Mike Huckabee photo

Remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference

February 09, 2008

Thank you, first of all, Star Parker, my dear friend and true supporter. And thank all of you for being this alive and this energetic on a Saturday morning, early.

It is sometimes asked of me, why is it that I'm a conservative? After all, I come from a state that doesn't have a whole lot of history of conservatism, and certainly not Republicanism.

Well, a lot of it is that, as you know, I get asked all these "God" questions in the debates. And I guess, in a way, it's appropriate, because my conservatism is rooted in my understanding of the Scriptures. [cheers and applause] And here's why. Ecclesiastes chapter 10, verse two, says that "A wise man's heart directs him toward the right, but a foolish man's heart directs him toward the left." There you have it. [cheers and applause]

Let me explain some things about the way I grew up in south Arkansas, where there were no Republicans native to Hempstead County. I came from the little town of Hope. I know you've heard of it before. And, yes, there was another obscure, unknown governor who couldn't win the presidency who came from Hope, Arkansas too. But as I've often said, give us one more chance, folks. [applause]

I was in an airplane and a guy sitting next to me several months ago was, I think, just trying to throw up some conversation. So he turned to me and he said, "Hey, mister, I've got a joke I want to tell you. It's about this politician from Hope, Arkansas." I said, "Excuse me, sir. I need to let you know something before you embarrass yourself. I am a politician from Hope, Arkansas." He looked over at me and he said, "Oh, that's all right, son. I'll tell it real slow." (Laughter.)

When I grew up, I came from a family where there were three basic heroes in our household: Jesus, Elvis and FDR. Like so many kids of the South, it was sort of just inbred in us that we were all Democrats. Now, it wasn't because folks there were so much liberal, but there was just this sort of gravitation toward it. In fact, there were only seven Republicans that I knew of in my entire home county. Every one of them had moved in from either Kentucky, Indiana or Illinois. None of them were native to Hempstead County. There used to be a saying that "There are no Republicans here except the ones that either moved in or had been messed with."

Well, I was one of those guys that at some point got messed with, and here's what happened. As a teenager, I went to work for a gentleman by the name of Haskell Jones. He was the manager of the local radio station, and he gave me a job. I look back and I think what an incredible thing. Here's a guy that looked at a 14-year-old kid and saw something in him and said, "I want you to work for me." And he was one of those seven Republicans who had moved in from somewhere.

He loved this country. He was a great patriot. He understood the blessings of America. And even though I had not grown up in a Republican household, I understood something about the blessings of America. I was raised to love this country. I was not allowed to be unkind toward it.

My parents, though, they were not well-educated; just hard- working, blue-collar types that barely could make the rent payments on the little rent house we lived in on 2nd Street in Hope, Arkansas; a father that worked two jobs, one as a fireman, the other as a mechanic, the kind of dad who got grit and grime under his fingernails every single day because he did the work of heavy lifting and hard labor; the kind of household where the only soap we had in our house was Lava soap. That means I was in college before I found out it's not supposed to hurt when you take a shower. (Laughter, applause.)

My father never graduated high school. In fact, no male upstream from me in my entire family lineage had ever graduated high school. I would be the first, and the first to ever go into college. [applause]

My mother was the oldest of seven children and grew up in a household where her early childhood was spent with dirt floors, no electricity, outdoor toilets. I'm a generation away from the abject poverty that plagued so many people of the Deep South who went through the Great Depression and world war, but a part of what we often call the greatest generation, because they did not live for their own comforts. They lived so their children would have a better life than them. And that's why many of us live better today than we ever could have dreamed. [applause]

Because of what they and others like them in their generation instilled in me, I grew up believing that no matter where you started in this country, it wasn't where you had to stop. And that was the greatness of America is that we had individual freedom, that our freedom was not tied to the group to which we were automatically or arbitrarily connected. Our freedom was tied to our own individual souls. It was a gift from God, not our government. And therefore, no one could take it from us because no one gave it to us. [applause]

It was instilled in me that because freedom is individual, personal responsibility is also individual and was upon me and that I could not expect somebody or the government to do for me what I was supposed to do for myself. [cheers and applause]

When I went to work for Haskell Jones, this great patriot and Republican, he began to help me crystallize what I understood was part of a greater movement. This was in the 1960s, in 1968 and 1969, and this country was literally burning with riots and dissent. And we remember the Democratic National Convention, when the whole world was watching, and they were.

