I am delighted to be at this event again because I always enjoy spending time with conservatives who understand the essential and inextricable link between faith and freedom.
For those of us here at this conference, we recognize the artificial nature of any division between economic conservatism and social conservatism.
These are simply terms of convenience used to describe two sides of the same coin: for conservatives, faith and freedom are both rooted in respect and reverence for the dignity of all human life.
Whether it’s advocating on behalf of the unborn, rescuing children trapped in failing schools, or championing the moral—and the material—superiority of free enterprise, conservatives are animated by the same moral truth of human dignity.
This is the essence of the self-evident truths expressed in the Declaration of Independence—that all human beings have an equal claim to self-government and that all are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Human dignity is the undeniable basis for everything we stand for as conservatives.
It is the reason we cherish human freedom and the right to live according to our beliefs.
It is the reason we insist on economic opportunity for all, to earn a living and build a good life for our families.
And it is the reason we hold up voluntary civil society, formed by free individuals, as the best and most ennobling place for citizens to cultivate bonds of cooperation with and service to one another.
Today’s conference is called “Road to Majority.” This title reflects the importance of transforming the conservative movement into a national majority, but we should recognize what’s needed to be successful in building this road: First, we must know where we are and second, we must know where we’re going.
Some have suggested that the ultimate goal is a “Majority.” I respectfully disagree. I believe that, like a road, a majority is a means to an end.
Our ultimate goal is to enact conservative policies that restore the proper role of government, reenergize our economy, and create the conditions in which all Americans have a fair chance to pursue happiness—and find it.
Starting there, we can work our way backward.
Our task, to paraphrase James Madison, requires two things: “first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.”
To enact conservative policies, we will need conservative majorities in the House and Senate, but this alone is not enough. We will also need to elect a conservative to the White House who will unapologetically fight for the principles we believe in, the values we share, and the policies we all know actually work.
That does mean winning elections in 2014 and 2016 – but to do that we must earn a mandate from the American people today. Starting now, we must win their support for our vision: a conservative reform agenda that redesigns our unwieldy welfare state and modernizes our outdated government programs so that they address the growing lack of opportunity for the millions of working families of or aspiring to the middle class.
I don’t think I need to go to great lengths to explain the problems with our current government.
There is no shortage of facts showing that our fiscal situation is unsustainable—but it suffices to say that we have become far too comfortable with the word trillion in our political discourse.
More and more every day we are confronted with the real-life consequences of a government that tries to do things that it cannot and should not do.
Our federal government is so overextended that it is failing to fulfill even its most basic responsibilities—like caring for our veterans, securing our borders, enforcing our laws, and conducting a coherent foreign policy that, at the very least, does no harm to our national security.
And the liberal ideology driving this expansion of the state seeks to subordinate the dignity of the individual to the political agenda of a progressive government. This is an agenda that denies the sanctity of life, rejects the inviolable human right to live according to one’s religious convictions, and is blind to the moral and economic consequences of our nation’s marriage crisis.
This is where our road begins—at this unsustainable and unacceptable state of affairs. What stands between us and a truly healthy, flourishing society—filled with bigger citizens, stronger families, and more heroic communities—is a conservative reform agenda that doesn’t just cut big government, but also fixes broken government.
Federal programs cost too much because they are a part of a broken bureaucratic system that cannot be fixed simply by pouring more money in or by taking money out.
To fix our broken government it’s not enough simply to roll back ineffective policies that concentrate power in Washington—we must also roll out bold conservative reforms that empower the people closest to the problems to test and refine solutions that work best for their communities.
This bottom-up approach to solving public problems enables service providers to experiment with different approaches and allows consumers and beneficiaries of those services to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how to keep improving.
Conservatives can be confident that these kinds of reforms would reduce the size and cost of government—but only incidentally. The primary goal should be to build a functioning government that works for all Americans—especially the poor and middle class—and protects the space for them to meet the challenges of life in the twenty-first century.
These are the basic principles behind a new line of legislative proposals that I have been rolling out, aimed at reducing the cost and increasing access to the staples of working and middle-class economic security.
To mitigate the economic costs of raising children I have proposed a tax reform that would get rid of the marriage tax penalty and the parent tax penalty.
I have introduced a transportation reform proposal that would dramatically reduce the power and influence of the Washington filter by empowering the states to improve their own transportation systems, so that their citizens can spend less time stuck in traffic and more time at home with their families.
And to reduce the skyrocketing costs of college I have proposed a bill that would open up our higher education system to more diverse, affordable, and responsive educational options aimed at expanding post-secondary opportunities for the students left behind by our current system.
For every one of my legislative proposals there are a handful of others coming from a new generation of conservative leaders in Congress committed to meeting our challenges with principled, positive reforms.
This election season, we have already seen the kind of momentum that these reforms can generate, as many of the most promising conservative candidates around the country have embraced these ideas—and they’re winning.
This is exactly the kind of model that we can replicate at the national level in 2016.
The key to expanding the conservative movement into a majority is to get more people to sign on—and run on—these reforms. This is how we win elections. This is how we succeed in implementing the real alternative to big government: a thriving, flourishing nation of cooperative communities – where your success depends on your service.
It may seem like a long haul to get from our starting point today to the end of the road where a conservative President is leading the effort to enact bold conservative reforms, but there’s no place I’d rather be. I’m thankful for the efforts of all the “happy warriors” in this room, and I look forward to continuing to the end of this road alongside all of you.
Thank you and God bless.