Remarks of Karl Rove at the New York Conservative Party
Wednesday, June, 22, 2006
Thank you very much, Michael, for your kind introduction - and for all you have done over the years to advance the conservative cause in this great state and throughout our land. You are a forceful and articulate champion of conservatism - and all of us are grateful for your energy and commitment to a great cause.
I honored to receive the Charles Edison Memorial Award, particularly in light of your previous honorees, including Representative Jack Kemp, Senator Zell Miller, and above all, President Ronald Wilson Reagan. That is better company than I deserve to be in - but I'll take what I can get.
It's a pleasure to be among so many friends and fellow conservatives - and it's a privilege to speak to the Conservative Party of New York. You provide much of the energy and activism and hard work that has brought us to a moment when conservatism is the dominant political creed in America - and when we are making progress on so many important issues.
Think for a moment how much has been achieved by conservatives in the last 40 years. The conservative movement has gone from a small, principled opposition to a broad, inclusive movement that is self-assured, optimistic, forward-leaning, and dominant.
Four decades ago conservatism was relegated to the political wilderness - and today conservatism is the guiding philosophy in the White House, the Senate, the House, and in governorships and state legislatures throughout America.
More importantly, we have seen the great rise of a great cause. Conservatives have achieved a tremendous amount in the past 2 ½ decades - but there is more, much more, that remains to be done. This afternoon I will devote my remarks to the President's victory in November; the ideas that will continue to work in our favor; and the state of contemporary liberalism.
The political realignment in America is moving ahead; here are some of the reasons I believe this is happening.
To you, the Presidential election probably seems like it took place a long time ago; I know that's certainly how it seems to me. But it was a key election in the history of our country - and there are important things we can learn from it.
Recall that in 2004, we faced a united opposition which outspent our side by over $40 million in a time of controversial war and a recovering, but not recovered economy.
The 2004 election was a steep political mountain to climb, but the President scaled it - and he did so with energy, passion, decency, and an unwavering commitment to principle. What is significant about November's victory is not simply that the President won, but how he won.
In the 2004 election, President Bush placed all his chips on the table. There was no trimming on issues, no "campaign conversion," no backing away from Social Security and tax code reform. The President persistently made the case for an "ownership society"; championed a culture of life; defended the institution of marriage; stood with the people of Iraq in their passage to liberty; remained committed to spreading democracy in the Middle East; and continued to aggressively wage and win the war on global terrorism.
President Bush showed himself as he is. He wanted a referendum on what he has accomplished - and most importantly, on what he hopes to achieve.
The victory itself was significant. President Bush received more votes than any other candidate in American history. He's the first President since 1988 to win a majority of the popular vote. He increased his popular vote total by 11.6 million votes since 2000 - more than four-and-a-half times President Clinton's increase from 1992 to 1996. President Bush improved his percentage in all but three states. He improved his vote in 87 percent of all counties and carried more than 80 percent of the counties - and he won in 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties and George W. Bush is also the first President since FDR to be re-elected while his party gained seats in the House and Senate - and the first Republican President since 1924 to get re-elected while re-electing Republican House and Senate majorities. And he won with a higher percentage than any Democratic Presidential candidate has received since 1964.
President Bush achieved what almost none of his critics thought he would.
Once again, they misunderestimated what you and he could do.
And now, moving forward, here's why we will defy expectations again. It's because of the ideas we hold.
A quarter-century ago, a Senator from this state, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, wrote this: "of a sudden, the GOP has become a party of ideas." It was true then; and it remains true today. We are the party of ideas - and as Richard Weaver wrote, "ideas have consequences." With that in mind, here are some of the ideas I believe will lead to the further realignment of American politics.
We are seizing the Mantle of Idealism. As all of you know, President Bush is making a powerful case for spreading human liberty and defending human dignity. This was once largely the preserve of liberalism - but Ronald Reagan changed all that. It was President Reagan, you'll recall, who said the policy of the United States was not simply to contain Soviet Communism, but to transcend it. And we would, he argued, was because of the power of liberty.
President Bush has built on those beliefs - and he is committed to something no past President has ever attempted: spreading liberty to the broader Middle East. President Bush's eventual goal is the triumph of freedom and the end of tyranny in our 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 history and events.
During the last four decades we have witnessed the most spectacular growth of liberty in history. More nations are free today than ever before. Consider that in a four month period - from the end of 2004 to early 2005 -- we saw elections take place in Afghanistan, the Ukraine, among the Palestinians, and in Iraq. In the span of 113 days, more than 100 million people, living on two continents, have cast free votes in nations that had never known democracy. More than half of these voters are people of the Muslim faith who live in the broader Middle East. And since those elections we have seen what scholars refer to as "The Arab Spring" in Lebanon and Egypt and elsewhere. We are seeing unprecedented progress when it comes to spreading liberty in the Middle East.