And there was a real definite choice that year, a choice. Would we be a country of law and order or law of mayhem? And that further helped crystallize my view that I believed in law and order, not mayhem. I believed that some things were right and some things were wrong, and when we went with the right, we had strength. And when we saw that there was no moral center and there was nothing that really ever could be defined a moral absolute, then we were lost and confused.

I also was handed a book by Haskell Jones when I was a teenager. It was a book that was called "It's a Choice, not an Echo," written by Phyllis Schlafly. [applause] And that book had a tremendous impact on me as a teenager. Quite frankly, that book reminded me that in all of our lives, we should not simply be echoing the sentiments of others, but making deep personal choices about what we believe and, most importantly, why we believe it.

I realize that it is not politically correct to say what I'm about to say, but I've believed it since I was a teenager, and I will not recant it now. The reason that America is a great nation is because America is a special nation. And the reason America is a special nation is because it was founded by people who were first on their knees before they were on their feet. We are a nation rooted in our faith. [cheers and applause]

I've had the incredible privilege and joy to have visited almost 40 countries across the world. I've seen some magnificent things, experienced some dramatic and exotic cultures, tasted some delicious foods, experienced the hospitality and the warmth of many peoples, of many nations. I've sat and visited with heads of state, with heads of companies, and with ordinary people in virtually every part of this world, whether Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, nine times to Israel, to Russia, to all parts of Asia, Europe, Central America.

But in all of my travels and all of the ways in which I've touched other parts of the world, I've yet to find any country, as enchanted as I was with it, for which I would even consider for a moment giving up my citizenship in the United States of America to trade it for residence anywhere else on earth. [applause]

We are a special nation. [applause] And we are a special nation because, throughout our history, we have been people who have made choices rather than simply echo the voices of others. I know that there was some speculation that I might come here today to announce that I would be getting out of the race. But I want to make sure you understand. Am I quitting? Well, let's get that settled right now. No, I'm not. [cheers and applause]

And the reason is simple — because I go back to that which helped crystallize in me a conservative viewpoint as a teenager when it wasn't easy or popular to be a Republican or a conservative in my hometown, because I do believe that America is about making choices, not simply echoing that of others. Let others join the "Me, too" crowd.

But I didn't get where I am today and I didn't fight the battles in a state that, when I became its governor, was 90 percent Democrat, by simply echoing the voices of others. I did it by staking out a choice, stating that choice, making that choice and fighting for that choice, to believe that some things were right, some things were wrong, and it's better to be right and even to not win than it is to be wrong and to be a part of the crowd. [cheers and applause]

When I was a teenager, there was a phrase that came late in the '60s and early '70s that sort of was a mantra for many of us as conservatives. And quite frankly, I remember it on bumper strips. It said, "My Country, Right or Wrong." And I guess many of us subscribe to that view that it is my country, right or wrong.

But the real history of that statement goes back to the 1800s, when a senator from Missouri named Carl Schurz, who served from 1869 to 1875, a German immigrant who came to this country, later elected to the U.S. Senate, once served in a president's Cabinet after that, died in the early 1900s.

But the point of context of the statement is this. He said, "My country, right or wrong. When it's right, we will keep it right. And when it's wrong, we will make it right." (Cheers.) And ladies and gentlemen, that ought to be the heart cry of every conservative. [applause] When it is right, we will keep it right. But when it is wrong, we will make it right.

I want to say again that freedom does not exist in a vacuum. It has to have moral clarity. We have to believe that murder, lying, stealing are wrong or freedom doesn't work. Freedom has to always operate in the context in which responsibility is the other wing of the airplane on our individual freedom and choice.

If we, as a nation, ever fail to understand that, then we will disintegrate and become like many of the cultures that we today have to confront and, in fact, fight, who do not believe that it is wrong to murder, even to murder one's own child for the sake of the political cause of Islamo-fascism.

