as delivered by
Independent Women's Forum 2016 Annual Awards Dinner
Thank you, Carrie for those very kind words – we are all so happy to have you back in the United States!
I am so humbled to be here this evening with all of you. . .
It is quite a feeling to know we outgrew our last dinner venue and to look around this beautiful new space and see colleagues, supporters, board members, members of the media, friends, as well as many new faces – all of whom have had a profound impact on the formation and growth of the Independent Women’s Forum.
As we enter the holiday season – and we are certainly reminded of it tonight in this festive hall – I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I’m thankful for.
I find myself feeling truly grateful not only for the country we live in, the freedoms we have been blessed with, but also for the community I’ve gained through the Independent Women’s Forum.
I second Carrie when I offer a sincere thank you to our many dinner sponsors – both returning and new supporters. IWF succeeds because of your generosity, engagement, and loyalty. We are grateful for your financial support of the organization and your intellectual support of our efforts throughout the year to bring a message of liberty and limited government to women.
And as Carrie said, a big THANK YOU goes to Heather Higgins and IWF’s Board of Directors; as well as to the IWF staff, which deserves recognition for all the incredible work you do – not just for tonight – but throughout the year.
If this election year taught us anything, it’s that politics isn’t for the faint of heart. It is often impolite, personal – some have even described it as a contact sport.
But our nation has survived intact.
And on this joyful evening I thought it would be helpful to put this year into some historical context (and try to make use of those history degrees I earned).
The fact is, in our nation’s infant stage, politics was dirty and dishonest; it was a place for ambitious self-promotion.
Yale historian Joanne Freeman describes the early republic as one in which “regional distrust, personal animosity, accusation, suspicion, implication, and denouncement was the tenor of national politics…”
Washington v. Burr. Jefferson v. Adams.
Hamilton v. Jefferson.
And these hostilities and tensions didn’t get much better as the country grew up.
In fact, many of these early feuds lasted for generations as children, eager to protect the honor of their family names, perpetuated disagreements and inflammatory rhetoric.
Perhaps this is part of the reason there’s never really been a “golden era” of political civility.
As Michael Barone reminded us a few years ago in an insightful column, “From time to time, I go back to find the golden age of civility and it has proved elusive.”
And it’s true. From our experience as colonists to the Civil War through the 20th century, Americans have endured vicious political debate, controversy, and at times violence – perhaps there was something to be said for caning and duels.
Washington Post reporter Ann Gerhart astutely noted a number of years back that, “the noise and heat in public political discourse have always been there, rising with the cycles of economic distress, immigration and cultural upheaval.”
Some argue that we ought to have evolved from these earlier periods. And many worry that our political divisiveness has led to gridlock here in Washington, preventing anything from getting done on serious issues facing the country.
But I suspect our founders would see things a little differently. They understood that a willingness to debate and disagree is a sign of a functioning, healthy democracy. And that political disunity, in fact, helps stem the overgrowth of government and coax more reasonable, modest policies into place.
So while at times I feel frustrated with our current state of political rhetoric, I’m reminded that political disagreement – even when it’s nasty – has always been – and still is – the cornerstone of our democracy. A democracy that is admired and respected around the world.
It’s worth noting at this particular celebration of the Independent Women’s Forum, that from our earliest days as a nation, women have played an instrumental role in breaking through the political rancor and noise.
During the early republic – a time when gender roles were rigid and women sat largely on the sidelines of the political field – the “republican Mother,” as some historians have named it, served as a moral compass for their husbands and sons, ensuring they remained committed to our “small-r” republican values.
Certainly this gave women an opportunity to influence political life. But what was fundamentally more important about the idea of “republican motherhood” was the set of ideals these women helped advance.
It was women’s role to ensure the country’s leaders adhered to our principles of liberty and civic virtue.
Of course today this traditional idea of republican motherhood is obsolete. Women play a decidedly direct role in public life, and we’re thrilled to be honoring Carly Fiorina tonight and recognizing a host of female lawmakers who are definitely not sitting on the sidelines.
But while gender roles have evolved, women and organizations like the Independent Women’s Forum – which believes deeply in our Constitutional values of limited government – continue to play a critical role in engaging in reasonable, civil disagreement and debate about liberty.
In fact, our goals at IWF today remain broadly similar to the original “republican mothers” who worked to foster a relationship between citizen and state in which the individual is sovereign, not the government.
In the aftermath of the election, I know all of us have been giving a lot of thought to how we can do more to bridge some of our nation’s divisions – whether party affiliation, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion.
It’s clear that what’s truly unifying, however, is not rhetoric. It’s not speeches or a meme you share on social media – although they can be useful. In the end what will unite us is a shared commitment to liberty and policies that open up freedom and economic opportunity for more Americans.
And that’s where IWF is making a monumental difference.
In fact, it is this commitment to our nation’s founding principles – and IWF’s interest in returning control to individuals so they can make the choices that work for them – that drove the creation of our Working for Women report, which lays out a series of concrete policy reforms to help working women and their families.
And I’m thrilled that House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers will help us recognize a long list of congressional champions who are here tonight and have shown their support for IWF’s work.
But in addition to laying out tangible policy reforms, IWF has invested a lot of resources into figuring out how to talk about these ideas. Not just to Republicans or conservatives; but also to Democrats and progressives; Independents and the politically unaffiliated.
IWF doesn’t want to be in an echo chamber; and we work to make sure we’re not just talking in terms of dollars and cents. Instead, the experts at IWF explain how policies – from health care to paid leave to energy and chemical regulations to intellectual property – impact lives. How the government-knows-best approach too often closes off channels of opportunity.
And we’ve found time and time again that Americans are wildly supportive of free-market ideas.
Recent research we conducted on childcare uncovered that a large majority of the public supports the idea of child-care tax benefits and are skeptical about direct government funding. And we can increase that support even more when we explain how regulations are driving up their costs and limiting their families' choices.
I don’t mean to suggest that huge swaths of the public are closet libertarians – unfortunately, they’re not.
But when we find a way to empathize, share, and ultimately connect at a human level – when we make politics personal – we can have a dramatic impact the national conversation – even among people who don’t necessarily already agree with us.
This is encouraging, not only because we all want to see more sensible policies become law so we can help more Americans; but also because when we talk about policy – and we get beyond the insults – Americans don’t fall so neatly into factions.
A real strength at IWF – and something that sets us apart – is that we don’t talk in terms of us vs. them in a way that furthers the rifts that threaten the nation.
We don’t pit women against men, Wall Street against Main Street.
Instead just as our republican mothers before us, we believe in universal principles that are good for everyone. And we understand that with more information and the right message, people can be persuaded to support good policies over bad.
Listening to people and thinking seriously about how to create sensible policies that expand opportunity for all is a unifying activity.
We have serious concerns in this country. And as a nation – even as a movement – we’re not always going to see eye-to-eye. But while there may never be a golden era of political civility, there will always be a time for civil discourse – and perhaps even more important, civil disagreement. Because it’s a vital part of making our nation better.
I’m incredibly optimistic that the New Year and new leadership will open up opportunities for fresh ideas and positive thinking.
And I’m thrilled that the women of the Independent Women’s Forum will carry on this important tradition of republican motherhood in its refashioned 21st century form (with better shoes); and continue to advance our core values of liberty, economic freedom, and civic virtue.
We have a wonderful program for you this evening, so with that I will leave you to enjoy your dinner, your neighbors, and your friendly debate.