Carroll County Lincoln Day Dinner
March 5, 2011
[As Prepared for Delivery]
Good to be among so many friends.
Good to be in Carroll County, even in the winter. I didn’t know just how cold it could get in Carroll County until Ann and I bought our home on Lake Winnipesaukee. After the closing, I wanted to get a look at what the place looked like from the water. Now it was winter and the lake was frozen, but I didn’t know if the ice was strong enough to hold my weight. So I got a ladder from the garage and pushed it out on the ice ahead of me, to spread my weight. As I was gingerly inching my way along, about 100 yards from the shore, I looked up as a truck drove by. The guy was laughing.
So yeah, New Hampshire gets cold in the winter. But the state is known for a lot more than that. The mountains and lakes are among the most beautiful in the world. The White Mountains are New England’s Alps.
There’s something else the state is known for. It’s a New Hampshire original. And that is history.
Every four years, the men and women who want to lead this nation come to New Hampshire. And New Hampshire decides how they measure up. There’s no committee of big wigs, it’s decided by hundreds of thousands of honest, dedicated New Hampshire voters.
Every candidate is treated the same, no matter how important they may think they are. It doesn’t matter if they land on Air Force One or show up in their Chevy.
It can be a humbling experience. And me, well I made more than my share of gaffes here—as my sons never fail to remind me. But it was also exhilarating. The weather may have been cold, but the people are warm--we made friends here for a lifetime. We liked New Hampshire so much, we may just decide to play a double header.
There’s a lot at stake in what New Hampshire will decide.
Charles Krauthammer wrote that during the 1990’s, Americans seemed to take a “holiday from history.” The economy was strong and with the Cold War over, the world appeared to be pretty well settled. But history has come back now, with a vengeance.
The President promised that his unique personal background would give him special insights into foreign policy. What we have seen instead is a President that is unprepared and unequal to the task of leading the free world.
He supported Honduras’ Marxist President, but puts off pro-American Colombia. At the United Nations, he condemns Israel, but ignores Hamas’ thousands of devastating rockets. His proposed engagement with Iran and North Korea that won him the Nobel Prize—how has that worked out? Iran is arming Hamas and Hezbollah and rushing toward nuclear weapons. North Korea tested nukes, launched missiles, sunk a ship, and shelled a South Korean island.
In the Middle East, the President was silent last year when dissenters took to the streets to challenge Iran’s fanatical ayatollahs. And now, with the entire Middle East in turmoil, he and his administration were caught off guard. The President and his team look like deer in the headlights. Instead of leading the world, the President has been tiptoeing behind the Europeans. Newsweek magazine this week said that he hasn’t just lost his foreign policy map for the Middle East—he doesn’t even have one. This is the first time in a quarter of a century that America has had no discernible foreign policy. Not since the days of Jimmy Carter have we had such a foreign policy vacuum in Washington. And it could not have come at a worse time.
Here at home, the President points out that he inherited an economic crisis. He did. And he promptly made it worse. He borrowed nearly a trillion dollars and promised that it would keep unemployment below 8%--it blew past that level and hasn’t looked back since.
Our current high unemployment isn’t just a statistic. It is 14 million Americans out of work. It’s kids who can’t go to college, it’s people in the prime of their life who wonder if they will ever find a good paying job again, it’s marriages that crack under the strain. This is not just a policy problem, it is a moral tragedy. The President and his Administration are failing our fellow Americans in one of their fundamental responsibilities.
The President should have learned a lesson from New Hampshire. Anyone who sees the row after row of textile mill buildings in Manchester knows that this state has experienced economic crisis. New Hampshire’s answer was to hold down taxes and red tape, to balance its budget, to keep government efficient, and to keep it small. And the end result was that the state became a capital of innovation and small business.
Today, those Manchester mills are teeming with activity. New Hampshire is home to cutting-edge companies in military technology, healthcare, electronics, energy, just to name a few—it is a hotbed of entrepreneurs.
