Feb 13, 2016

America At the Crossroads

Despite all the turmoil in the ongoing national campaign, it should be clear to every American that the future of the country hangs in the balance.  I laid out what’s at stake in a speech to the annual Mariposa County Republican Party Lincoln Day dinner on February 13th, the day that Justice Antonin Scalia passed away:

Today’s dinner takes place on a very sad day in the life of our nation and of our Constitution.  Antonin Scalia was not only one of the greatest defenders of the Constitution who has ever sat on the court, he was part of a fragile majority that prevented Barack Obama from seizing many legislative powers that the Constitution reserves solely to the representatives of the people.

It was Edward Gibbon who surveyed the collapse of the Roman Republic and concluded that liberty is irrevocably lost – his words, “irrevocably lost” – in a republic when legislative powers pass to the executive. 

I had the honor to have had a private dinner with Justice Scalia a few months ago.  He was very much aware how slender and fragile was the defensive line being held by the court.  He said that in his nearly 30 years on the court, he had written more dissenting opinions this last session than ever in his career.

He said with some bitterness that if you want to know where the center of the Supreme Court is today, Steven Breyer has written the fewest dissents.  And that was with Antonin Scalia in the equation.

Two Obama justices already sit on that court and have moved it radically to the Left.  A third would tip the balance, perhaps irrevocably, toward leftist authoritarianism.

His loss makes very clear how important our victories in the Senate were in 2014.  Without them, Obama would have had free rein to cement a post-constitutional majority on the court.  This next election takes on added urgency – because if Scalia’s successor is taken from the radical Left, the most important bulwark to protect the Constitution from the abuses this President has attempted will be gone.

We are here to mark the 207th birthday of the founder of our party and the savior of our free government.  Today’s terrible and tragic news underscores how fragile our liberty is and how, in so many ways, we are at a similar crossroads to the one Lincoln navigated more than a century and a half ago.

When people tell me how partisan things are today, I am reminded of a day in 1856 when Congressman Preston Brooks crossed the Capitol, entered the Senate chamber and shattered his walking stick over the head of Senator Charles Sumner, nearly killing him.  Brooks’ constituents responded by sending him new walking sticks to replace the one he broke over Sumner’s head.

Two years later, Abraham Lincoln warned us that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”  He went on to say, “I do not expect the house will fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It must become all one thing or all the other.”

Lincoln realized that two antithetical principles were then vying for the future of the nation.  The two could not co-exist and they could not be compromised or reconciled.  In his day, those principles were freedom and slavery.  In our day, they are freedom and socialism.  In a very real sense, our society has returned to the same crossroads that gave birth to this party and to the administration of the man we honor today.

Three months after his “House Divided” speech, he put it this way in his last debate with Steven Douglas.  He said,

“That is the real question.  That is the issue that will continue in this nation when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent.  It is the eternal struggle between these two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world.  They are the same two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time and will ever continue to prosper.  The one is the common right of humanity.  The other is the divine right of kings.  It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself.  It is the same spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and make bread; and I will eat it.’  No matter what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his nation and live from the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”

Socialism springs from the same tyrannical principle as slavery – that one group of people has the right to expropriate the earnings of another.  And both pose a fundamental threat to our liberty and our prosperity as a free people.

Lincoln realized that in those turbulent days, our nation was losing the memory of freedom.  The Democratic Party, then, as now, was rejecting the founding principles of the nation.  One Democrat went so far as to say that our nation had been founded on – his words – “self-evident lies.”  That Democrat was Vice-President John C. Calhoun.

Lincoln responded this way in his famous letter to Henry Pierce in 1859:

“It is now no child’s play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation.

“One would start with great confidence that he could convince any sane child that the simpler propositions of Euclid are true; but nevertheless, he would fail, utterly, with one who should deny the definitions and axioms.  The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society.

“And yet they are denied and evaded, with no small show of success.

“One dashingly calls them ‘glittering generalities’, another bluntly calls them ‘self-evident lies…’  These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect – the supplanting the principles of free government, and restoring those of class (and) caste ...  We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.” 

This brings us, on this 207th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, to consider the important work now immediately ahead, and given added urgency by today’s tragic news.  

Mr. Obama spent his last State of the Union address last month telling us that seven years of economic stagnation are actually a phenomenal recovery; that our collapsing healthcare system and skyrocketing premiums are a figment of our imaginations; that the world has never been more peaceful and stable.  He made it very clear that he believes that the greatest threat to our nation isn’t terrorism or economic stagnation, but the fact the climate is changing – as it has for four billion years.  And in that hour, I think he illustrated how out of touch he and his party are with the realities the American people are living.

You cannot spin the economy.  Every American has had an up-close and personal experience with it and they know better.  You cannot spin Obamacare.  Every American has an up-close and personal experience with it and they know better.  And if you try to spin it otherwise, you look rather foolish.

Worse, Mr. Obama made it very clear that he has no intention of changing the policies that has made these past seven years so difficult for Americans.  And in fact, he was explicit that he has every intention of doubling down on these failures by issuing illegal executive orders. 

That means 2016 is going to be a very difficult time for our country.  But it will also be a decisive time – the greatest opportunity in a lifetime for Americans to rise up at the polls and set things right. 

Several years from now, I think we will all remember 2016 the same way we remember 1980 – as a very difficult, frightening and unpleasant year, but at the end, the year we turned our country around and saved it. 

Margaret Thatcher said, first you win the argument, then you win the vote. 

Are we winning the argument?

Take a look at the compendium of Rasmussen polls just over the past six weeks.