What separates us from that very culture out to destroy us is that it never would be conceivable to us that we would strap a bomb to the belly of our own children and march our own child into a room full of innocent people to detonate the bomb in order to make a political point, because we believe some things are right and some things are wrong. And we would believe it wrong to kill our own children for a purpose beneath that. [cheers and applause]

But we also believe that there are some things that are right. For example, as conservatives, we believe that it is right to protect the sovereignty of the United States and to make sure that we never, ever, for any circumstance, under any purpose, ever yield one ounce of our sovereignty over to some international tribunal. [cheers and applause]

That's why we have to fight — (continued applause) — that's why we need to fight against the Law of the Sea Treaty and make sure that it gets a good burial at sea. That's why we should say no to Kyoto, because it's not giving over — (applause) — our sovereignty. And it's why any time some United States judge who has taken an oath to the Constitution of the United States should invoke some international law as a basis upon which to make a decision, he should be summarily impeached for having done so. [cheers and applause]

It is right to have a strong military. In fact, one of the mistakes that we have made is we have allowed ourselves to believe that the peace dividend of the Clinton administration is something that is anything less than has become now the war deficit, because we have failed to keep our military spending up to the level at which we can have the troop strength that we desperately need.

That's why, in the next election cycle, and hopefully in the next administration, we will return to the kind of at least GDP spending that we had during the Reagan years, because, quite frankly, the quickest path and the surest path to peace is to make sure that we have the kind of military that no one on earth wants to engage in a battle, knowing full well they don't stand a chance. [cheers and applause]

It is right for us to be on the offense against Islamo-fascism and not wait until they attack us. And on this, we need to salute the president for the fact that he has not been willing to wait until they attack us again on our soil. [cheers and applause]

Unlike any war we have ever fought in this nation, this is not a war for soil. This is a war for our soul. We will either win it or we will lose it. And this nation must rally to the point where we recognize there is no compromise. There is no alternative. We must win. They must lose. Islamo-fascism must disappear from the face of the earth or we will. [cheers and applause]

It is right for us to believe in a government that gives to us lower taxes and less government and controls spending. And I know that you believe that that is the what. But let me share with you the why — because I think sometimes in the political debates of today we miss the point. This goes not to the heart just of a political argument but to a moral one.

When government takes more from us and confiscates more of our earnings than it has a right to confiscate for the basic purpose of government, which is not to provide for us but merely to protect us so that we may provide for ourselves, then it has robbed us of our capacity to raise our own families and to engage in what gives us strength economically, and that is a free-market system. [cheers and applause]

The reason that our tax system is irreparably broken is because in this city it is not really run anymore by 535 members of Congress but the 35,000 lobbyists, 70 to one to the members of Congress, who manipulate the tax code and create winners and losers.

The reason that I am a strong supporter of the FAIR tax is that it ends 66,000 pages of gobbledy-gook in the name of the IRS tax code. [cheers and applause] And it ends, once and for all, the completely nonsensical concept that we are to penalize productivity while subsidizing irresponsibility. That is counterintuitive to a strengthened economy. [applause]

I talked to a man in Manchester, New Hampshire who was a machinist at the machine shop I was touring. He told me of his daughter who was going to Cornell grad school at the cost of $54,000 a year, which my first thought was, "Thank you, God, my daughter doesn't want to go to Cornell grad school." (Laughter.)

But then he told me, he said, "You know, I'm working a second shift so I can help my daughter. But the problem is, working the second shift has put me in a whole new tax bracket. Most of what I'm making in the second shift, the government's taking away from me in higher taxes."

I hated to tell him, but the truth is if he gets in that higher tax break, there's other issues as well. If he saves the money, we tax it. If he invests it, we tax the dividends from the stock market. If he buys and sells, we'll tax the capital gains. And if the poor guy keels over dead from working too hard, we'll tax him at his death. No wonder people are frustrated.

