Presentation of the Woman of Valor Award
as accepted by
Independent Women's Forum 2017 Annual Awards Dinner
November 15, 2017
Wow. Thank you, Ted Olson, very much for sharing a piece of my friend Barbara’s memory with all of us tonight. A part of her legacy and in sharing a part of Barbara’s legacy I know that you are sharing a part of your heart with each of us, and we very much appreciate that, on behalf of the entire room.
I, over the last 16 years, have chosen to remember not how Barbara died, but to remember how Barbara lived. And this organization, and each of us, endeavor to keep Barbara’s legacy much like Barbara, a vibrant, strong, smart, resolute, confident, principled, and consequential.
I look around this room, I haven’t even seen everybody tonight, but I know friends, colleagues, acquaintances, people who I go back with decades in this town, and it is very heartening to see us all in the same room tonight, certainly, for this particular event, this tremendous milestone and landmark for Independent Women's Forum, but I am especially heartened that we are all still part of the movement, that we have withstood so many challenges to our courage, to our bravery, to our beliefs, to our principles. That’s what is most gratifying to me tonight, to see all of us still believing as we do in some of the most basic principles that make this nation the greatest on Earth. Our democracy, our rule of law, our love of freedom and free markets, and our respect for each other in the individual liberty that each of us has.
Past recipients of the Woman of Valor Award are women I deeply respect, genuinely admire, and loyally, unfailingly support. And it is very much my honor to stand here where they have stood in the past.
To the other honorees tonight, Diane and Mark, I very much enjoy sharing the stage with you and sharing this award with you. You both are at the top of your respective fields, you have great humor, and I have to say, you are real people, and we like that. Very authentic. I am glad that someone got that immigrant to do the job that an American didn’t want to do, Mark. And Diane, you are clearly the hottest grandmother around, I have to say.
To the board of IWF, where I happily served for a number of years with you, congratulations on this amazing milestone of 25 years.
I was a law student – at GW Law School — during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, and I had – I brought, very proudly, this is a true story – I have the pictures with the Jersey hair and everything – yes, I proudly brought this button in that said I believe him. I have worn that many times over the years, as you can tell. I dust it off from time to time. I believe him, and I noticed I was really the only person who had that button, and we were waiting for our teacher, she taught contracts, I believe, and we were waiting for her to come to the room, and she just didn’t show up for whatever reason. It was an evening class, I think. And then she came bounding in the room, huffing and puffing, tearful and angry, saying that Clarence Thomas had just been confirmed. And two of us clapped. But in this room 500 will clap. And I learned at that moment to be very proud and to stand for one’s own beliefs.
I’m very proud of IWF and its founding, but I am really proud of why it was founded in response to the treatment.
I’m very proud of the way that Justice Thomas and Mrs. Ginni Thomas carried themselves in front of a nation, and am very grateful to them for their service over the years. This is a remarkable milestone for those who want a prosperous, and safe, and accountable nation for both men and women.
So often we talk about what it means to be independent. We talk about what it means to be women who are, as I like to say, a product of our choices, not a victim of our circumstances. We also ought to focus on the great work that IWF has done with the F part – the forum part. To be able to have thoughtful, well-reasoned discussions where somebody is not shutting down your point of view just because it differs from their and everyone around them is truly remarkable, and for that to have survived and thrived, to truly have prospered and endured over 25 years is nothing short of remarkable. Because the issues have changed, the individuals have changed, the challenges are different, the technology is certainly different, our lives have changed, the nation has changed, but the enduring principles that undergird why an IWF and its adjuncts, its members, would be so enthused at its founding, and at its 25th anniversary, those endure. Those endure. And that’s what is so wonderful.
To Heather Higgins, who is truly a fearless leader – fearless, brilliant, steadfast, and more times than not, people don’t realize, very selfless. I’ve seen her put forward other people to take the credit, to go on the television shows, to get the byline, to go and give the speech, to take the meeting. That’s a true leader. She is a wonderful manager, but she is an inspirational leader. And, to the first gentleman of IWF, James Higgins, thank you so much. Like Ted Olson, back in the founding days at his law firm, I know that you have provided popcorn and potato chips, and much more over the years to IWF, and it is probably not a coincidence and really very spectacular that they have two sons, but their oldest child, Delaney, is 21 today, a truly independent woman from the moment she was born. So, congratulations to her.
