May 15, 2009
As prepared by Mitt Romney for delivery at the 2009 NRA Convention in Phoenix, Arizona.
It’s good to be with members of the National Rifle Association—people who believe that the principles and protections and rights of the Constitution are more than history: that today as in the past, they drive our prosperity, ensure our safety, and protect our freedoms.
I want to publicly commend the strongest of those voices defending our Second Amendment freedoms. Every time I see Wayne LaPierre or Chris Cox on television, I take comfort in knowing that leaders like these are ever vigilant.
I also want to thank David Keene for his support and advice over the years. He is a true friend.
I’ve noticed that the farther west I go, the bigger these NRA meetings get. I have to say the Boston chapter is a little on the small side these days, but its vigilance and impact exceed its size.
There was a time when the right to bear arms was a lot better appreciated in the state that is home to Bunker Hill. No one questioned the importance of a responsible, armed citizenry back when Paul Revere was in the saddle and patriots were throwing the king’s tea into Boston Harbor—except maybe a few Tories and King George himself.
In our day, some Americans take for granted the struggles and victories of the founding generation.
Ronald Reagan said that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” That is why we and the NRA meet here today: we are committed to fight for freedom, defend the Constitution, and pass on to our children a legacy of liberty.
No Constitutional protection is more often ignored, distorted, or disdained than the individual right to keep and bear arms.
When demagogues promote policies that would disarm law-abiding citizens, it’s the NRA that says no way. The NRA has a better idea: enforce the laws that are on the books. And, let upright citizens defend themselves, their homes, and their freedoms.
Four out of five NRA members have sworn to defend the Constitution in a uniform of the United States military, or have family that did so. That’s an extraordinary record of service to our country. And that is why, on Armed Services Day, I’m proud to be with members of the NRA.
The men and women of the NRA are united on one great issue, and we’re concerned about many others.
These are critical, defining times for our nation and for the world. The way I see it, today there are four strategies competing to lead the world in this century.
There is the strategy of the West, led by America. It is based on two fundamental principles: free enterprise and personal freedom. These two principles have made us the most powerful of nations.
Another strategy is led by China. China adopted free enterprise when socialism failed so completely. But they combine free enterprise with authoritarianism.
The third strategy is represented by Russia. With the Cold War won, many of us thought they were no longer a global competitor. But they are back. Like China, their strategy is based upon authoritarian rule, but instead of having an economy based on productivity and industrial capacity, they base their economy on energy: their own energy, and that of those with whom they are allied, like Iran and Venezuela. With an energy oligopoly, they intend to secure the wealth of the world, and reclaim their superpower status.
The fourth strategy is that of the Jihadists. Their aim is to cause the collapse of the other three by means of intimidation and the threat of violence.
Of these four competing strategies, only one includes freedom: ours. And the freedom of nations across the world depends on our success.
Some time ago a friend who is a professor asked me: “Mitt what do you think were the great inflection points in American history?” I thought a minute and then I answered, “What do you mean by inflection points?” And then he explained, “If you look back at American history you will find that there are points in time when everything shifts, when military strategy shifts, when economic strategy shifts, culture shifts, even the role of government shifts.”
One of these historical shifts came at the turn of the 20th century. America went from an agricultural society to an industrial society. Warfare changed, with modern artillery, tanks and aircraft. Our culture revolved around new, large cities and government assumed a more active role in the economy.
The Civil War was another decisive turning point: America became inexorably committed to Union and to the principle that the Constitution applied to every single citizen.
And if you go back one step further in history, you get to the Revolution – the greatest turning point of all. Up until this time, the world believed that the King or the government was sovereign and that the citizen was servant. The Revolutionaries had a different premise. They believed that the citizen was sovereign and government was the servant. And the power of that idea gave birth to our country, and changed the world forever.
I believe that America is at another inflection point today. Militarily strategies are changing, our economy is changing. Our culture is changing. At a fundamental level, we’re engaged in a great debate about the duties of government and the rights of citizens. And as much as ever, we need to remember and live up to the principles of America’s founding.