You know, there's one way he can get some federal help for his daughter. He can quit working altogether, sit home and watch ESPN all day, and then she'll qualify for assistance. [cheers and applause] Now, can anybody tell me that makes sense? [cheers and applause]

I've got a better idea. I've got a better idea than the nonsense — a better idea than the nonsense of that 66,000-page tax code that cost American businesses $250 (billion) to $500 billion a year in compliance costs, that's choking the life out of small business. It's a shame that the Republican Party used to be the champion of a small business owners. And we need to be again, because the fact is, 50 percent of our jobs come from there, 80 percent of our new jobs, and even big business starts out as small business. Most big businesses depend on the supplies from small business.

And today the reason many small business owners find it hard to survive and compete is because the competition that they face the fiercest is not from their competitors. It's from their own government, with excessive taxation, regulation, and the threat of litigation. [applause]

We can change that. I'd like to be the president that puts the IRS out of business, nails the "Going out of business" sign on their front door, and takes these tax forms like this and says to every American, "Goodbye." [cheers and applause]

(Chants of "We Like Mike!")

We should demand transparency and accountability from our government. I would propose that every time the federal government makes any expenditure, it posts it on the Internet within 24 hours so you could find out exactly where every dollar of the federal budget goes, down to what it costs to mow the courthouse lawn in your hometown.

Wouldn't that shock some people to find out exactly how our tax money comes in and how it goes out?

I believe that it's right to demand that government should facilitate and not complicate the free-market system. I think it's right to believe that mothers and fathers raise better kids than governments do, and we don't need governments telling us how to raise our kids and grow our families. [cheers and applause]

And I believe it's right for us to understand something that comes from the very heart of our founding, and that is that life is sacred and should be celebrated and elevated. And ladies and gentlemen, I know that there are some, even in the conservative movement, who think that the issues such as the sanctity of life don't belong in the discussion, but let me tell you why they do and why, under no circumstance, will I ever be able to do anything less than not just support but to be willing to lead a human life amendment to the United States Constitution. And hear me out as to why.

From the beginning of this country, our Founding Fathers said it in eloquent words when 56 men put their signatures on a document and they said, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

At the heart of that statement is this radical idea for 1776 that flew in the face of everything that had been a part of their culture, in which ancestry, last name and net worth were what made a person have worth or not. They said we're all equal.

Today I stand here because of their willingness to put their blood on the line to give a kid like me the opportunity to be as equal as the aristocrats. None of us would probably be sitting here talking about our freedom had it not been for their courage in recognizing the equality of all of us.

But at the heart of understanding that is that if we are indeed equal, then it means that all of us have intrinsic value and worth, and no one has more than another. And nothing external gives us greater or less worth — not our abilities or disabilities, not our net worth, not our job position, not our last name or ancestry, not our race, not our gender. Not one thing makes us more or less equal.

I believe that the sanctity of a human life is rooted in who we are as a culture and a civilization. And should we turn our back on this fundamental truth, we have turned our back on the very essence and foundation of who we are as a people that has always given us that understanding that we leave no man on the battlefield. And even when a Boy Scout is lost in the woods of North Carolina, we go looking for him, because we believe his life has value and meaning, and we care as if it were our own. That's what makes us a great, wonderful, God- blessed nation. [cheers and applause]

Let me also say that it is right for our country, in believing in our sovereignty, to demand that we have something that every nation on earth accepts and, in fact, assumes would be a part of its nation's essentials — a secure border. How we can ever believe that we can be a sovereign nation or a free nation without securing our borders is beyond me.

And ladies and gentlemen, our national government has miserably failed to do something that most of us all across this country realize. This is a great nation that welcomes people. We're not hostile. We've always been a nation of immigrants. Most of us come from ancestors who immigrated here from somewhere. But we're also a nation of law, and we believe that if you knock on our front door and you're hungry, chances are we'll ask you to sign the guest book and we'll try to feed you and help you. But if you break through the window in the middle of the night, God help you. [cheers and applause]

The sad thing is when our own government puts the ladder up against the window. It's a little hard to blame the person climbing up the ladder as much as it is the government who puts the ladder and says, "Go ahead and climb." [cheers and applause] Let's fix what's wrong.

I had a boyhood pastor who used to tell me, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." And I believe that that's perhaps true now more than ever.