25 years ago, we did not have things in our society that we have now. We always have challenges, but I think because of technology, I think because of the explosion of information, and I think because at some point along the way, and God knows I wish I knew what point so we can go back there and erase it, at some point along the way, there became no unexpressed thought left in America.
But I want to tell you that there’s a lot of grace in what doesn’t get said, and I think independent women are people who understand what it means to speak your mind and stand up for your principles, but also to exercise restraint when perhaps silence will do. Or, perhaps, you should express that viewpoint or that opinion in privacy, in quiet. And so, we are enduring at a time where that just doesn’t seem to be very in fashion.
Valor, itself, is a military term. We can learn many lessons from the battlefield, indeed. The Marines are taught to run toward the danger, not away from it. And the unit cohesion, the teamwork, the fact that you look after your fellow soldiers, I find that to be a definition about valor that is very, very resonant all across this room to the conservative movement and to truly independent women, and the men who are courageous enough to support them.
The Bible reminds us about valor. It talks about valor in several instances. And what the Bible says about valor is that it takes an awful lot of self-denial, and it reminds us that the wicked flee even though no one pursues them, but the bold and the righteous stay like a lion.
And I think of IWF over the years standing out in the rain to be at the right kind of rally, to talk up for lower taxes and fewer regulations, and to talk against a government that has become too invasive, intrusive, expensive, and expansive, that tells us all that we have so much freedom, but, really, has taken away so much of our liberty and so much of our decision-making power.
So, to all the women and men of valor in this audience, I want to tell you I accept awards like this and I show up on nights like this mainly to say thank you. I really want to say thank you for being people of courage, for showing dignity and class in the face of your – in the face of hate sometimes, but really always in the advancement positively and cheerfully of the principles on which this very country was founded and many years later IWF was founded.
I hope we all rededicate ourselves to the next 25 years for Independent Women's Forum and all that it is trying to advance on behalf of liberty, freedom, free markets, and democracy. This is also a group that has always had fun doing it.
To my children, my husband George, who is in Paris being a lawyer, to my son, George, who one day will be someone’s husband and, perhaps, a father to daughters, and it is incredibly important that we raise our boys to respect that from the beginning, and to my three daughters, Claudia, Charlotte, and Vanessa – thank you – you are gifts from God. May you always be confident, may you always stand up for principle, may you always kneel for the Lord and stand for the flag. Remember that kindness is central to character, but being kind to others begins with being kind to yourself, and that is really a message for women today, because so many of them are unkind to themselves. I want you to be brave, and knowing that being brave means standing up for your positions, or to defend the defenseless, and being brave also means knowing when to say little or nothing. Be gracious, be the bigger person, and be of good humor, and always know, and I will tell everyone here, but mostly the three of you, the greatest professional privilege of my life is working in the White House on behalf of the country I love.
I’m the daughter of a single mom who, and I was raised in a household of all women, my mom, her mom, and two of my mother’s unmarried sisters, so these four Italian Catholic women raised me. They were like South Jersey’s version of the Golden Girls, with the housecoats and everything. It’s true. The best. The dog inside was female, the dog outside was male. My father left when I was very young and my mother – and I was half-Irish, half-Italian. We were blue-collar. Nobody had gone – my mother had not gone to college. By all accounts, I should be a feminist, and she had a subscription that was given to her by a friend to Ms. Magazine, this is a true story, I was six or seven years old. And by all accounts, I should be a feminist, but those women in that house raised me to be a conservative without ever having a single political conversation that I can recall, not one. They voted because it was their civic duty and it was their constitutional right, and they liked the fact that JFK was handsome and Catholic, I’ll admit it. It’s just true. But they taught me to be a conservative, because they had pictures on the wall not of John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, but of the Pope and the Last Supper, and anything I had drawn haphazardly in kindergarten of second grade.