Senator Obama campaigned hard in New Hampshire but he apparently didn’t like what he saw. He certainly didn’t learn from it. Instead of lowering taxes, he raised them. He wrapped businesses in red tape, he grew government, he borrowed trillions of dollars, and he made it clear that he doesn’t like business people very much.
He created a deeper recession, and delayed the recovery. The consequence is soaring numbers of Americans enduring unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies. This is the Obama Misery Index, and it is at a record high. It’s going to take more than new rhetoric to put Americans back to work—it’s going to take a new president.
As you know, I spent my career in the private sector. I know how jobs are created and how jobs are lost. I have helped guide more than one enterprise that was in crisis. And I learned that there are three rules of every successful turnaround: focus, focus, focus. Turnarounds work when the leader focuses on what’s most important. President Obama did just the opposite: he delegated the jobs crisis to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and he went to work on his own liberal priorities, like cap and trade and government-run healthcare. The next president must focus on what’s most important: getting Americans back to work.
Let me mention a few of the things the next president must do to restore our economy and create jobs. I’ll start with taxes. Our employers pay the highest taxes in the world, tied with Japan. Even France and Italy have lower taxes than we do! And it’s our small companies that are particularly hard hit. We have to cut their taxes. At the same time, we need to say no to the corporate loopholes and special deals that reward influence and punish productivity.
And we need to stop penalizing companies that want to invest in America. Right now, we tax companies who make money overseas if they want to bring it home, but we don’t tax them if they keep their money abroad. That makes no sense at all. We want that money here, invested in new factories, new equipment, and new jobs.
How much money do American companies store overseas that’s waiting to come back? Estimates range as high as one trillion dollars. Bringing a trillion dollars back to the United States will create hundreds of thousands--or even millions of good, permanent, private sector jobs.
The next president is also going to have clean up the red tape, bureaucracy and tax mess that this Administration has left behind. It is simply choking job creation. Now I like President Obama, but he doesn’t have a clue how jobs are created. He doesn’t know what goes through an entrepreneur’s mind when she borrows and scrapes to get the money to start a new company-- because he’s never done it himself. He doesn’t know how many businesses fail because of governments’ heavy handed, outmoded regulations and taxes, because he’s never worked in one himself. And when he put together his cabinet, he nearly excluded anyone who had ever worked in a real business.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that even when he tries to help, he sometimes makes things worse. I visited the Amoskeag business incubator in Manchester a few weeks ago. One entrepreneur said that it’s become almost impossible to find investment capital because now that the Obama administration is playing venture capitalist, everyone wants a government guarantee before they will invest.
You see, when the government gets into a market, instead of helping the market, it hurts it, by scaring the private sector away. Government should make the rules, but it shouldn’t be one of the players.
I have to tell you how impressed I was with those New Hampshire entrepreneurs at the incubator, by the way. They were pioneering everything from solar energy, to military acoustics, to consumer products. They and people like them are who create the jobs that put people back to work. And when government gets in their way or taxes away their success, government kills jobs. That’s what’s happening, and that’s one reason so many people are still out of work.
Now let’s talk a moment about something else that keeps employers and entrepreneurs from creating jobs. And that’s the growing fear about the federal deficit and the federal debt. They worry that our government’s spending binge will mean higher taxes, higher interest rates, and a much weaker dollar. People don’t invest for the long term if the long term looks sick. To see more good jobs, we need to see fiscal responsibility in Washington.
One way to do that would be to establish a ceiling on federal spending at a fixed percent of the GDP—historically, that number has ranged between 18% and 20%. Today, Washington is spending close to 25%. A spending limit would mean that the politicians would have to cut their free-spending ways.
Republicans are fighting to do just that by cutting discretionary spending. That’s important and it’s a good start. But it’s just baby steps, because discretionary spending is about 20% of the budget. The military is another 20%, and given what’s happening in the world, we should not reduce our commitment to national security. In particular, we should not cut the number of our men and women in uniform!
