MAY 2021 POLICY COUNSEL SPEECHES
The Honorable William P. Barr
Former Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice
Alliance Defending Freedom Edwin Meese III Award for Originalism & Religious Freedom Recipient
I want to take a few moments to speak with you about the greatest threat to religious liberty in America today: the increasingly militant and extreme secular-progressive climate of our state-run education system.
Over the past 12 tumultuous months, there has been a great deal of discussion about the radical ideology being promoted in our schools, and what it means for national unity, public safety, and the health of our politics. Much less has been said about an issue of perhaps even greater long-term consequence: what this indoctrination in public schools means for the rights of people of faith.
We are rapidly approaching the point—if we have not already reached the point—at which the heavy-handed enforcement of secular-progressive orthodoxy through government-run schools is totally incompatible with traditional Christianity and other major religious traditions in our country. In light of this development, we must confront the reality that it may no longer be fair, practical, or even Constitutional to provide publicly-funded education solely through the vehicle of state-operated schools.
Let me begin with an observation about the purpose and nature of education. Throughout the history of Western Civilization, it has been generally understood that a true education—as opposed to merely the conveyance of technical skills or vocational know-how—is inherently bound up with religion and morality. It necessarily deals with the big questions. Is there truth? How do we arrive at the truth? What is the end of life? How should we live? Civic Virtue, Moral Virtue, Religion, and Knowledge were always regarded as inextricably interlinked.
The notion that we can hermetically seal off religion from education is a relatively novel idea—and it is an idea that the experience of the past half century has refuted in rather spectacular fashion. For a time, a culturally homogeneous American society was able to finesse it—but today, the situation as it stands is clearly untenable.
The American approach to public schooling and its relationship to religion has proceeded in three distinct historical phases. The early advocates for public education, particularly Horace Mann and the common school movement, saw public schools as performing at least two missions:
(1) inculcating a sense of common identity and common civic and cultural bonds – forging the unum out of the pluribus;
(2) the moral formation of America’s youth—the building of moral character.
In this first phase, the advocates of public schools agreed that religion was integral to such an education. You could not separate moral education from religion.
So, the early advocates of public schools explicitly incorporated religion into the schools. It was an anodyne form of Christianity that was composed of all the key articles of faith that Protestant denominations generally agreed upon. This was a generally acceptable “pan-Protestantism.” And the idea was that schools should teach religion that was common to all, or at least all Christians.
And so it was up to the second half of the 20th Century. It was the presence of this form of pan-Protestantism in the schools that led to the creation of separate school systems for the Catholics and religious Jews.
The key point is that up until the 1970’s, or so, the instruction received in the public school system openly embraced Judeo-Christian beliefs and values, and most certainly was not hostile to, nor fundamentally in conflict with, traditional religious beliefs. In short, religion and the public school system were compatible because the school system embraced a generally acceptable form of Christianity.
The second phase of public schooling came in the latter part of the 20th century. This is when the Left embarked on a relentless campaign of secularization intent on driving every vestige of traditional religion from the public square. Public schools quickly became the central battleground.
This was the period where it was thought you could completely isolate education from religion. The idea was that education should be completely secularized by stripping away all vestiges of religion or religious belief systems. It was secularization by subtraction. Yet even as the schools were forcibly secularized, the notion of moral instruction did not simply go away. The rich Judeo-Christian tradition was replaced with trite talk of liberal values—be a good person, be caring.
But there was no underpinning for these values. What passed for morality had no metaphysical foundation. It is hard to teach that someone ought to behave in a certain way unless you can explain why.
“Values” in public schools became really nothing more than mere sentimentality, still drawing on the vapor trails of Christianity. They are a vain attempt to retain familiar sounding ethics and mores, but without God. When you take away religion, you have left a moral vacuum.
But all of that seems quaint and even benign compared to what we are now witnessing.
Just in the last several years, we have entered PHASE THREE of public education.
This no longer secularization by subtraction. Now we see the affirmative indoctrination of children with a secular belief system and worldview that is a substitute for religion and is antithetical to the beliefs and values of traditional God-centered religion.
In other words, purging schools of any trace of religion created a vacuum by eliminating the explanatory belief system undergirding moral values. Now, we are seeing the attempt to push into the schools an alternative explanatory belief system that is inconsistent with, and subversive of, the religious worldview.
In many places in the country, the state of our public schools is becoming an absurdity that can scarcely be believed. While an astonishing number of public schools fail to produce students proficient in basic reading and math, they spare no effort or expense in their drive to instill a radical secular belief system that would have been unimaginable to Americans even 20 years ago.
Consider just one example. Earlier this year, an Iowa public school district taught trans-genderism and homosexuality to students at all grade levels—including pre-school. As part of a “Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action,” the school district distributed a children’s coloring book page that teaches: “Everyone gets to choose if they are a girl or a boy or both or neither or someone else, and no one else gets to choose for them.”
Clearly, this is not established “science.” Rather, it is a moral, psychological, and metaphysical dogma of the new progressive orthodoxy. In fact, until very recently, virtually no one in America had even heard of these radical notions, yet they are now so thoroughly institutionalized in many public schools that in some states children are permitted to select a new gender without the consent of their parents.
