Rediscovering our American Values: The Real State of the Union

Report Political Process

Rediscovering our American Values: The Real State of the Union

February 1, 2000 13 min read
The Honorable Tom Delay
Policy Analyst

The beginning of a new year is a time for looking to the future and making predictions. And since today we're at The Heritage Foundation to discuss the state of our union's future and the role of conservatives in building that future, I'll offer a political prediction. Some might call it a bold prediction.

One year from this week, in January 2001, a Republican President-elect and a Republican Congress will begin a renewal of America's strength and security, based on a long-overdue rediscovery of America's values. That's right. A year from today the dream conservatives have worked and prayed for will be upon us. We've been close before. In the eighties we had Ronald Reagan in the White House, but Capitol Hill was occupied territory. Since 1994, we've had control of both houses of Congress, but the White House has been beyond our reach. And while our record over the last five years is a proud one, I'm here to tell you that it is also an incomplete one.

What we've accomplished is only a beginning. Our greatest objectives will only be realized with the active assistance of a President who not only agrees with our specific policies but also shares our basic philosophy.

I understand that there may be some people here today--one or two might even be in the news media--who will scoff at my prediction. They will laugh at the notion that we are on the threshold of conservative political change and a moral rediscovery. We should counter this cynicism with intense optimism and stubborn resolve.

America is a nation that is never finished. Each generation works to make it better. I believe Americans are eager to replace cultural decline with cultural renewal. We have walked all the way up to the edge of the abyss, and, as we look into the void, Americans understand clearly more than ever what is really important.

The administration that has held the White House for almost eight years now has moved through the cherished institutions of our nation like a threshing machine, leveling everything in its path. Nothing has been spared. The presidency has been debased and the political dialogue has been poisoned.

We are ready for a new beginning. Last November marked the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of an ideology responsible for 100 million murders during the 20th century. The Cold War was a victory for America and its ideals. I believe I can safely say that it was conservatives who led that victory.

Conservatives recognized the cancer of Soviet expansionism and could always be counted on to call Communism what it is: evil. Conservatives maintained their faith in their nation and the righteousness of its cause, even as many liberals condemned American power as simply another form of imperialism.

A conservative President, against a chorus of condemnation from the media and members of his own State Department, had the courage to insist: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." But with triumph has come uncertainty.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, many have suggested that conservatives are without a mission and without a direction. It's been said that we are wandering the battlefield of victory in search of a new cause and new heroes. We should reject this thinking. Our cause, the defense of our values, has never changed; we lack only a united conservative front that can guide a cause to victory. And that means a Republican President working with a Republican Congress.

Threats to our ideals have always rallied those who believe in the promise of America. I believe the cause that will carry us into the new century is the rediscovery of our core American convictions, a national renewal of the basic principles that are at the root of our exceptionalism.

We live in a time in which asserting universal values is unfashionable in the extreme. Despite the protests of the chattering class, there is a set of values that binds us together as Americans. These values are moral, they are universal, and they are the source of our greatness. They are our faith in God, our belief in the sanctity of human life, our acceptance of moral absolutes, and our certainty that we are ultimately accountable for our own actions.

For America to be not only prosperous but deserving of prosperity, these virtues must guide our individual actions. They must shape the character of our communities and inform the essence of our civic life.

It may come as news to some people, but even our prosperity, our unprecedented national wealth and productivity, takes second place to our fundamental principles. Not just because we should value faith and virtue above all things, but because our prosperity is dependent on them. For without the virtues of honesty, trust, and discipline, there can be no industry. Without the mutual respect that flows from recognizing our common responsibilities, there can be no marketplace.

To rediscover our core American values, we must implement a plan to renew our culture, strengthen our families, and provide America, once again, with a foreign policy dedicated to the triumph of liberty all around the globe. My faith that a Republican President will succeed in achieving this rediscovery flows from first-hand knowledge of what our Republican Congress has done to build its

Over the past five years, Congress has stood alone as the only national institution thoroughly committed to a conservative worldview. We have challenged the counterculture activists who run Hollywood, confronted the trial lawyers who dominate the courts, and struck back against the corporate liberalism that has come to dominate so many American companies.