Listening to our liberal friends sometimes, I’m reminded a little bit of the monarchists. Not because they want a king instead of a president, but because they place their faith in government. As they see it, government knows best. Government needs to protect us from ourselves. The supreme voice in the land is not the people, but the government.
That’s a great dividing line in these times – and you and I are on the right side of it. We know that in America, the people are sovereign.
When the Framers met in Philadelphia, their mission was to limit the power of government, and protect the rights of the individual.
When conservatives, Republicans, and members of the NRA challenge the overreach of government and defend the rights of the individual, we are keeping faith with America’s founding generation.
Whatever the issue, the first question we ask is whether government is exceeding its boundaries at the expense of sound policy and personal freedom. We want individuals to realize their dreams. We want individuals to be able to start businesses. We want individuals to be able to keep more of what they earn. We want them to be able to choose their own doctors. We want them to be able to choose their own schools.
And yes, we also want upright American citizens to be able to bear arms, because that is their right under the Constitution.
If you look at what is happening in Washington these days, it’s not hard to see who believes in an all-powerful government and who believes in the power of the American people.
With the economy in turmoil, a stimulus was in order. You may not have known it, but every Republican voted for a stimulus, just not the one that Nancy Pelosi wrote.
Republicans believe the best way to strengthen the economy is to strengthen the individual. So for us, the centerpiece of the stimulus plan was to put more money back in the hands of individuals to make it easier for them to get our economy going again.
Because the Democrats fundamentally believe that government knows best, they decided to give more money to government. And so Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and others put together a wish list of new ways to spend taxpayer dollars by the hundreds of billions.
Will the economy come back? Of course it will, but not as quickly and as strongly as it could have. Why? Because the heavy hand of government is never as effective as the dreams and vision and hard work of 300 million Americans.
President Obama has unveiled a 3.4 trillion-dollar budget that represents the greatest federal power-grab in American history. And its 1.8 trillion-dollar deficit, with even more deficits far into the future, would force our country down the path of rising taxes and declining prosperity. And all this from a president who a year ago was giving lectures on the need to end government borrowing.
How many times have we heard the President blame our economic troubles on excessive borrowing – on the high-risk practices of overleveraged companies, banks, and consumers?
Yet somehow he thinks the solution is to overleverage the entire country. I disagree. The federal government should lead by example, with real responsibility and budget discipline, not by spending more trillions we don’t have.
The liberal Democrats who control our government also want to put Washington in charge of healthcare. The rest of us want to reform healthcare to make sure that every American has insurance they can afford, and that cannot be taken away if they change or lose a job.
But the best path to health care reform is to let the American people make their own decisions, not have those decisions forced on them by government.
Let Washington choose the stamps for the post office, but let the American people choose who we want for our doctor.
President Obama is anxious to impose a new cap-and-trade carbon tax on Americans. I wish he understood that if we unilaterally place a very substantial cap-and-trade burden on ourselves, the major energy-using industries will simply pack up and go elsewhere.
You don’t deal with global problems by penalizing only our own citizens. They don’t call it “America warming.” They call it global warming!
Did you see that California Republicans and Democrats finally reached a budget compromise? Salaries will be reduced for some state workers, and programs will be cut. But President Obama does not feel constrained by the Constitutional guarantee of federalism and states’ rights: he has dictated that California won’t get federal money because he doesn’t like the plan that they themselves have agreed to.
I guess he wants to run the states as well as the banks and General Motors and Chrysler.
Americans are starting to see the Washington power-grab for what it is. The people of this country are a lot smarter than the liberal establishment thinks they are.
I’m reminded of the story of the barber who was cutting a customer’s hair when this kid walks in. The barber says to his customer, “This kid is the stupidest kid I’ve ever met. Just watch this little game I play with him.”
The barber takes two quarters out of his pocket and puts them in his hand. Then he takes a dollar out and puts it in the other hand. He says, “Kid, come here.” He says, “You choose which you want,” and the kid grabs the two quarters and runs out.