This is not a matter of isolated ideas occasionally popping up that are so discrete and fleeting as to do no great harm. What is taking shape is a full-blown—may I say “systemic”—subversion of the religious worldview. While the secularist may view each lesson, such as transsexualism—as dealing with a discrete subject, those lessons embody broader ideas that are fundamentally incompatible with the religious viewpoint. Telling school children that they get to choose their gender—not just male or female, but anything else—and that no one else has anything to say about it—does not just contradict particular religious teachings on gender and the authority of parents; it is a broadside attack on the very idea of natural law, which is integral to the moral doctrines of a number of religious denominations.
As of this school year, about one fifth of Americans live in a state that mandates an LGBTQ curriculum in public schools. In the absence of a statewide mandate, curricula are also frequently adopted in particular school districts. These new laws often lack any opt-out for religious families. In Orange County, California, for example, the Board of Education issued an opinion that “parents who disagree with the instructional materials related to gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation may not excuse their children from this instruction.”
But the progressive gender and sexuality agenda only begins to scratch the surface of what is now being taught in government-run schools.
In recent years, public schools across the country have rushed to embrace so-called “Critical Race Theory.” CRT is nothing more than the materialist philosophy of Marxism substituting racial antagonism for class antagonism. It posits all the same things as traditional Marxism: that there are meta-historical forces at work; that social pathologies are due to societal conventions and power structures which have to be destroyed; that conflict between the oppressed and the oppressors provides the dynamic and progressive movement of history; and that individual morality is determined by where one fits in with the impersonal movement of these historical forces. And just as everyone from the Catholic Church on down has observed about traditional Marxism, this philosophy is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity. It posits a view of man and his relation to society and to other individuals that is antithetical to the Christian view.
Now it seems to me that for the government to get into the business through public schools of indoctrination of students into secular beliefs systems that are directly contrary to the traditional religious beliefs of students and their families raises fundamental constitutional problems.
It certainly raises a free exercise problem. As the Supreme Court has recognized, nothing is more fundamental that the right of parents to pass religious faith to their children. It is monstrous for the state to interfere in that by indoctrinating children into alternative belief systems that are antithetical to those religious beliefs.
So, it seems to me that if a school proposes to teach that a child gets to pick their gender and no one else has anything to say about it, they are infringing on the free exercise of religion unless they allow parents to opt out.
But I think things have also reached a point where the Establishment Clause is implicated. When we are no longer talking about simply stripping religion out of school curriculum, but now talking about indoctrination into an affirmative belief and value system—a new credo—resting on materialist metaphysics and taking the place of religion, then the question is whether this involves establishment of a religion. I am not the first to observe that the tenets of progressive orthodoxy have become a form of religion with all the trappings and hallmarks of a religion. It has its notion of original sin, salvation, penance, its clergy, its dogmas, its sensitivity to any whiff of heresy, even its burning at the stake.
Indeed, the decades-long secular project has ended up proving the truth described by the late writer David Foster Wallace when he said, “There is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
Indeed, secular-progressivism has already been recognized as a religion in the courts when it suits the secularist cause. When non-believers sought conscientious-objector status during World War II, the Second Circuit construed the phrase “religious training or belief” to include beliefs that are “the equivalent of what has always been thought a religious impulse.” The Supreme Court followed suit in a similar case during the Vietnam War. Instead of “belief in a Supreme Being,” as the relevant statute required, the Supreme Court held that an objector to military service need only demonstrate a “belief that is sincere and meaningful [and] occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by [traditional religion].” In another case implicating the Free Exercise Clause, the Court referred in passing to secular humanism, Buddhism, and Taoism as examples of “non-theistic” religions. Many federal, state, and local agencies also recognize “humanism” as a religion.
But while secularism has been afforded the protection of the Religion Clauses, it has generally not been subject to the prohibitions of the Establishment Clause. This creates an often-overlooked constitutional double-standard, particularly when it comes to education.
The Courts have in fact foreseen the potential for secularism itself to become established as a state religion. In one of the first cases abolishing school prayer, the Supreme Court acknowledged that “the State MAY NOT establish a ‘religion of secularism’ in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus ‘preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe.’” We have to consider whether our public schools, as currently constituted, are doing exactly that.
If secular-progressivism indeed occupies the same space as a religion—as by all appearances it does—then how is it Constitutional to have a state-run school system fervently devoted to teaching little else? And how on earth can these same institutions be allowed to use the state to punish traditional religious doctrines as hate speech?
The current posture of public schools raises another question. One of the main justifications for the common school movement was that they would be institutions to effectuate the melting pot—to promote our common identity, to promote a solidarity based on being an American. But now the schools have taken on the opposite mission of separating us, of teaching unbridgeable differences, of dividing us into many different identities destined to be antagonistic. It is all the more alarming and bizarre that the new state-sanctioned ideology challenges the very legitimacy of the nation itself—to the point of explicitly attacking its founding documents, principles, and symbols. If the state-operated schools are now waging war on the nation’s moral, historical, philosophical, and religious foundations, then they would seem to have forfeited their legitimacy as the proper vehicle to carry out the mission with which the American People have charged them.
The time has come to admit that the approach of giving militantly secularist government-run schools a monopoly over publicly funded education has become a disaster. It has deformed and impoverished the very nature of the educational enterprise, first by purging it of any moral or spiritual dimension, then by trying to substitute for traditional religion an irreconcilable rival value system. Parents wishing to opt-out from the government’s secular-progressive madrassas are subject to a harsh penalty in the form of private school tuition that most cannot afford. As a result, our public schools have inevitably become cockpits for a vicious, winner-take-all culture war over the moral formation of our children.