They taught us to rely on ourselves and each other before anything and anyone else. They taught us that the government was there to help fund the military, and then told us why the military was there, and what it meant, why Uncle Pat sat there and hardly spoke a word at the dinner table, grand-mom’s brother who came back from Korea and never really spoke much again, and why he should be respected because he had made a sacrifice, but nothing close to the ultimate sacrifice of many of his fellow soldiers who never came home. They were small business owners, emphasis on small, and they taught us to give more than you receive, to be very self-denying.
The two most valor-filled women I’ve known are my two grandmothers who wore crosses on their necks and put any accolade in the drawer, who did nothing, absolutely nothing I can recall, for the glory, for the praise, for the honor, for the trophy. Nothing. And they both had hard lives, as most women in that era did. I never, to this moment, remember them complaining about anything. They don’t make them like that anymore and I fear they never will again. But I also share this award with them.
The privilege of my professional life girls, Conway girls, is working for this president and this country, one that I love so deeply, and I’m passionately committed to public service, which I never thought I would do. But the absolute privilege of my life, by far, is to be your mother. And I want you to know that and carry that with you for the rest of your life, because all I ask everyone here is for their prayers. These girls and their brother have had to grow up very quickly. They all know how to read, and they read a lot of hate, and they read a lot of invective, and it is so good for them to be here tonight to see what we see everywhere we go across this country, which are people who run up to us, even if we are on a family vacation, run up to us for selfies, for comments, and what they always do to a person, even those who do not vote for Donald Trump, to a person, with very few exceptions, they will say we are rooting for him and we are rooting for you, because we are rooting for this country. That is very heartening.
Finally, I’ll just tell a story – people always want me to tell this story, so I’ll do it one more time for those who haven’t heard it, and even those who have. In my career, I knew whatever I did, I was going to be a product of those four women. My mother, just an angel, who figured out a way to support both of us and keep me in Catholic school even though she was left with no child support, no alimony. My father is a good guy, we have a good relationship now, so I don’t want to leave you thinking otherwise, and he is a wonderful grandfather – but she had to figure it out. That doesn’t make her unique, I think it’s a very common experience in this country. And I’m a very common experience in this country. So, I take great heart and great inspiration from their examples in that house, but at the same time I knew no matter what I ever did, I was going to undercut myself at some level because of the way I was raised. And there was the day. It was 1996, so it’s quite a few years ago, my business was a year old, we were on Connecticut Avenue, down the street from your law firm, Ted and Miguel, and there I was, and I got a phone call, and it got patched through and my assistant said there is someone on the phone from a place called Washington Speakers Bureau, and they would like to invite you to give a speech, and I said okay. And the man on the other end of the phone said hi, we got a request for you and Mark Mellman, he’s a Democratic pollster, obviously a man. They requested you by name and their name is the Security Industry Association, they now have a different name, and they’d like you to speak on September 28th to talk about the upcoming presidential election. And you will each talk for about 20 minutes and then you will take questions together for 20 minutes. It is lunchtime, it’s at the Mayflower Hotel, which I can see from my window in my office right down the street, and it is lunchtime and we are wondering if you would like to come, if you are available. So, I looked, and I said yes, I am available, of course I’ll come. It was June or July. And I marked it down and then the man said great, do you have an agent? And I said, no why would I have an agent? And he said what is your speaking fee? And I froze. Because I didn’t have a speaking fee. I had learned about free speech in my constitutional law classes in law school, but in the early years of my career free speech, was let’s call Kellyanne. And I did freeze, because I knew no matter what I said, I was going to be that girl in that little house, in that wonderful family, in that very unusual, unconventional family in little South Jersey, of four adult self-denying women. And no matter what I said, and I was tempted to say oh no, you know what, give Mark my fee, too, it will just be such a privilege to be there, it’ll be so fun. I just knew whatever I said it wouldn’t have been his fault if I had undercut myself. He asked me, what is your speaking fee? I froze, and when in doubt, I took a line from one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally, and I said oh, I’ll have what he’s having. It’s true. And the man said, I’m sorry? And I said well, you said Mark and I were going to do the same thing, and you already talked to him, he agreed to it, so – and he said well, Mark has asked for $3,500. Would that be acceptable? And I said that will be fine. And I hung up the phone and I fell to the floor.