This confidence in the power of liberty is anchored in the words of the Declaration of Independence; the arguments of President Lincoln; and the policies of President Reagan and President Bush. In his second Inaugural Address, President Bush stated it well:
"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."
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Second, our movement's growth has made us Agents of Reform. Edmund Burke, one of the most important figures in the history of conservatism, was known as an advocate of reform. He understood the essence of conservatism is applying timeless principles to changing circumstances, which is one of the keys to political success.
President Bush has pointed out that many of our most fundamental systems - the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, legal systems, public education, worker training among them - were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow. He is committed to reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time. As the President has said, to give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will bring the highest standards to our schools. We will build an ownership society by expanding the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance, and preparing Americans for the challenges of life in a free society. 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.
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Third, we are defending Time-Honored Values. Conservatives have long known that political liberty depends on a healthy social and moral order. And so the President is committed to strengthening society's key institutions - families, schools, communities, and protecting those mediating structures so important to our freedom, like our churches, neighborhood and private groups - the institutions that inculcate virtues, shape character, and provide the young with moral education.
That is why President Bush supports welfare reform that strengthens family and requires work. That is why he has supported adoption and responsible fatherhood initiatives. That is why he is building a culture of life and upholding the dignity of the human person - and seeks a world in which every child is welcomed in life and protected in law. And that is why he has provided unprecedented support for religious charities that provide a safety net of mercy and compassion.
It is why President Bush supports the protection of traditional marriage against activist judges; why he signed legislation that insists on testing, high standards, and accountability in our schools; and why he he has fostered a culture of service and citizenship.
President Bush supports these things because he believes they will lead to a society that is more compassionate and decent, stronger and better. We are attempting to spread liberty abroad - and we must show that we are worthy of liberty at home.
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Let me now say a few words about the state of liberalism. Perhaps the place to begin is with this stinging indictment:
"Liberalism is at greater risk now than at any time in recent American history. The risk is of political marginality, even irrelevance.… [L]iberalism risks getting defined, as conservatism once was, entirely in negative terms."
These are not the words of William F. Buckley, Jr. or Sean Hannity; they are the words of Paul Starr, co-editor of The American Prospect, a leading liberal publication.
There is much merit in what Mr. Starr writes - though he and I fundamentally disagree as to why liberalism is edging toward irrelevance. I believe the reason can be seen when comparing conservatism with liberalism.
Conservatives believe in lower taxes; liberals believe in higher taxes. We want few regulations; they want more. Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs. We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government. Conservatives believe in making America a less litigious society; liberals believe in making America a more litigious society. We believe in accountability and parental choice in education; they don't. Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a "culture of life"; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion.
But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to… submit a petition. I am not joking. Submitting a petition is precisely what Moveon.org did. It was a petition imploring the powers that be" to "use moderation and restraint in responding to the… terrorist attacks against the United States."
I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the earth; a side of the Pentagon destroyed; and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble.
Moderation and restraint is not what I felt - and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will - and to brandish steel.
MoveOn.Org, Michael Moore and Howard Dean may not have agreed with this, but the American people did. Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see … Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia.
Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantanamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot - three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the 20th century?
Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.
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Let me end where I began. Forty years ago, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a proud liberal, won the Presidency in a landslide. His party held 68 Senate seats; 295 House seats; and 33 governorships.
In 2004 George W. Bush, a proud conservative, won the Presidency for the second time, receiving the most votes in American history. His party has now won seven of the last 10 Presidential elections. Republicans hold 55 Senate seats; 232 House seats; and 28 governorships.
These facts underscore how much progress has been made in four decades. It has been a remarkable rise. But it is also a cautionary tale of what happens to a dominant party - in this case, the Democrat 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 movement in America, conservatives cannot grow tired or timid. We have been given the opportunity to govern; now we have to show we deserve the trust of our fellow citizens.
At one time the conservative movement was largely a reactionary political party - and there was a sense of pessimism even among many of its ardent champions. You'll recall that Whittaker Chambers, who gave up his affiliation with Communism to join the West in its struggle for freedom, said he believed he was joining the losing side.
For decades, liberals were setting the agenda, the pace of change, and the visionary goals. Conservatives were simply reacting to them. But times change, often for the better - and this President and today's conservative movement are shaping history, not trying to stop it. Together we are articulating a compelling vision of a better world -- and I am grateful to all of you who are making that better world a reality.
Thank you very much for your attention, for your support of this President, and above all, for your devotion to this country.