It does not have to be this way. Public funding of education does NOT require that instruction must be delivered by means of government-run schools. The alternative is to have public funds travel with each student, allowing the student and the parents to choose the school—private, public, sectarian, or non-sectarian—that best fits their needs and the dictates of their conscience.
In this environment, vouchers may be the only workable solution. They would also promote all kinds of diversity in our schools—diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds, and ways of thinking. Americans would be free to live according to their beliefs even if their views do not conform to the dominant culture. Happily, vouchers also tend to provide greater opportunity for less privileged children as well. Kids from poor households would not be relegated to failing government-run schools in the poorest neighborhoods. In this way, a universal voucher system would solve some of our most intractable and contentious social problems.
Confronting this issue is one of the most urgent tasks for concerned legislators, lawyers, and organizations such as this one. To save religious liberty, we must save our families and their children from the extreme secular-progressivism that pervades our current system of public schools.
The Honorable Mike Huckabee
State of Arkansas
MIKE HUCKABEE: Thank you very much, Bill. He was saying that Rob McCoy and I are very close. Actually, I don’t even know who this guy is; I’ve never met him. No, he is a dear friend and one of the most amazing pastors in America. God has used him in so many spectacular ways, and I’m excited about being able to visit with him.
I’m going to speak a few moments, and then we’ll have a time of Q&A. Now, what you think that means is Questions and Answers. You know what that really means? If you’re in politics, it means Questions and Avoidance. Rob can ask anything he wants—as can you—and my job is to try not to say something that will be a career-ending answer.
To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter. I’m never going to run for anything ever again. I’ve got a freedom and a liberty that I’ve never had quite like this before. My daughter’s got to be careful; I don’t. I will tell you this: there were these rumors that I was going to run, of all things, for governor of Florida. This was about four years ago. My wife and I had moved to Florida, and we were living in the panhandle. These rumors kept persisting. The Orlando television station even did a state-wide poll. The amazing thing was that I was leading in the poll, which was really bizarre. So people thought that there must be something to it; there was never anything to it. Finally, at a Republican gathering in Florida, I made this comment, “Folks, I’m not running. I’m never going to run. I’m done with running for office. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. But there is a greater chance that I will have transgender surgery than that I will ever run for anything again.” And for the first time, people started believing me.
It’s fascinating to see that none of us have masks on. I did bring mine just in case.
By the way, when Bill was talking about all the people that I’ve played music with on my television show, I had people come up and say, “Man, you really played with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Toby Keith, and Willie Nelson and all these people.” I said, “Yeah.” They said, “I really didn’t know you were that good.” I said, “I’m not that good, but it’s my show; I get to play.” I have no business playing with these people, but what a dream it has been.
Now, I may be the only person in the room who thinks this, but I’m a little disappointed that the CDC has dropped the mask mandate. I think maybe I’m the only person, not just in this room, maybe one of the few people in America, and here’s why. Starting in March of last year, I didn’t have to brush my teeth for 14 months. You want to have social distancing? Lower you mask. Six feet ain’t enough at that point.
It’s an extraordinary time in our country because of the election and what’s happening. I want to address something that so many people ask me about these days, and that’s my daughter who is running for governor of Arkansas. I’m very proud of her. And people, when she was the White House Press Secretary, would come up to me all the time and say, “Wow, how did your daughter get to be so tough?” I said, “Have you ever met her mother?” Not that I would ever say that when Janet was around but some of you know my wife, and you know that it’s the stinking truth when I say that. But people would often say, “When I see her walk into that press room and they’re so hostile to her…does it make you nervous when you see your daughter go in there?” I said, “Oh yeah, but not for her. I’m worried that she’s going to take Jim Acosta’s head off and hand it to him and maybe put it in a box and send it home with him.”
Let me also mention that I used to get introductions that were pretty flowery. All the things that I’ve done would start back in high school. I’m very grateful that Bill gave a good introduction tonight. That’s more than I usually get. These days, a lot of places I go, the introduction is this: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sarah’s dad. And that’s it. Somebody actually made me a t-shirt, and that’s what it says on the front: Sarah’s dad. But no parent is ever jealous of his or her child’s success. I’m not the least bit unhappy about the fact that the kid is doing very well. I think that she will be the next governor of Arkansas, and quite frankly for me, one of the coolest things that I think is on the horizon is that when her three kids try to hide from her in the governor’s mansion, she knows where all of the hiding places already are. She’s already been there.
Let me begin by saying this: We are living in a time when, for the most part, our culture has been turned upside. That’s our culture today: Upside down. If you think about it, we’re hearing people say to follow the science, as if that’s absolute. Then, we find out that the science isn’t so absolute. It’s more political science than it is genuine evidentiary science, and it ought to disturb us a little bit when politics has dictated what should genuinely be science. So let me mention a couple of things that are absolute science. There are not 57 genders. There are 2: Male and female. There may be confused people.
I’m genuinely—and I’m not saying this facetiously—I am genuinely heartbroken for people who have gender dysphoria, and that’s real. There are people who are very confused, and they’re more so now because they’re almost egged into this understanding of who they are. Sometimes kids, five or six years old—these are kids who don’t know what they want to have for lunch. I’m pretty sure they’re not in a position where they can make permanent decisions about their everlasting gender. So, I’m sympathetic when people truly have gender dysphoria, but that does not erase the scientific fact that there are two genders, not 57, not 112. And sometimes we get into this experience where we forget that there really is a science.
