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A Heritage of Principles That Advances Our Peoples

Miami, Florida  
July 24, 2003
Becky Norton Dunlop

It is a privilege and an honor to be here and to address this distinguished group.

Thank you, Fred Oladeinde, and the Foundation for Democracy in Africa for inviting the Heritage Foundation to partner with you in this great program.

Let me say a few words about the Heritage Foundation. Heritage is located in Washington, D.C. and is a research and public policy institute. It focuses its research and policy work on the issues that face our citizens. Heritage is an independent institution. We are not associated with any political party nor do we receive financial support from the government. Please visit our website and make use of all the material that is posted.

Heritage champions certain core principles that are part of country’s heritage. Without a heritage, every generation starts over. The Heritage Foundation is committed to promoting the very best elements of America’s heritage and passing them along to future generations and to our brothers and sisters on other shores seeking to improve the lives of their fellow countrymen. Those elements of our heritage that need to be changed are also on the Heritage Foundation agenda. And our nation’s elected representatives have demonstrated a willingness to make changes that will improve our country for all her citizens.

Today, I would like to talk briefly about three levels of principles that I believe are important and foundational to benefit peoples everywhere and enhance their lives.

The first level is Personal. It relates to how individuals live their lives and treat one another. They cannot be legislated or enforced by government authorities. Without them, there can be no real freedom, no real economic freedom, nor human freedom -and certainly, no great societies.

There are two of these principles, and each individual must make conscious decisions whether or not to live by and apply them. I shall describe them from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but I believe that all of the great religions of the world teach these principles in their own unique way.

The first is “The Golden Rule.” Now some would quote this as, “He who has the gold rules.” Although that would not be the Golden Rule I am talking about today. The real, genuine Golden Rule states, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Now, this seems to be quite basic and easy to live by. But just think for a moment how life would change if each person simply applied the golden rule to every aspect of his or her life -in family matters; neighborhood or community relationships; dealing with employees, employers, customers or shareholders. Religious tolerance would be a great area in which to apply this rule. And it would make a difference in areas as inconsequential as sports or as significant as paying one’s taxes. Entrepreneurs understand this rule very well or they are not successful.

President Ronald Reagan, whom I had the privilege of working for during his Presidency, once said, “If we lived by the Golden Rule, there would be no need for other laws.” I think he was right about this.

The second of these great personal principles is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The most important lesson of this principle begins with recognizing the value and worth of each human being, beginning with one’s self. If one has a poor self-image, does not view themselves as an individual with dignity and value, how can they then be expected to treat their neighbor with dignity and love and generosity? Too often, inspiring and challenging talks are given about the first phrase: “love your neighbor.” My encouragement and challenge is to really think about this entire principle. If we indeed understand and value this great principle which easily springs to one’s lips, we should readily understand that government programs that diminish the value of each human life and individual, that diminishes the opportunity for every person to have a sense of self worth and self-respect, are not government programs that we should champion and support. Government programs should, in fact, “do no harm” to the individual and where appropriate, even enhance the value and worth of each citizen so we can have a higher standard for “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

Foundational governing principles

Now, let me move quickly on to the next level: foundational government principles. These, and I will touch on only three today, are among those that the Heritage Foundation advances in its policy work. They are:

  • Individual freedom
  • Limited Government
  • Free Enterprise

Let’s look first at the principle of Individual Freedom versus Security. The Founders of my country faced and debated this principle. There was a certain security in being part of the British Empire. The colonies were under the “protection” of the Crown, and there was some degree of certainty about their future. Freedom was “freedom from the crown” with all its inherent uncertainties. Certainly, there would be a loss of security if the colonists chose this course. There would be a war for sure. The King of England would not give up the colonies without a fight. Lives would be lost, property and businesses destroyed, and families divided. Future prospects of the colonists were unknown. Both public and private debates raged among friends and between family members about the costs of freedom versus the benefits of security.

Thankfully, for those of us who live in America today and who love and cherish our liberty, our forbearers took the risk and sided with freedom over security. They fought a war, won the freedom and birthed a new nation -the United States of America.

The Declaration of Independence declare boldly the basis for choosing Freedom:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” This was a different way of thinking, different than the thinking anywhere else in the world. It was revolutionary at that time, and it may well be revolutionary in parts of our world today. Just think about what this opening statement says. 

-All are created equal.

-None deserve to rule over others.

-None deserve to be ruled by others.

-Individuals possess these rights.

These rights are bestowed by their Creator and not granted by a king or government.