So that leaves 60%--the lion’s share. And 60% is what government spends on entitlements and interest—Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and the new entitlement, Obamacare. Obamacare has to be repealed and the other programs have to be made sustainable. Last year in my book, I described how I would do just that. Here’s the bottom line: the longer we delay, the worse things will get. If we re-shape each of these programs today, and repeal Obamacare, we can honor our promises to seniors, and protect our economy as well.
When President Obama was elected, the economy was in crisis. And in crisis, he turned to a model in which he really believes. It wasn’t the New Hampshire model. No, he turned to Europe. Like the Europeans, he grew the government, he racked up bigger deficits, he pushed cap and trade, he fought to impose unions on America’s workers, and he created over a hundred new boards, agencies and commissions and reams of new regulations.
At every turn, he and his fellow liberals sought to seize more power for Washington. And in that cause, nothing was more misguided and egregious than Obamacare!
Living in New Hampshire, you’ve heard of our healthcare program next door in Massachusetts. You may have noticed that the President and his people spend more time talking about me and Massachusetts healthcare than Entertainment Tonight spends talking about Charlie Sheen.
Our approach was a state plan intended to address problems that were in many ways unique to Massachusetts. What we did was what the Constitution intended for states to do—we were one of the laboratories of democracy.
Our experiment wasn’t perfect—some things worked, some didn’t, and some things I’d change. One thing I would never do is to usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover.
I would repeal Obamacare, if I were ever in a position to do so. My experience has taught me that states are where healthcare programs for the uninsured should be crafted, just as the Constitution provides. Obamacare is bad law, bad policy, and it is bad for America’s families.
The federal government isn’t the answer for running healthcare any more than it’s the answer for running Amtrak or the Post Office. An economy run by the federal government doesn’t work for Europe and it won’t work here.
The right answer is not to believe in European solutions. The right answer is to believe in America—to believe in freedom, free enterprise, capitalism, limited government, federalism—and to believe in the constitution, as it was written and intended by the founders.
My father never graduated from college. He apprenticed, as a lath and plaster carpenter, and he was darn good at it. He learned how to put a handful of nails in his mouth and spit them out, point forward. On his honeymoon, he and Mom drove across the country. Dad sold aluminum paint along the way, to pay for gas and hotels.
Dad always believed in America; and in that America, a lath and plaster man could work his way up to running a little car company called American Motors and end up Governor of a state where he had once sold aluminum paint.
For my Dad, America was the land of opportunity, where the circumstances of birth are no barrier to achieving ones dreams. In Dad’s America, small business and entrepreneurs were encouraged, and respected.
The spirit of enterprise, innovation, pioneering and derring-do propelled our standard of living and economy past every other nation on earth.
I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag. We stand for freedom and opportunity and hope.
We didn’t originate the concept of liberty, but our Founding Fathers built it into a political system that set an example for the world. And from the bloodied sands of Omaha beach to the treacherous valleys of the Hindu Kush, we have battled with unmatched courage and determination, not to conquer territory, but to give others the chance to experience the liberty that is humanity’s destiny.
Given all that America has done to lift others from poverty, given the millions of afflicted we have helped to heal and comfort, and given the hundreds of thousands of lives of America’s sons and daughters that have been, and are today, sacrificed to defend freedom, I will not apologize for America!
I don’t apologize for America because I believe in America!
These last two years have not been the best of times. But while we’ve lost a couple of years, we have not lost our way. The principles that made us a great nation and leader of the world have not lost their meaning. They never will. The society that fosters opportunity and free enterprise, and puts prosperity in the reach of all, still exists. Treasuring it and safeguarding it is fundamentally what conservatism is all about.
We sing for God to bless America. He already has, he does now and thanks to the greatness of the American people and the principles that guide us, he will do so for generations to come.
Believe in America. Our freedom depends on it.