Here’s another piece of science. At the moment of conception, when 23 chromosomes from a male and 23 from a female merge together…at the moment of conception, that’s a separate, unique, and identifiable human being. That is a person whose DNA is formed at that very second, that very millisecond in fact. And if that person lives to be 80 years old, the DNA is going to be exactly at age 80 what it was at conception. That person is not a mere extension of his or her mother. Because if he or she was, the person would share the same DNA, even the same blood type. And many times, as you know, your own children don’t necessarily share your blood type.
So, a baby inside a mother is not simply an organ like an appendix or a lung; it is a separate human life. Now, we can have an argument about whether there is value in that human life. I would say that there is absolutely value in that human life because God is the one who created it, and neither I nor anyone else has any right to deem that life as lacking value or worth.
Every life should have intrinsic worth and value. I do not think there is such a thing as a disposable child. I don’t think there’s such a thing as an expendable child, a child who simply lacks any value that we should care for. I will go so far as to say that I believe that the child with Down Syndrome is every bit as precious in the eyes of the Creator God as the captain of the football team. We should never somehow link some people as being valuable and others not being valuable.
This is who we are as a country. The very concept of what it means when we say we hold these truths to be self-evident that all of us are created equal. Or, as Joe Biden would say, “You know, the thing.” That’s one for the books, isn’t it? We hold these things to be self-evident, which means they are so obvious we shouldn’t even have to explain them, but our founders were smart enough to go ahead and explain them. That all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator, not by their government, not by their parents, not by their schools, but endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That one sentence really is the foundation of everything this country has become. It’s the Declaration of Independence, which really became the precursor to the Constitution, and all has been built on that notion.
We’ve been far from perfect. Yes, there have been some horrible times in our national history. Women weren’t always treated with the same level of worth as men were, and that is to our shame. People of color weren’t always treated with the same level of respect and decency, and that is to our shame. But it is equally to our shame for us to say that the entire country was founded on the notion of preserving white supremacy and racism, for that is simply not the case. We’re bigger than that. We’ve proven it by the fact that we’ve constantly changed and evolved to become more and more what we truly are, a place where every person is valued as having equal worth.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re all the same. Folks, early in my teen life, I realized I wasn’t a great athlete. I was never going to quarterback the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl. These days, I’m not sure anybody else will ever do it either, but I was pretty sure back in the 60’s that I wasn’t going to do it. So, I found other things to do with my life and my talents and my skills. I’ve enjoyed doing those things a whole lot more than having my bell rung by people running into me at full speed.
We’re living in a time when, quite frankly, there’s a whole lot of the science of fear. I’m convinced that someday, when our grandchildren look back at this period of history, they’re going to ask, “What were our leaders thinking? Why did they instill such a level of fear in every person? Why did they make us afraid to touch anybody, to go anywhere, to hug anybody? Make us afraid to even touch something and have us walk around like zombies?”
When I started traveling again, back within a month or two of the pandemic’s outbreak, there weren’t many people in the airport. But I immediately noticed the most shocking thing. It was not the fact that concourses were so empty that you could have taken a shotgun, set it off, and not hurt anyone. It was that empty. What I found was that as I was walking past the few people I saw, everybody was like a zombie because there were no facial expressions. Were these people smiling or were they frowning? Did they give me a nod—like “Hi!”—or like a “Grrrrr!” Because I got plenty of both. And I just kind of like to know when that’s coming.
One of the things that I’ve learned is when someone wants to argue with me and tell me what an idiot I am never take the bait. So, my normal routine when somebody comes us and says, “I think you’re the biggest fool that ever got elected to anything. I think your comments are utterly absurd.” They just tear into me. Usually, out of the corner of my eye, I can see somebody with a cell phone camera. They’re taping the whole thing. They’re hoping that I’m going to blow up, and they’re going to have a viral moment. I’m quite aware of that. I’m not totally stupid…almost, but not totally. So when I see that, and somebody’s lighting into me, I just wait until they’re finished. I smile, and I say, “You know, it’s funny you should say that because my wife says the same thing to me almost every single day of my life.” It is the last thing they expect, and they don’t know what to do. They just kind of look and say, “Oh,” and they walk away. End of the argument. Because there’s no point in grabbing a tiger by the tail; it never turns out really good.
The science of fear has gripped this country, and the only thing I can think of that I can relate it to is back when I was child—some of you are old enough, in fact several of you are really old enough, but that’s a whole ‘nother story—but how many of you…no, I won’t ask for the show of hands. That’s embarrassing. But some of us here remember when we were little kids, and in school, we practiced “duck and cover.” Remember that? We had drills in case the Russians attacked. Long before Eric Swalwell thought they were coming to get us, our government told us the Russians were about to launch the big one. They were going to light that candle, and off it comes. And somehow in the little town of Hope, Arkansas (population 8,000) in Brookwood Elementary School, we took precautions.
Now, why did we think that, of all the places in the world, the Russians would steer a nuclear attack at Brookwood elementary? I don’t really know. But, by golly, we did “duck and cover” under the little wooden desks. I never questioned it; we just did it. Looking back, that’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. If a nuclear bomb had hit the school, we’d all have been vaporized. That little wooden desk wouldn’t have done one stinking thing to keep me alive, but there I’d be with my hands over my head because we’d been taught to be afraid of the Russians.