Our allies at the state and local levels have consistently provided critical support. But we have been alone in mounting the broad challenge to a liberalism designed in elite universities and marketed by the entertainment moguls who employ their graduates.

More than anyone else, it is the Republican Congress that has led a pro-family counterattack against a culture of fashionable nihilism. We have served as a source of traditionalism against a judiciary bent on transforming our nation through their liberal activism. We have refused to abandon the timeless truths that make America strong even in the face of ferocious opposition.

You can understand my frustration when some of our friends in the conservative movement allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. All conservatives want to do more, but achieving more will require an expanded Republican majority. The answer is to unite behind our common conservative vision. Anything else is unacceptable.

Working together, we will upset the expectations of the liberal establishment by electing a Republican President and increasing our majorities in the House and the Senate. Remember the last time we foiled the plans of our friends on the Left? It was 1994, when we worked together to end 40 years of Democrat control of the House of Representatives. Many of you in this room today were part of that change and worked with me to achieve it, not just in 1994 but during the preceding years.

In 1994, we set out to send power and resources back to the states with the knowledge that the government which governs closest to the people governs best. We succeeded on many fronts. Who believed that we could balance the federal budget? Who believed we could pay down the national debt? Who believed we could stop the 40-year raid of Social Security? Who believed we could increase local control over education? Who believed we could transform a failing welfare system?

Conservatives believed we could do all these things. Our boldness, dedication, and hard work made all of it happen. The result of these victories, and the efforts of two Republican Presidents, is a prosperous country that promises to dominate the global marketplace for decades to come.

But we know that political power without moral principle is incomplete. Our most pressing national problems have a moral dimension that can't be solved with a President who vetoes pro-family tax cuts, who vetoes education choice for parents, and who vetoes our effort to end partial-birth abortion. We cannot make great progress with a Chief Executive who believes that it can--under any circumstance--be in a child's best interest to live under Castro's Communism.

What Congress can accomplish with a Republican President will be incredible. It will be nothing less than a rediscovery of the values that made America a great nation and that have made Americans a good people.

From our founding and through much of our nation's history, Americans acknowledged a set of truths that transcend class, race, and gender. These self-evident truths are found in the words of the Declaration: that we are endowed with rights, not by government, but by our Creator. These rights include, but are not limited to, the right to life, the enjoyment of liberty, and the pursuit of life's higher purposes with our families and our communities.

These truths founded a nation, created the most productive economy in the world, won the struggle for civil rights, and defeated the twin evils of Fascism and Communism.

That we have lost touch with these principles is an indisputable fact of our time, and a shadow that darkens our future. Today, instead of being embraced, the Judeo-Christian beliefs that are the foundation of our greatness are under assault.

In a recent presidential debate, Texas Governor George W. Bush identified Jesus Christ as the greatest influence on his life. That profession of faith was met with cries of alarm from some quarters. Governor Bush was charged with unduly inserting religion into our politics. Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Cynthia Tucker called his answer "revolting." Maureen Dowd accused him of using Christ as a "wedge issue."

I wonder if Ms. Tucker is prepared to pronounce the words of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Adams "revolting"? All of these men believed in the centrality of religious faith to a self-governing people. I wonder if Ms. Dowd would call their belief, the conviction of the men who are quite literally the fathers of our liberty, including her
liberty to write a column in the New York Times, a "wedge issue"?

Today, our conservative movement must re-dedicate itself to turning back this assault, to rejecting the relativism that robs human beings of dignity and life of its meaning, and to rediscovering a worldview that embraces God as the creator and author of our liberty.

When 12 students and a teacher were killed by two of their classmates in Littleton, Colorado, a new phrase entered our lexicon: the culture of death. The culture of death didn't begin at Columbine. The phrase was coined earlier by Pope John Paul II to describe a worldview that devalues some human beings by denying their dignity. As one author has written, "Human beings are more than meat. When we start thinking of ourselves as simply ambulatory meat, then we start treating other people as meat."

The effects of embracing this culture of death are all around us, from the over 1 million abortions that are performed every year to the recent appointment by Princeton of a bioethics professor who advocates killing the disabled and the incompetent because they are, according to him, "nonpersons." Some people have trouble accepting that such seemingly unrelated events reflect a fundamental change in the culture.