And the barber says to the customer, “Can you believe that kid? He is the stupidest kid I’ve ever met.” Well, the customer is walking down the street a little later and he sees the kid – the kid’s eating an ice cream cone – and he says, “Kid, why’d you take the 50 cents instead of the dollar?” He says, “If I took the dollar, that game would be over, wouldn’t it?”
The liberals may fool some of the people for some of the time, but that time will draw to a close. And we will make sure that people see what is happening. We have a duty to press on, to make sure that the principles of America’s founding will be the principles of America’s future.
That’s our patriotic duty. It’s also our duty to stand with the President when he’s right.
I’m glad that he backed away from his campaign promise to pull the troops immediately out of Iraq. I’m glad he is going to get tough on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. I’m glad he’s continuing to hold military tribunals for terrorists.
In fact, whenever he adopts the policies of John McCain and George W. Bush like this, I’m glad.
President Obama, however, is wrong to back away on missile defense. He was wrong to go on Arab TV and claim that America has dictated to other nations.
America has sacrificed more than any other nation to free people from dictators. And of course, President Ahmadinejad of Iran seized upon that misstep by our President to call for an apology from America.
I think the President is going to learn very quickly that abject apologies are always welcomed by thugs and terrorists. But what they need to hear instead is a message of American confidence and American resolve.
With all that is happening here at home, there are some who have forgotten that our nation is still at war – and still the prime target of al-Qaeda terrorists.
The men and women of the NRA need no reminding of these dangers, because so many of you have served and sacrificed in defense of America. You know the stakes in this conflict. You know that America must be vigilant.
Our President can know that when he takes strong action in defense of the United States, he will have our solid support. And the members of the NRA will always stand behind the men and women of the United States military.
President Obama has served only four months of a four-year term. And, of course, his biggest decisions on national security are still ahead of him. But some of his early moves have been troubling.
His administration has won the favor of liberal commentators by pledging what it calls reform in the treatment of terrorist detainees. He’s released top secret memos about interrogations, but we’re still waiting for other top secret memos that tell us about the attacks prevented by those interrogations. The President has also promised to close down Guantanamo, without giving the slightest indication of the next stop for the killers being held there now.
And for all of these decisions, he has received the predictable applause from the usual quarters.
But here’s the problem. That is the very kind of thinking that left America vulnerable to the attacks of September 11th. And the approval of left-wing law professors and editorial boards won’t be worth much if this country lets down its guard and suffers another attack.
The fight against terrorism is not a law enforcement problem. It is the gravest matter of national security, with thousands if not millions of lives in the balance.
The jihadists are still at war with America, and we shouldn’t be worried about whether someone reads them their rights. They are still determined to do our country great harm. Our government has no greater duty than a vigilant defense, and no greater purpose than victory for America and for the cause of freedom.
Our country has enemies in the world, and serious rivals, too, whether we like it or not. They would use their own influence to achieve purposes much different from ours. They don’t all share our ideas about progress, and human freedom, and the rightful uses of political and military power.
And whether it’s in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, or any other region, if America’s good influence were to recede, others would welcome the chance to step in.
As always, America has its critics, and we have bigger business in the world than trying to make them happy. As much as ever before, the lives and the fortunes of people everywhere depend on commitments made and kept by the United States.
I don’t deny that America’s challenges are great, or that overcoming them will require the best that we have to give. But I know as well that times of difficulty always bring out the essential character of our fellow citizens.
When I was a boy, my dad used to say, “The pursuit of the difficult makes men strong.” Well, the pursuit of the difficult will make America strong.
We’ve been tested many times before. We did not become the country we are by fearing challenges, or leaving the hardest work to others. We don’t get to choose the tests and trials ahead. But we’re entirely free, you and I, to choose how we will meet those tests.
We’ll meet them with the proud, independent spirit that gave rise to the NRA. We’ll meet them as Americans have done before, in our finest moments – with courage and confidence.
There will be setbacks and disappointments along the way. Yet I am sure of this: When we stay true to our principles, and state them forthrightly and fearlessly, they will command a majority in this great country – and the freedoms we cherish will always be secure.
Thank you very much.