Well, we’re living in a time today where one of our greatest challenges is dealing with the communications that people present that mean the opposite of what they’re saying. I feel somewhat qualified to speak to this because I’m a Southerner. Maybe you don’t understand, but I’m going to explain it to you. When a liberal says that we must be diverse, what they mean is that we must be uniform. And when a progressive says that we must be tolerant, what they really mean is that we must be intolerant to anyone who doesn’t agree with us 100%. So what they say is exactly the opposite of what they mean.
This is not something I don’t understand; I totally get it because I’m a Southerner. When a Southern woman says to you, “Bless your heart,” it does not mean what those of you in Michigan think it means. It means she’s about to take your insides out and spill them on the floor in front of you, and there’s not a thing you can do to stop it. Because “bless your heart” is not a term of endearment when a Southerner says that in that tone of voice. Here’s another: When a Southern lady says, “What did you say?” she is not asking you to repeat it. She is asking, “Are you good with Jesus because you’re about to meet him right now.” I’m convinced that a lot of the progressive communications ideas have actually been built on Southern culture. It’s time we change that.
We are living in a very challenging time because we are dealing with something that we’ve never dealt with before. That is the curse of cowardly corporate boardrooms. This is new. There was a time when businesses just did their business. If they sold coffee, they sold you coffee. They were selling their product, not their politics. Not anymore. And I don’t fully understand this, except that the left has put so much pressure on corporate boardrooms. They are so afraid of the left, that they are going to be ridiculed, or maybe boycotted. Those of us on the other side, we have done nothing. We are absolutely silent. We don’t speak up and say a whole lot. So when down in GA, you have Woke-a-Cola, who decides that it doesn’t like a bill, one that its lobbyists knew full well everything in it but because Stacy Abrams and the left crowd decided to get loud about it, they capitulated. As did Delta Airlines. As did Nike and Peloton. But here’s what doesn’t make sense: Why would these companies surrender so quickly? Why would they capitulate?
I’ll tell you why. Because in their corporate boardrooms, they believe that there’s only one side they have to answer to. If 70-80 million conservative Christian people could ever flex our collective voices, this would not be happening anymore. It would not.
Progressivism is a true anti-biblical curse upon our culture. It’s having a dramatic impact upon even our economic policies. Many of you in this room are employers, and you probably know how difficult it is to get people to come to work right now because they’re making more money getting the unemployment and the bailout money from Joe Biden’s COVID “relief” than they would get from working. Some who made $15 or $25 an hour can make $35 an hour by sitting at home. Part of me wants to blame people for not working, but the truth is that they’re not stupid. The people in government who created a program that paid people more money to not work than to work, they’re stupid, and we should never allow them to get away with something that ridiculous.
I’m reminded of the banker who everyday would take the same path on the sidewalk into his bank. There was a beggar who always would sit right out in front of the bank selling apples. The banker said one day, “I’ll take an apple from you. How much are they?” “They’re a quarter,” the beggar said. The banker tossed him a quarter. The guy started handing him an apple, and he said, “Ah, just keep the apple; it’s okay, but here’s the quarter.” Next day, same thing. Tossed him a quarter; the guy said, “Here’s your apple.” He said, “Nah nah, I don’t need the apple, just keep it.”
This went on for weeks. Every day the banker would come toss him a quarter, and the guy would offer an apple. The banker would never accept it. One day the banker comes by, looks at him, tosses him a quarter, starts to walk away, and the guy says, “Excuse me, sir.” The banker says, “Oh it’s okay I don’t want the apple.” “No, that’s not it. Apples are fifty cents now.” Some of you aren’t going to get that for a while…[Laughter]…but that story is exactly what’s happening in our economy now.
When people believe that they can get something from the government for nothing and if we ever make them dependent upon that, they end up becoming like the species that it becomes dangerous to feed. My wife and I lived on Santa Rosa Beach in the panhandle of Florida for almost 10 years. One of the things we learned is never feed the seagulls. How come? Because if you feed the seagulls, they get used to being fed by people instead of going out and getting their fish. You know what happens? They die. They die because they forget how to hunt for their food. Want to kill a culture? Kill an economy. Teach people to just keep showing up at the government window rather than to show up at the workplace, and it will destroy an economy.
I’m very concerned that I’m seeing major corporation CEOs get down on their knees and beg for forgiveness for racism that they never committed, and they think it looks so humble. I don’t mean to offend anybody, but if I do, so be it. Like I said, I’m not running for anything, so who cares? Let me tell you something. You cannot confess a sin you did not commit. If you have not practiced racism, you can’t confess somebody else’s racism. If it happened 50 years ago, 100 years ago, it is not your job to confess a sin that you did not personally commit because God and the Holy Spirit are not holding you responsible for the sin of another person. You can’t repent for somebody else. I’ve seen CEOs get down on their knees in front of people of color and beg their forgiveness for the systemic racism that exists in our culture, and they think that makes them look so humble. I would say to you without apology: It is not humility that drives that; it is pride. That is an act of pride to show how spiritual we must be to be able to stand against racism that wasn’t even ours.
We’re in a tough game. Folks, we’re not playing checkers; we’re playing NFL football. I get some letters every week from people who watch my show on TBN. Which, by the way, I’ve never had anything I’ve done in my life that I’ve enjoyed more than this show on TBN. If you don’t watch it, shame on you. Shame on you. [Laughter] Most wonderful group of people I’ve ever worked with. I absolutely love the people and the team we have, and there’s been a level of freedom that I’ve had there that I’ve never had anywhere in my life. I think we’re producing a quality television show that is not so overtly Christian that it just preaches at people, but the hint of the gospel is throughout. I’m very thrilled with how we try to present the truth, but we also do it with wholesome entertainment, and it’s just a fun show. As I said, I’ve never done anything that I’ve loved more.
