Friday night’s dinner at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation fourth annual Defending the American Dream summit featured Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist George Will as keynote speaker.
Will’s message was that while progress in limiting the growth of government has been reversed, this can be overcome, and he believes that a restoration of liberty and economic freedom will happen.
As the dinner was a tribute to former President Ronald Reagan, Will told the audience one of his favorite lines from Reagan during the 1980 campaign: “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose your job. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his job.”
Continuing, he said that “Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter 2.0 and it is time to hit the delete button.”
Will told the audience that the “retreat of the state” that started with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and the election of Ronald Reagan has been reversed. This should be reversed again, he said.
On the federal stimulus, Will said that the downward revision of GDP from a bad number to an even worse number is evidence that the stimulus is not working.
There are two things that the administration is saying that are “funny,” Will said. One is that our current crisis was brought on because there was too little government regulation and administration. The second is that the problem with the stimulus is that Republicans made it too small. “The government is dangerously frugal at the moment,” he said to laughter from the audience.
But Will said that the government controls the money supply and interest rates, leading to control of home mortgages. He traced the edicts of government that increasing percentages of mortgages must be given to those with poor credit. These expansions of the federal government, along with the No Child Left Behind education law, happened under Republican administrations, evidence that not only Democrats are too blame.
Government is dominating the energy sector too. He said that matters because “no less of an authority of energy” than Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that “America should use more natural gas rather than fossil fuels.”
In health care, half of spending is already government money, and that will increase, as will the 138,000 pages of health care regulations.
As to the alleged dangerous frugality of the government, Will said we are “marching into the most predictable financial crisis the world has ever seen.” This crisis is self-inflicted, he said.
Illustrating the size of government, he said that at the time of the first world war, when federal government spending exploded, the richest man in American could have personally retired the federal debt. But today’s richest man could pay for only two month’s interest on the deficit.
The administration’s planned spending program will result in a situation ten years from now when federal entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) plus the interest on the federal debt will consume 93 percent of federal revenue. The debt will be one hundred percent of GDP. This will crowd out private borrowing and investment. As a nation, he said we don’t save enough to fund both government and the investment needs of the private sector economy.
Will noted the remarkable progress of American medicine during his lifetime. But both presidential candidates campaigned against the pharmaceutical industry in 2008, which Will said was “shocking.” “It is time to quit stigmatizing those who create wealth, those who extend life, those who reduce pain. Get the government out of the way, and let them get on.”
The economy is fragile, Will said, and we need not burden it more with taxes. He referred to Congressman Paul Ryan, who said we have a nation with “too many takers and not enough makers.”
On education, he said we need an education system that “equips people to compete in a free society.” He criticized the short school year in the U.S., as compared to other countries. He told the audience that a major problem with schools is the teachers unions. The increased spending on schools has not worked. 90 percent of the difference between schools can be explained by characteristics of the students’ families, he said. “Don’t tell me the pupil-teacher ratio, tell me the parent-pupil ratio.”
Even with as many problems as there are, he said that an “aroused citizenry” like that in the room tonight can fix the problems. He’s not pessimistic, he said, because Obama has stimulated a “new clarity” from the American people.
There is a tension today between freedom and equality, two polar values. Liberals today stress equality of outcomes, and believe that the multiplication of entitlement programs to produce this equality serves the public good. But conservatives stress freedom, and that multiplication of entitlement programs is “subversive of the attitudes and aptitudes essential for a free society of self-reliant, far-sighted, thrifty and industrious people.”
The Obama presidency has passed its apogee, Will told the audience. Quoting Winston Churchill, he said that “The American people invariably do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the alternatives.” Will said he believes that Americans believe that “a benevolent government is not always a benefactor, capitalism doesn’t just make us better off, it makes us better.”
Will told the audience that “Americans for Prosperity exists on the principle that when you change the nation’s economy, you change the national character in the process.” Urging the citizen activists to get involved, he echoed a remark made by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who had spoken earlier: “You are the point of the lance. Go to work.”
Before his speech, Americans for Prosperity Foundation Chairman David H. Koch awarded Will the George Washington award. This is AFP’s highest award, given to Will for his work in defending and advancing economic freedom.
Koch also spoke about the goals of Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which he said are to advance economic freedom and prosperity by limiting government growth, spending, and taxation. It is a grassroots movement that holds political leaders of every party accountable. AFP advocates for the free market economy, which he said improves lives and created the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.