Do you know who does understand this shift? The pro-abortion lobby. As demonstrated through the debate over partial-birth abortion, they understand that if life is not, in fact, ours to do with as we please, then the whole edifice of the culture of death will crumble.

They understand that there is a direct line from the Supreme Court case--Planned Parenthood v. Casey--redefining liberty as "the right to define one's own concept of existence" to the Vermont Supreme Court's recent ruling redefining marriage to mean all things to all people. If we are free to define our own concept of existence, then we are free to define our own concept of marriage, and, ultimately, our own individual concept of right and wrong. It is at that moment that civil society becomes impossible.

We have much to consider as America sets a course for the next hundred years. The utopian promises of the 20th century produced nothing but tyranny and bloodshed, and we at last fully understand the futility of government attempting to remake man. What we now need to accept is the futility of man attempting to remake himself without reference to a higher authority.

It is our responsibility to insist that rediscovering our values is the only way to ensure that future generations enjoy prosperity and freedom.

Each of us shares in this responsibility. For role models, we need only look to Americans who, under circumstances that are unimaginable to most of us, reached out to their fellow human beings in the spirit of faith, life, and dignity.

Americans like Del Shakespeare, a Cleveland father who moved his family into an attic to save the money he needed to get his five-year-old son out of a dangerous, drug-infested school. Americans like the Reverend Eugene Rivers, a former gang member who joined with 40 other Boston pastors to save inner-city kids from gangs and drugs.

These brave citizens found new faith through adversity. And to ensure such adversity is not inflicted on future generations, this rediscovery will demand an understanding of how these values are undermined today in our legal system, in our schools, and in our culture. It will demand that we reform our public schools by empowering parents to recapture them from the education bureaucracy. It will demand unwavering support for faith-based institutions that change lives by touching souls, and it will demand the unambiguous repudiation of those responsible for the violence and obscenity that are poisoning our culture.

Rediscovering our values also means strengthening families. We must free them from a tax and regulatory burden that too often forces both parents out of the home and into the workplace, robbing many children of the attention they so desperately need.

Rediscovering our values means returning to a foreign policy based on those values. Coherent, strategic foreign policy that supports men and women struggling for their religious and political freedom, be they in the deserts of Sudan or in the cities of Taiwan. It means respecting and supporting our armed forces by providing them with the resources they need. We must stop hamstringing them with political dictates or social engineering.

I say again that all of this will require reclaiming the credibility of American leadership in the eyes of the world and, yes, even in the eyes of our own citizens. We must select a commander in chief whose strength of character is clear to our allies and to our enemies alike.

Next week, the Republican majority will begin moving ahead with this rediscovery. We will work to end the marriage penalty, create Education Savings Accounts, and pay down the debt. We will begin to eliminate the rampant waste, fraud, and abuse that plague so much of the federal bureaucracy. And we will once again fight to end partial-birth abortion.

In 1776, the Founding Fathers' great hope for the new republic was that it would mark a new beginning in human history; that Americans, in the words of Sam Adams, would "show the eyes of mankind" that their nation "will be productive of more Virtue, moral and political."

Like the men who founded this country, I have no illusions about achieving heaven on earth. That arrogant dream, after all, is what drenched the 20th century in the blood of innocents. But it is not arrogance for this nation to cherish its heritage. It is not presumption for the people to rule themselves. It is not intolerance for this country, with all its failings, to strive to be worthy of its calling.

I am confident that Americans will never forsake the principles of our founding and the legacy of those who fought and died for us. But we ourselves must be prepared to fight. We must be "productive of more virtue" and insist that our leaders do the same. And if we do, when we do, we will be the foot soldiers in what, I believe, will someday be recognized as the effort that not only contained but rolled back the attack on the great principles that have always defined America. Through courage and conviction, we will have won a lasting rediscovery of our values.

This is what I see as the state of our union's future. Let's go to work.

--Tom DeLay, Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives, represents the 22nd Congressional District of Texas.


The Honorable Tom Delay

Policy Analyst