But, almost every week, I get a letter from somebody, and they’re upset because I said something they didn’t like. Usually, it was something political. They say, “I can’t believe you said that political statement. And I’m thinking, “What do you think I am? I mean, I was a governor, ran for president twice. What do you think I’m going to talk about here?” Come on, people, get in the game.
And I want to make it very clear. I don’t want to be mean; I don’t want to be unkind. I never want to be un-Christian, but I really don’t have a lot of patience with people who believe that if you’re a Christian, you’re supposed to just roll over and let people wipe the floor with you. I’m going to tell you why. At the church, maybe you need to be all gracious and kind. But if you’re going to engage in the realm of the political world, please understand that ain’t church. The people who get their heads handed to them are the ones who think they’re going to play by church rules when they get into the state capitol or the city government or the nation’s capitol, and they’re not. When the NFL players play, the person may be a wonderful Christian believer playing football, but he doesn’t go up to the line of scrimmage and look over to the defensive tackle and say, “Now in a moment when they hand that ball over to the quarterback, I may have to touch you a little bit. I don’t mean to hurt you, and I’ll try not to hit you real hard.” No, when the ball is snapped, you’re going to go full speed, and you’re going to do everything you can to clean his clock because that’s the rule of the game. You tackle hard; you hit hard. That’s football. If you don’t want to hit hard, don’t play football. Play checkers. It’s pretty safe. Nobody gets hurt playing checkers.
What I’m saying is that I don’t understand how so many people somehow naively believe that we can engage in the world of politics and that we’re not going to get hurt. We are. It’s a blood sport. There’s almost not a week that goes by that somebody says to me, “I’m thinking about running for office, what do you think?” And the first thought out of my mouth is this: If you can’t stand the sight of your own blood, don’t do it. This is a full contact sport; it’s played without pads, and you’re going to get hurt. You’re going to get hurt bad. No matter how good you are, you’re still going to get hurt. If you can’t handle that, cheer on other people, support them with your money, put up yard signs. But for heaven’s sakes don’t put your name on the ballot because, the moment you do, you are a target in the backfield, and everyone on that defense is going to come and take your head off. Don’t ever kid yourself and think that’s not going to happen.
Folks, we’re in it in order to preserve this great republic of ours, and it’s worth saving. I love this country. Look, I know where I came from. My mother was the oldest of seven kids, grew up during the Depression, lived in a house in Hope, Arkansas that didn’t even have floors. Dirt, just dirt, that was all there was. No electricity, no plumbing. A shed and dirt. I’m the first male in my entire family lineage to ever graduate high school, much less go to college. You’re not looking at a guy who has ancestry that came over on the Mayflower. Our folks were dumped out of the debtor’s prisons of England and dropped off in the swamps of Georgia and told, “Good luck; have at it.” My dad used to tell me, “Son, don’t look very far up the family tree, because there’s some stuff up there you don’t need to see.” I got to looking around and thought, “The old man’s right!” Man, there’s some stuff up there nobody ought to see. The fact that I’ve been able to live the life I’ve lived is a testament to this wonderful country, the United States of America.
I think one of the few things that will save this country is that we make sure that the next generation has an education that helps them to understand that America is not an evil place. It doesn’t have a dark and horrible history; it has a magnificent history. Flaws, oh sure. But a magnificent history that enabled and empowered and liberated millions of people not only here but around the world.
Sometimes I hear people—even in our own Republican party—say they don’t like Donald Trump. They don’t like his personality, and they think he’s just a little bit too harsh. And maybe he tweets some stuff that hurt their feelings. For heaven’s sakes, get over it. I’ve told people Donald Trump is like a medical doctor who had one of the worst bedside manners of any doctor in the hospital, but if you had a life-threatening disease and needed a surgeon, he’s the guy you probably want in there because he’s going to fix you. And that matters.
I’ll never forget a visit I had with him. This is not about so much Donald Trump, but it’s about those who just can’t get over a personality. See, I don’t elect people because of their personality. I want them to have policies that will help preserve our basic principles. I was in the White House, and this was about a week after he had announced that he was going to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something that so many of us had been praying would happen. And yet Republican and Democrat presidents alike had promised to do it for over 20 years, and nobody had had the guts. Donald Trump said, “I’m going to do it.”
Now, I knew that everyone in the state department told him not to do it. I knew that a lot of the people on his own staff told him not to do it. The world leaders, not just in the Middle East but across the planet, told him not to do it. “It’ll be a disaster! If you do this, the world will explode!” And he said, “I’m going to do it.” And he did it…And he did it.
I asked him, “Mr. President, I’m just curious. Why did you do it?” Just the two of us were talking. I’ll never forget what he said. He looked at me matter of factly and said, “Because I said I would, and it was the right thing to do.” That’s it. And I thought, “That’s the kind of leadership we need: leadership that does the right thing and keeps a promise. If we can have that kind of person elected regardless of the personality, we will save this great republic of ours, and we better do it. Thank you very much.
Former Speaker of the House
It’s a great honor to be here, to have a chance to chat with you for a few minutes and to see so many friends who have made such an enormous difference. I think almost no one understands how big a part of the Reagan first term was the work that some people in this room did the year before the election by bringing together 250 experts who developed an entire plan for taking over the federal government. Reagan liked the chapters of their report so well that he just hired the people who had written the chapters and literally had 250 people on day one.