According to Rasmussen:

  • Most voters believe government isn’t cracking down enough on illegal immigration
  • Most voters oppose President’s Amnesty Plan
  • Most Americans don’t support Obama’s gun control program and don’t think it will reduce gun deaths.
  • Most Americans don’t support Obama’s global warming initiative
  • Only 11 percent of Americans support keeping Obamacare as it is;
  • Just 26 percent think the country is heading in the right direction.


Have you noticed that as we have won the debate over the future, we have also begun winning the vote? 

In the last eight years, we have seen a nearly unprecedented political realignment in this country -- a net shift of 69 U.S. House Seats, 13 U.S. Senate Seats, 11 governors, more than 900 state legislative seats.  We have the biggest House and Senate Republican majorities since 1928, and I dare say the most conservative. 

Now I know what you’re thinking.  The most common question I get at town halls across this district is “Then why don’t you guys grow a pair and do something with those majorities?”  Why haven’t you blocked those illegal executive orders?

The reason Obama’s issuing executive orders is that these Republican majorities have brought his legislative agenda to a complete halt. 

In the current edition of National Review, Charles Cooke takes stock of what the Republican majorities of 2010 and 2014 have protected our nation from.   

Cooke pointed out that if not for the Republican Congress, “Americans would have seen the quick death of the Bush tax cuts; the introduction of a growth-stifling cap-and-trade regime on carbon dioxide emissions; sweeping gun control, including both an ‘assault weapons’ ban and a federal firearms registry…union ‘card check’; an unabashed de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants; wildly increased legal-immigration levels with an emphasis on importing the unskilled; a host of religious liberty violations, with no Religious Freedom Restoration Act to counteract them; and overall spending levels that would make today’s look modest.”

And to this list we can add with our fervent prayers one more thing.  The Republican Congress may have protected us from the subversion of our Constitution by a hand-picked crony of Barack Obama making a permanent 5-4 majority in favor of Leftist authoritarianism. 

I know that people are particularly frustrated that we are not using the power of the purse as effectively as we should.

But discretionary spending – the one third of the budget Congress still controls – is down $169 BILLION between 2010 and last year.  That’s down 12 percent.  Or about $1,300 in savings for every family in America.

Let’s be clear: I’m not using Washington math and talking about cutting the increase.  Actual dollar spending is down from 1.347 trillion in 2010 to 1.179 trillion in 2014.   That is still outrageously high and filled with waste and nobody should be happy about it – except for this – we HAVE turned the tide of spending where we actually control it. 

The problem is that mandatory spending – mainly social security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest costs -- is pushing our spending off the charts; crushing our economy, eating our budget alive and threatening to collapse the programs that an entire generation of Americans have paid for and now relies upon in their old age.  Medicare is now on track to collapse within the ten-year budget window, and Social Security just a few years later. 

To put these programs back on a sound and solvent foundation and prevent the bankrupting of our country in the process will require a presidential signature to reform these programs before they collapse, and we don’t have one.

That’s an enormous frustration.  But let’s remember it is a frustration we can solve on November 8th.

And remember, every illegal executive order issued by this president can be rescinded the afternoon of Inauguration Day by the next President. 

For some very good reasons, our form of government was specifically designed NOT to turn on a single election.  It takes a series of elections before we see real change, but look around -- that process is well underway.My point is, it is OK to be frustrated; it is OK to be angry, it is even OK to be scared.  But it is NOT OK to be discouraged.  We are winning this battle for America’s future. 

We are 342 days from Inauguration Day and a new beginning for our country.  And not long after that, we won’t need to tell our kids what it was like to awaken one day and realize it was morning again in America – we’ll be able to show them.

 Those of you who remember 1980 remember how frightening those times were.  Double digit unemployment, double digit inflation; mile-long lines around gas stations, our American embassy held hostage for a year, interest rates at 20 percent, Russia on the march, Japan eating our economic lunch.  The American people did what the American people have always done.  When they see their country in peril, they engage, they think things through, they start making very good decisions and they set things right.  Our form of government rests on that assumption; it is sound; and we are seeing it stirring again in our time.

In many ways, these times are even more perilous.  I could regale you with everything that’s going wrong --- but you already know that or you wouldn’t be here.  But when everything was going wrong on Apollo 13 and there was pandemonium at flight control, you remember what happened.  Gene Krantz cut off the intercom and said, “Tell me what still works on that vehicle.”

It turns out enough still did work to bring her home safe.  That’s the story that many in this room helped write four our country in 1980.  And that’s going to be the story that you and I help write again over the next nine months.  In many ways, this is a more perilous time.  History is screaming warnings at us: countries that bankrupt themselves aren’t around very long; countries that will not defend their borders aren’t around very long; republics that fail to maintain the separation of powers die very quickly. 

Churchill often said, the inherent vice of capitalism is the uneven sharing of blessings.  The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.

That’s what the Democrats promise to deliver – four more years of debt and doubt and despair.  The equal sharing of miseries.  All they can offer is Barack Obama’s third term.

The new Speaker of the House is a protégé of Jack Kemp who has spent years warning of what government policies have done to destroy prosperity and laying out what needs to be done to bring it back.  He has tasked our House majority to produce pro-growth legislation to take to the American people. 

He has a Republican conference behind him that, despite honest disagreements over tactics, is more united than it has been in my eight years in Congress.  And we have many competent candidates to take our message of opportunity, prosperity, and unity to the people at a time they are searching for a new direction.

We tend to focus so much on what’s wrong that we sometimes forget how much is going right and how far we’ve come. 

Lincoln, more than any President, understood that the preservation of our republican form of government required a political party willing to stand by our founding principles, and with enough faith in the American people to make an earnest appeal to them upon these principles.  And he promised that, in so doing, this party would ultimately save our country.  We did in his time.  And now, we must -- and will -- do it in ours.

Tom McClintock
Tom`s Blog