You know, I want to just conclude today by sharing with you that sometimes, in the course of elections, a lot of things get said. People question other people's motives or maybe their qualifications or their credentials. And mine certainly have been questioned from time to time as to whether I was a true conservative.

Let me tell you, the critics who have been saying some of those things weren't with me when I was being put in the back of (parades ?) in Arkansas because I had the audacity to be a conservative in a state that didn't really welcome it. They weren't there when my door was nailed shut upon my election as lieutenant government in 1993 — nailed shut by the Democrats in the state capitol, who kept it nailed shut for the first 59 days that I was in office. And I'd get on an elevator; they'd get off. I'd walk down the hall; they'd turn the other way; or the times when I'd go into cafes and restaurants to campaign and people refused to shake my hand because I had the audacity to be a Republican in a state where that just wasn't acceptable.

Believe me, I understand what it is to go into a state capitol where there never been a general broad-based tax cut in 160 years and proposed one, and three months later signed it into law, and 94 times after that signed tax cuts into law in a state that didn't know how to handle that before. That's a conservative, folks, against the head winds that weren't easy. [applause]

To reform welfare in a state that believed that it was an entitlement, and to take half the people off and get them into jobs, not just take them off welfare but to get them employed, and to see the lowest unemployment numbers in our state and the highest employment numbers and the largest number of new jobs and a 50 percent increase in per capita income and the cutting capital gains tax and the elimination of the marriage penalty and the doubling of the child care tax credit and the indexing of the income tax for inflation and the freezing of property taxes for elderly people so they did not lose their homes because government made them end up having to move away.

I understand something about the necessity of that. I remember when legislators were on the capitol steps having news conferences every day calling for — demanding that we have a special session to raise taxes. And I finally created the Tax Me More fund. I said, "There's nothing in the law that says you can't pay more taxes if you feel like you're not paying enough." And I had envelopes printed.

Everywhere I made a speech, I'd hold them up. I'd say, "If you feel like you're not paying enough, here's an envelope. Would you like to fill it up? Here, take one." Eighteen months later, $1,200 was all the people of Arkansas thought they had been undertaxed. (Laughter.) A thousand of that was given by a liberal senator who started the whole process of (screaming ?) at it.

I spent 10 and a half years' term as governor fighting the corruption of a one-party political machine that I happen to know a little bit about, because I'm the only person who's ever run against the Clinton political machine and beat it four times. (Cheers.) And if you think we've got an easy race this year, let me assure you we don't. [cheers and applause]

I stand in this race and I stay in this race not to be a fly in the ointment, because I believe, as Phyllis Schlafly's book taught me in the 1960s, that our party, that our country, is about a choice, not an echo. If people want an echo, they can get it from somewhere else. If they want a choice, I plan to give it to them.

There are only a few states that have voted. Twenty-seven have not. People in those 27 states deserve more than a coronation. They deserve an election. [cheers and applause] They deserve the opportunity to have their voices and their votes heard and counted. [applause]

I know the pundits and I know what they say. "Well, the math doesn't work out." Folks, I didn't major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in those too. [cheers and applause]

A few nights ago, when the tornadoes tore through the South, one of those tornadoes hit the community of Brandenburg, Kentucky. I got an e-mail yesterday from a lady named Lisa Young in Brandenburg, Kentucky. It's a pretty remarkable story, because that tornado didn't just hit her town. It hit her house. But she e-mailed to say that despite the damage to her home, she said there was one thing that was pretty remarkable, and she wanted to make sure that I heard about it, and I did.

She said she had a yard sign, a Mike Huckabee yard sign, up in her yard. And she said when the tornado had gone through, she said what was amazing to her was, standing pristine, without a hint of damage or even leaning, she said was that yard sign still standing in her yard. She said, "Mike, I don't know what that means, but all I know is that in Brandenburg, Kentucky, you're still standing."

And folks, I want you to know, across America, everywhere there's still a vote to be cast, I'm still standing. (Cheers.)

Thank you. God bless you. Thank you very much. [cheers and applause]

Mike Huckabee, Remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/300140

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