It’s one of the great differences, frankly, between what happened with Trump and what happened with Reagan. Reagan represented a movement which had been growing and evolving and developing for almost two decades, so there was a cadre. Trump was a true insurgency. There’s no natural Trump network. As a result, it took a lot of the appointees the first three years to begin to figure out how big the problem was.
I think that’s a key part of why I’m here. I went about six weeks ago to a meeting with about 30 House Republicans, a breakfast of the Conservative Opportunity Society, and was introduced with the observation that I had helped found it 37 years ago, which is one way of framing how old I’ve gotten. While we were talking and answering questions, one of the members—Steve Chabot of Cincinnati—made the point that he is the last member of the class of ‘94 still serving in the House. Several have gone on to the Senate, Lindsey Graham being probably the most obvious example, but he was the last one. And he went on to say that the GOPAC training tapes were integral to how we were able to operate in the House and get so many things done so rapidly. He said that he and the other candidates who were running in ‘94 literally would study the tapes and listen to them and try to understand them. He said that we need to go back to something like that.
There’s a vacuum at the core of what we’re doing. I was struck with it partially because, at our peak, GOPAC was sending 75,000 tapes every month across the country. Probably the largest single effort to educate state legislators, grassroots Republicans, activists, candidates, you name it. And that process really goes to the heart of what I’m now doing.
We’re developing at Gingrich 360 an American Majority Project, and it grows out of the degree to which I learned from Ronald Reagan in the 70s and in the 80s, campaigning with him in the 70s and then serving with him when I got to Congress in ‘78. To understand what I’m about to talk about, I recommend to all of you a little book called The Education of Ronald Reagan which is a study of his time at General Electric. It was only when I read Tom Evans’ book that I understood the degree to which Reagan had a principled model of what he was doing, and it was something that he had literally learned at General Electric from the vice president of employee relations.
What happened was that General Electric at the time had seven unions, and four or five of them were genuinely led by communists. So, this guy figured out very early that he couldn’t negotiate with the union leadership because they were sincere, serious communists. But what he could do was develop a communication program to educate their members so that they would not vote to strike. He undertook what was at the time the most elaborate corporate education program in the country, and he wanted a spokesperson who was friendly and happy and known by people to be the front person. And Reagan was coming off his movie career.
For seven years, Reagan went around and talked at about 375 sites, mostly to blue collar workers, always involving a Q&A, so he got very good at that. Reagan was in a cycle where he wouldn’t fly. He had had a bad flight in 1945 and didn’t fly again until 1965. So, he’s going around the country by train, and Reagan didn’t drink very much or play cards, so he read books. His boss at GE kept giving him books by Hayek and others, so he’s reading conservative economics as he crisscrosses the country giving these speeches.
Here’s the heart of the Republican challenge. I want to give you a set of numbers. I want you to understand this concept. We conducted a poll with this question: “Do you agree or disagree with Reverend Martin Luther King’s assertion that it is the content of your character not the color of your skin that matters?” The results were that people agreed by a margin of 91% to 5%. I want to say without being hostile—having been involved in this stuff since 1960—do you know how dumb we have to be to have a 91% to 5% issue and not notice it? I mean, you have a conservative movement and a Republican party who collectively work together to make sure that they don’t learn any of the fundamentals.
And so you have a very well mobilized, highly militant left which has learned all the tricks that Saul Alinsky teaches, and frankly, Alinsky is simply Lenin and Mao. It’s not complicated, but we learn none of them. For example, when they nominated Barak Obama, we made fun of him as a neighborhood activist because we had no idea what that key term meant if you were an Alinsky radical. He was a neighborhood activist in the Saul Alinsky model of organizing the neighborhood to radicalize it. It was a much more sophisticated and different concept than we had because it hadn’t occurred to us.
By the way, I’ll show you a Reagan technique. Every time you get into a conversation with a reporter or into a debate and you have any plausible excuse, say, “You know, I agree with Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. that it is the content of your character and not the color of your skin that matters.” So, when the mayor of Chicago openly takes a racist position, states open and publicly, “I will not be interviewed by white reporters.” Pure racism. Every person who comments on it ought to start with, “I’m really disappointed that she doesn’t understand Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s position that it is the content of the character of the reporter that matters, not the color of their skin.” Now, at that point, you’re making a 91% argument. Even if you’re not very well trained, you should be able to win that. You started 91% – 5%. Even if they’re a genius, they drop you to 80% to 15%, and most of them aren’t geniuses.
So, second example. “Should there be a work requirement for any federal aid?” That’s 74% to 16%. That’s why our welfare bill was so popular, why it had such a huge impact. Compared to the Democrats’ passion for dependency, this creates an easy, obvious position: “I think work is good.” I actually got in a great debate about this. I’m writing a new book for this fall called BLM Biden, and part of it is about work. I got in a great debate with Juan Williams at Myrtle Beach when I ran for president in 2012 over whether or not work was good. After a couple of minutes—three thousand people in the audience—all of a sudden there’s a standing ovation. It looks like the ocean coming in. Row by row they’re all standing, because it turns out most Americans think work is essential.
