Delivered April 26, 2007
Let me give you some context. I won a football scholarship to
Xavier University in Cincinnati, and annually we played the
Quantico Marines. In my junior year, a staff sergeant playing
across the line from me gave me a physical education that was
superior to the academic preparation the Jesuits provided in the
classroom. So complete was the whooping he put on me that day that
I spent almost every day in the intervening year in chapel,
praying that he not be sent to Vietnam so I might return the lesson
in kind in my senior year.
As my good friends know, God answered my prayers and delivered
him unto me. For one complete half, I was returning the lesson. At
the beginning of the third quarter, I did one of my patent moves,
pushed him to the ground, sidestepped him, and instead of tackling
a 240-pound Marine fullback cleanly with my shoulder, my chin got
in the way; I was knocked out momentarily.
They sent me to Good Samaritan Hospital, which was a stone's
throw from where we were playing that Saturday afternoon. They did
head X-rays for a concussion, and the X-rays came back
negative. They sent me back to the field, where three Jesuits met
me at the sideline. They laid hands on me, prayed, and put me back
into the game for the balance of the fourth quarter.
Now, we won that game, miraculously, 9 to 7. Legend has it
that the next day in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the headline
read, for my dear mom to read, "Blackwell: Head X-rays Show
Nothing." So I am indeed honored to have been asked to keynote this
"The Fierce Urgency of Now"
Our dear brother and master teacher Russell Kirk has told us that
"A culture does not survive and prosper merely by being taken for
granted. Active defense is always required."
Some 44 years ago, in another historic city at a historic time
in American history, Martin Luther King, Jr., stood at the Lincoln
Memorial, and among other things he uttered these words: "We have
come to this hallowed ground to remind Americans of the fierce
urgency of now. This is no time to relax in the luxury of cooling
off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism."
I say to you this afternoon in Philadelphia that I come to
underscore "the fierce urgency of now." Our revolution of ideas,
policy formulations, and citizen action is not over. This
revolution requires us to finish the job. It requires us to stand
in the gap, as our invocation called us to earlier.
Moral Coherence and the Promise of
Some 22 years ago, I read a book entitled Habits of the
Heart, penned by Robert Bellah and a few others, and in this
book they advanced the concept of moral coherence. Moral coherence
is when you get your behavior to match those things that you
profess to believe. When you talk one way and behave in another,
you have moral incoherence, and there is a gap.
Throughout the last 230 years, there have been times in American
history when the promise of America has been missed by the practice
of her citizens, and there has been a gap between America's promise
and our practice. That has required men and women to stand in
that gap and to close it.
Now, as then, we must act to achieve moral coherence-just like
when Americans were debating slavery, the civil rights
movement, universal suffrage, the moral outrage of Roe v.
Wade, or some of the international tragedies that have in fact
beset the human condition. Now, as then, the challenge is for men
and women who understand that our freedom is indivisible and we
have an intrinsic right to be free to close the gap.
Our ideas are winning; we have changed the discussions and
language in the cloakrooms, the backrooms, and the legislative
chambers of our country. But still gaps exist between what we say
we believe and what we do in many areas of American life. And
within our federalist system, it is important that we-in our
cities, townships, counties, states all across this country-not
only continue to churn out and advance ideas, but actually change
the behaviors of men and women who represent us in our government.
We must help them close the gap between principle and practice.
Across this entire country, we have 511,000 elected public
officials, and what they do-not what they say-matters. It is our
job as citizens to hold them accountable so that we might finish
our revolution. That means we might have to rethink our
relationships with one another-how do our 501(c)(3)s relate to our
501(c)(4)s, and how do they both relate to 527s?-to advance ideas
and change behaviors.
My conservatism comes from practical living experiences. My dad
was a meatpacker, and he was a boxing fanatic, and early in my
childhood he enrolled me in a Golden Gloves amateur boxing program.
I won my first four bouts with relative ease; the fifth bout, I was
hit so hard in the nose I had to go home and tell my dad I was
going to find a more scholarly career to pursue.
I stayed away from boxing arenas until I was a freshman in
college when Father E. G. O'Connor, a senior Jesuit and former
Marine, took me and a friend of mine, Benji Schwartz, to the Golden
Gloves fights with him at the old Cincinnati Gardens.
We watched 10 bouts; the 11th bout, a young boy from the western
side of Cincinnati, he too of Irish Catholic heritage, came out,
and before his bout he made the sign of the cross. Benji, who was
Jewish, elbowed Father and said, "Father, what's the significance
of that?" Father said, "Son, it's important, but it ain't
enough if he can't fight."
Advancing the Big Ideas
And I would suggest to you that all of the great research we turn
out is not enough-it's important, but it's not enough-if we can't
convert it into changed behavior and the advancement of big
We have done good work. Let's not underestimate the impact that
we've had. Many kids today are enjoying an invigorating
education because we have been in the forefront, setting the
vision, advancing ideas, and motivating citizen action to expand
school choice. School choice gives birth to innovation,
fosters competition, and improves quality education. It
changes the 1965 union model of education that has failed so many
of our children and schools. We've been in the forefront of a
liberation movement of children who are locked in
dysfunctional schools and parents who have been marginalized.
But our job is not done, because the other side has geared up,
muscled up, and drawn the fault line-a fault line that stretches
from the Pacific to the Atlantic. On one side are those who are the
advocates and the apologists for big government; and on the
other side are those of us who are advocates of freedom and the
individual liberties that are so crucial to the American
tradition and America's future.
But it doesn't do us any good just to understand that there is a
fault line. It really comes back to how we engage our opponents and
fight for what we believe will shape America's future.