The government in this new country would derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Freedom is a birthright, but it often must be sought and won at great cost. And freedom is constantly threatened, often by the opposing objective of security regardless of the cost to individual freedom. This is one reason why we must always be vigilant, even today. This debate is occurring again in our land, in another context, that of fighting terrorism and terrorists. How much individual freedom are citizens willing to sacrifice in the cause of security? I, for one, fear they are willing to give too much. So this very debate is heard across our land today.

One of America’s Founding Fathers, James Madison, was a most eloquent spokesman for defending freedom and advocating Limited Government, which is the second principle I want to share with you today.

Madison talked about a Limited Government constrained by checks and balances, separation of powers, and balanced responsibility between federal and state (or local) government.

Fortunately for us in the United States, Madison and his colleagues agreed and built into the fabric of the new government three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. In the legislative branch two equal bodies were established: a House and a Senate. The House had members elected by the citizens every two years. At that time, the Senate had members elected by the state legislators to be representatives of the states. Nothing in the United States becomes a law unless both of these bodies agree. Both must approve the bill, send it to the President, and then the President must also approve it. This may mean the passage of a law takes time and is frustrating for some, but our Founders believed that passing laws was serious business and should not be accomplished easily. We at the Heritage Foundation agree with this idea.

The Founders established a partially blended government whereby if the House and the Senate passed a bill and sent it to the President, and the President did not agree with it, he could veto the bill. But they also provided that if the Congress disagreed with the Presidential veto, the Congress could override the veto and the bill could become law without the President’s approval.

They provided that the Senate would advise and consent or confirm Presidential appointees including his appointments to the judicial branch. Once confirmed, however, the judiciary would operate as a third autonomous branch of government with powers equal to the other two branches. Again, this is a blended responsibility -the concept of checks and balances. No one branch has all of the power.

Then, of course, the Founders provided for a balanced federal system between the state governments and the national government. The states, 13 at that time, 50 today, would be laboratories of democracy, places where the citizens’ priorities would prevail on government matters not assigned to the national government.

So, the principle is “limited government,” which permits the private sector, the entrepreneurs to handle most activities that supply goods and services to the citizenry.

The final foundational governing principle I will mention today is “Free Enterprise.” Free Enterprise needs both freedom and limited government in order to flourish. People must have the freedom to choose what businesses or jobs they want. They need freedom to decide where to locate those businesses and how to make them grow. They need to have a limited government to protect their private property, physical property like land and stores and commodities as well as intellectual property. The government must also provide for the safety of the citizens who visit the businesses, the workers traveling to the business each day and the neighborhood where the businesses are located. And, of course, government must protect the civil liberties of the people. But the government must also be limited from over-regulating businesses and overtaxing them. Both regulations and taxes can become so burdensome as to discourage businesses from growing or even continuing to operate. Government must permit competition by allowing more than one person to start and operate similar businesses if they wish. Competition allows more and better products or services at better prices for consumers. And finally, a flourishing free enterprise system responds quickly to the citizens’ needs, wants and pocketbooks. Free enterprise is a win-win proposition. The creator of the product or service sells it to the consumer who is willing to pay the asking price. Both walk away from the transaction feeling they have struck a fine bargain. You who are entrepreneurs here today understand exactly what I am talking about and what a great system it is.

Practical Political Principles

Lastly, I would like to share with you some principles for practical politics today. I think you will find these very accurate and very useful in your future endeavors, but you might also find them revolutionary.

A colleague of mine, from a sister policy institute in the United States, Mr. Larry Reed, who is a distinguished scholar but also a savvy and effective political leader, summarized this set of practical principles.

  1. If a people are free, they will not earn equal incomes; conversely, show me a people who have equal incomes, and I will show you a people who are not free.
  2. What belongs to you, you tend to take care of. What belongs to no one or everyone tends to fall into disrepair.
  3. It isn’t enough to focus on the short-term effects of a law or policy on a few special interests. The long-run effects on all people must be considered as well.
  4. If you encourage something, you get more of it; if you discourage something, you get less of it.
  5. Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.
  6. Government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody.
  7. A government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.

So, there you have it: A Heritage of Principles that Advances Peoples Everywhere.

Two Personal Principles

Three Foundational Governing Principles

Seven Practical Political Principles

An even dozen…what a deal! 

John Adams, another of our Founding Fathers, made the statement that “Statesmen may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone which can establish the principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” So, I leave you with this sobering thought.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the principles we have discussed today have made Americans the I Can people. I believe you can see how they can help to make the Africans I Can Do people.

The Heritage Foundation values these great principles and believes they will guide us all to greater freedom and economic prosperity. We encourage President Bush to have a robust and proactive Africa policy based on these principles. We will be there to help. God bless you and thank you.