Now, again, we should be able to have a position that says, “Every dollar that goes out, except the ones for people who have extraordinary disabilities, should have a work requirement attached to it.” At a minimum for example—those of you who know me well know that occasionally I go out on a limb—at a minimum, if we’re going to give food and other things to the homeless, we could ask them to be part of the group that cleans up the human feces in San Francisco. Just have the argument. Let the other side say, “No, people should get money for not doing anything.” We’ll say that there should be a requirement to do something to get money.
“Do you think America is the greatest country in the world?” Despite three generations of effort, the country still believes by 78% to 19% that we’re the greatest country in the world. That should lead you to a fairly simple fight. Teachers who do not believe that the United States is the greatest country in the world probably shouldn’t be paid by the taxpayer to teach.
I just have two last examples which may surprise you. Don McLaughlin, by the way, did these for us as part of this American Majority Project. “Do you identify as an American or a person of color?” 87% to 8%. Which means every time you’re in a debate with somebody or you’re being interviewed by some reporter and they use the term “person of color,” you should interrupt them and say, “Oh I think of those as Americans.” Let them explain why that’s wrong, why you can’t say that somebody who is Asian, Hispanic, Native American or African American is an American. You’re only on the 87% side of an 87% to 8% split.
Last example: “Would you identify as an American or by your ethnicity or your background?” That’s 83% to 14%. I’m of Scotch and Irish decent. Other people may be descended in a wide range of ethnicities, but I think of myself as an American. A legislator from Florida said that his parents who came from Cuba, as they touched the shore, became American. It didn’t occur to us in World War II that a guy with a name like Eisenhower should not be allowed to fight the Germans because he might have a mixed loyalty. He was an American.
Now here’s my point. There are only a few little things that you have to remember. At Gingrich 360, we’re going to put all this together so that people can get it and see what we’re doing, because we’re going to do this seven days a week. Because I want to stay inside their cycle. Start with the Alinsky model. You take a term that’s really positive, and you apply it to an idea that’s really dumb. We developed within a matter of days the concept that HR1 was the Corrupt Politicians Act, and a number of people have picked that up and have been using it. If you think about it, it’s much harder to make an argument in favor of the Corrupt Politicians Act, and there are pieces of the bill that actually fit that. For example, it pays you to run for office. Federal dollars are spent paying you to run as a candidate, so there are things you can go after. Every one of these things, you take their language and figure out the language that trumps their language. And you do it for every single item, so it’s like a full court press in basketball.
Number two, you look for issues that are 80% or 85% or better because your team is not very well trained. This is what we did. Every single item was 70% or better. I knew that we were going to have some realtor running somewhere, and they couldn’t handle complicated ideas, not because they’re dumb. It’s not because they’re dumb. It’s not a comment about realtors. I’ll just put in lawyers or whatever you’d like.
Look, politics is a very complicated, tough business. If you don’t have the party machinery that the left has developed from FDR on, you don’t have the cadres that can handle this stuff, so you need to give them a huge advantage. In our case it was ten things, and we knew that if you went on radio at drive time, 85% or 90% of the people driving to work agreed with you. If we could get you to say five things in a row that they agreed with, you would become their candidate. That was the whole model. We’re going to go through and find all sorts of 85% and 90% issues.
Here’s the third part which is almost impossible, something Reagan really understood. Once you have something that works, use it. And use it. And use it. I understand this because I used to represent Coca-Cola in Congress, and Coke believes that they have to say the words “Coca-Cola” to you seven times a week even though they’re an 1881 product. If they don’t say it seven times a week, you’ll forget to drink Coca-Cola. The Martin Luther King example is, I think, in some ways the most powerful. It is exactly the right concept; he is a heroic American figure; it involves challenging the other side to repudiate the most powerful and important African American in the 20th century. But getting our people, whether they’re conservatives on a talk show or people doing a panel or politicians on the floor of the House or Senate or people being interviewed on Sunday, getting them to maniacally learn, “It works, so use it,” is really hard. And yet the answer—remember Reagan is pre-Fox and pre-Limbaugh, and the media didn’t like Reagan any more than they like Trump—the answer in Reagan’s case was brute repetition. Take the three-year tax cut idea. “We’re going to force you as a patriotic duty to accept less taxes and have more money in your pocket, because that way, as a patriot, you’re going to help the economy.” People thought about that and said, “Okay, if you really insist I keep more money…I want to do what Ronnie wants because I’m a patriot.” And then you say it like 11,000 times.
I believe that we are on the verge of a breakthrough. I really think that the left is overextended. What’s happened in a bizarre way is that the collapse of Trump allowed the left to be so enraged that they all came out from the dark. They all said, “Look at me! Look at me! I really am crazy.” It’s literally that bad. Get below Biden and start looking at who they’re appointing. The correct answer is—now, this is not ideological—they’re crazy. The person who did this most brilliantly was Margaret Thatcher, and you can read about it in a small book called There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters by Claire Berlinski. Thatcher set out to destroy socialism. It was a conscious, deliberate campaign. By the end of her third term, the Labor party was ruined and could only come back as a moderate party, which meant that its left was crazy and just couldn’t stand to have Tony Blair.
So, I think these guys are giving us a chance, not just to win the presidency, not just to win the House and Senate and to continue our growth in the state legislatures. They’re giving us a chance to have a serious, head-on intellectual fight in which the country concludes that they’re crazy. The correct answer to a racist mayor of Chicago who will not allow whites to interview her is that she’s crazy. Not that she’s a left-wing radical who has thought all this stuff through, she’s nuts. And if you think you can lead a giant city with a person who’s nuts, good luck.