afflicts America.
A rising economic tide allows boats to float closer to one another. The goal shouldn't be to take from those who have been successful and give to those at the bottom and expect our problems to be solved. We shouldn't be about wealth redistribution.
Republicans believe that what is fair is a hand up, not a hand out.The debate we'll have over the course of this year will be about what kind of America do we want to be? Do we want to be an America of independence or dependence? An America rising or declining?
The debate we'll have this year will feature the president's machine economy, which he wants “built to last.” But unfortunately that puts us on a machine called a government-run treadmill – designed to run us to unlimited federal spending and economic exhaustion.
Some people – who come from a very different perspective than mine – would encourage you to “rage against the machine” of the forces they oppose. I counter with the suggestion to “engage against the machine” of a government that sees you as a cog in the machinery of an economy and a society that they think they can design and run better than free individuals in a free market.
The alternative is what I have referred to as a ladder of success. Its rungs are hard work, faith, family, and opportunity. The ladder is ascended by people power – not government power. Instead of spending time trying to push those at the top DOWN the ladder, elected leaders in Washington should be trying to create a fair playing field so that everyone has a fair shot and the opportunity to earn success.
Washington should want ALL people to move up the ladder and NO people to be pulled down, just because they've succeeded and gotten to a high rung. We must ensure that those who abuse the rules are punished. We must ensure that the solution to wealth disparity is wealth mobility. We must give everyone the chance to move up the ladder. That means punishing unlawfulness, not punishing success.
Viktor Frankl, who wrote “Man's Search for Meaning”, one of the most influential books of the 20th century, had a vision that I share. On the East Coast stands the Statue of Liberty, but on the West Coast, said Frankl, should stand a Statue of Responsibility. In my vision, when these two statues join hands, the American people create a bridge that spans the whole country – a bridge of opportunity. And on the pillars of that bridge, I propose that we lay a foundation where those who are successful extend a hand to those who wish to climb.
It is you - the successful leaders of the future – who can be the designers and erectors of this bridge. Engage against the machine.
It is time to restore the American dream:
D: Deliver Economic and Jobs Growth
R: Reduce Debt, Spending and Big Government
E: Empower Individuals To Run Their Own Lives
A: Allow Free Markets To Improve Areas Like Health Care and Energy
M: Make America More Innovative, Competitive and Secure
With exceptional effort we can be an exceptional country–the country that inspired my family and countless others to dream.