We are here in Philadelphia, where the Constitutional
Convention was held, and I can tell you there was a battle of
ideas, a test of wills, in the hot rooms where the convention was
being held. It was at a point of impasse when words that were a
harbinger of things to come were uttered by Benjamin Franklin.
Folks were ready to go their separate ways when he stood up-he was
over 80 years old at the time-and said, "Gentlemen, I'm an old man,
but this I know: If a sparrow cannot fly without His assistance,
then a nation cannot rise without His aid." And at that point, he
laid the theoretical understanding on the table that the essence of
our free society is that it is built on a moral foundation.
If you begin to listen to the words that were uttered, they
shape the battle of today. Those words later gave rise to the words
in the second paragraph of our Declaration, that "We hold these
truths to be self-evident." That all of us "are created equal." And
you continue to read in that paragraph that we are "endowed by
[our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights."
That's where the fault line originally started because we
believe that our human rights are gifts from God, not grants from
any government. When you understand that, you never fall into the
trap of treating government as God and the provider of our
freedoms. You see, government can do only two things: promote our
human liberties and protect them or abridge and abuse them. It
cannot give them to us. When we understand the source of our
freedom, it dictates how we fight the fight that is in front of
As we look around the room, we can begin to understand the
importance of our movement. We are a third force that will have an
impact on American thinking and American behavior.
Dedication and Purposeful Action
Two hundred and thirty years ago, only 2 million people lived
under the aegis of democratic government. Today that number is
well over 2.4 billion. So in 230 years, we've gone from 2 million
to 2.4 billion internationally, and America has led the way. I
would suggest to you it is because we've fought a good fight over
the years, and we have understood the power of the human will and
networked human beings as a force. We understand that history is
not moved by chance; it is moved by men and women of dedication and
When I was growing up in Cincinnati in a public housing
community, I could get in trouble at one end, and before I got home
at the other end, my mom already had the news. That's because I had
an "aunt" in every window and on every stoop of that public housing
community. The young people today have the Internet. Back then we
had the aunty-net; it moved information just as fast.
We in this room are a connected human force augmented by new
technologies. If we take advantage of these new technologies,
we can move our ideas and change behaviors. But it requires us to
stay engaged. It requires us to remain dedicated to those first
principles that The Heritage Foundation has advocated and advanced
in its brilliant history.
But the power of The Heritage Foundation is that it understands
that in many of our 3,300 counties and 50 states, there are local
and regional policy organizations carrying out the revolution. Our
job is to connect them and make them one powerful force.
We must also help our network realize that our work is not
finished just because Bill Clinton said, "The era of big government
is over." Government gets bigger and our tax code is still the
handmaiden of big government, not the engine of economic growth.
The model of government schools driven by big unions is still
surviving on plenty of oxygen. The threat of big government is
The threat is still real because we now have on the left
apologists for big government who are trying to run God's
faith and religion out of the public square. We must understand
that this is the ultimate threat to the vibrancy of our freedom
movement. They are not just trying to reestablish the so-called
Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting to choke off the voices of the
right; they are trying to change the nature and uniqueness of our
democracy and culture by running God and faith out of the
public square. They have tried to turn us on ourselves. We had best
understand that as we work to maintain our majority coalitions and
continue to impact policy and behavior in the public
So our plate is still full. We still have a job to do. We must
be filled anew with the "the fierce urgency of now."
Punching Holes in the Darkness
Coming up in that working-class home, my grandmother was a
domestic worker, and she used to get books given to her by the
families for whom she worked. I remember reading a novel about a
little boy who spent a lot of time in infirmaries, and one
evening-this was in the early 1900s-a nurse came into his room, and
she said, "Little boy, what are you doing?"
It was dusk, and he said, "I'm watching the man punch holes in
the darkness." She said, "What?" He said, "I'm watching the man
punch holes in the darkness."
So she walked over to the window, and she looked out, and what
this little boy who was 9 years old or so saw was a lamplighter
going down the street lighting streetlights. In this little boy's
mind, this man was punching holes in the darkness.
We have no time to waste cursing the darkness as a conservative
movement. It is now our time to light candles with our research, to
light candles with our ideas, but more importantly, to join
together candles so that we become torches so that we can
punch holes in the darkness of our time: the darkness of big
government, the darkness of a faithless culture, the darkness of
children being locked out and kept from quality education.
We must understand that we've done some good. We've punched some
holes in the darkness. There are 8 million people who now have
their health savings accounts because we at the state and
local levels drove that idea and drove that policy.
We've done some good, but there are still dark clouds, and my
charge to you is that we recommit ourselves to going out and
punching holes in the darkness. Our children and our grandchildren
count on us to have that courage.
I leave you with the words of Winston Churchill. For those of
you who, like me, suffered a political setback, Mr. Churchill said,
"Courage is the ability to go from failure to failure without
losing enthusiasm." So I go forth with a smile and a candle to
punch holes in the darkness.
J. Kenneth Blackwell served from 1998 to 2006 as Ohio's 51st
Secretary of State. Before that, he served as Mayor of Cincinnati,
Under Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the
Administration of President George H. W. Bush, and Ohio State
Treasurer. He is currently Senior Fellow for Family
Empowerment at the Family Research Council; Ronald Reagan
Distinguished Fellow for Public Policy at the Buckeye Institute for
Public Policy Solutions; a visiting fellow at the Texas Public
Policy Foundation and the American Civil Rights Union; chairman of
the Coalition for a Conservative Majority; member of the National
Rifle Association's Public Affairs Committee and the boards of
directors of the Club for Growth, National Taxpayers Union, and
Pastors Retreat Network; and columnist for the New York Sun,
contributing editor and columnist for Townhall.com, and public
affairs commentator for the Salem Radio Network. He delivered these
remarks at the 30th Annual Meeting of The Heritage Foundation
Resource Bank, held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 26- 27,