Acceptance of the Gentleman of Distinction Award
as delivered by
Assistant to the President of the United States for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council
Independent Women's Forum 2019 Annual Awards Dinner
November 13, 2019
Thank you very much. Appreciate it. I have some thoughts on the matter.
I just want to say to Miss Swanson, that was a lovely, beautiful talk you gave from the heart. I really appreciate it very much. We’ve never met but I appreciate it.
Regarding, well here's good news. I was a pretty good tennis player. That’s true. Still am after a hip replacement five months ago. And then I have made a lifelong habit of basically doing whatever Heather Richardson Higgins tells me to do. So, here I am tonight. And actually, you know, it's worked out pretty well, being perfectly honest with you. So, I give her a salute.
Somewhere in this gang is my longtime friend and colleague and business associate and manager who is running the National Economic Council staff, Susan Varga is out there someplace. And I apologize, my saintly wife is finishing up two more pictures for a huge art opening in her best gallery in Georgia, otherwise she’d be here. I love her dearly. We’ve been married 32 years. She appropriately believes men are essentially criminals, but she's made an exception for me. (And you think I’m kidding, I’m not.)
So I was just looking this evening, unfortunately in my job we have a lot of paperwork and a lot of trees were cut down to supply the paperwork, but I got a chance to look at the invitation about a Gentleman of Distinction – whatever it is. One of my longtime friends and mentors, the late William F. Buckley, when he ran for mayor of New York, at his, I believe, his very first press conference, asked if won what would his first action be and he said, Declare a Recount.
Regarding this award, I really think you need a recount. And I say that with the greatest of humility.
A few thoughts. We live in a period of turmoil – and politically a certain amount of toxicity. My first term in government was during the Reagan years, over 35 years ago. I have a second turn now as the President's assistant on the economy. I’m very grateful for that, very grateful. It's a God-given blessing, and I’ve tried to make the most of it.
On the one hand, I will say this. I work for a guy – and I’m in and out of the office with him all day long – who has been mercilessly pounded by his critics. I’m not really quite sure how he manages to sustain the energy and activity and purposefulness and mission for which he believes he was elected. And I believe it too.
One of the things I've learned, I suppose, in this, is, if you attack, get ready to be attacked back. He has been attacked mercilessly – and I've seen it up close daily – and he attacks back. I don't know if that's the way he would prefer it frankly. I guess I want to say his task is to transform and rebuild the American economy, our national security, our values of freedom and free enterprise, and religious freedom and freedom of the unborn, and in general, human rights.
He is attempting to transform and rebuild. It’s a hard thing to do. It’s a hard thing to do, and I've come to appreciate that as a staffer. And so, he fights hard to do his task, as he sees it. And I support him wholeheartedly. It is my honor.
Some of you here will favor Mr. Trump, others may not, it’s up to you. But I can simply say I support the mission and I support him.
And, yeah, I like tough. Tough is good. Tough is good. These are very serious issues, and it's a bit of an election year cliché, I suppose, but these are long-term issues. The things we say and do today will, in fact, affect the future of the country. And that is why we all have to fight hard. As you fight hard. As Heather and all her colleagues have fought hard all these many years.
Heather, if I get out of this job, I will come back to your board where I served for about 25 years if you’ll have me. And if the stock market keeps rising, I'll probably be able to afford the job for another year or two.
Because, as you so graciously said, we do favor lower taxes and regulations and open energy, and free trade and lower trade barriers and the President and is trying to defend the economy and the workforce. And he's doing a rather good job of it in my opinion.
But I want to say something. I want to say something else. From the heart. I want to say that for folks who believe in freedom and free enterprise, freedom of speech and freedom of religion and so forth – which is where we must go if we are to continue to be the greatest country in the history of history – we will kind of slug it out, as we have already, and we will continue to slug it out for the next year or so until we get to election time.
So, as you might have guessed, I don't think I'm breaking any news to our friends in the media, I’m not in favor of socialism. Just not in favor of it. Never have been. Never will.
When I was a very young man, I went through my phrase, as Winston Churchill would say, “If you're not liberal in your twenties, you have no heart. But if you're not a conservative in your thirties, you have no mind.” I am way beyond thirty, way beyond thirty and still standing.
But I will add this thought. In the coming battle against socialism, and statism, and central government, and government planning, I think we should put our best foot forward and make the best case we can make (if you’ll pardon this) in a fact-based effort to persuade folks, not to yell at them, not to smear them, not to make fun of them, not to snark at them, but in our best, most serious, civil, well-researched, fact-based way, we should explain to those on the other side of the political aisle why – not that they are wrong – but that history proves them wrong.
That’s the point I want to make. If you look at history the totalitarians, the dictators, the despots, the murderers always lose and the people who stand for freedom and values and enterprise and civility always win. Always win.
When I was a kid working in the White House under Reagan, he almost alone believed that the old Soviet Union was destined to fail. It was on the wrong side of history. And indeed, with a lot of help from him and others, it failed. But throughout history the monarchy's and the dictatorships and the totalitarians, they also failed. And there's a reason for that. Theirs is the wrong path.
Freedom is always the right path. Freedom is such a precious commodity in all of its manifestations.
All I want to say is, in the coming weeks and months and probably years, we should think about some simple historical explanations backed by facts. It is the democracies that win. It is the free enterprise economies that prosper and provide opportunities. It is attitudes of civility and respect for others that allow us to live side by side, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as individuals, as men and women and families in towns and counties and cities.
We live together. And we can have great disagreements. No reason why we can't. If you say I'm wrong, you might be right, and I’ll try to rebut. But I don't want to call you names. And maybe we can go out, in my case, and have a Diet Coke. I don't want to lose that thought. The thought of civility. I don't want to lose the idea that in a free society we owe it to each other, to ourselves and to our country and to the very freedom that we respect, we owe it to be able to have a decent conversation that seeks to persuade not to destroy. That’s what I'm trying to say.
Not long ago, I was a broadcaster for a living. And I always had the other side on the show. I kind of enjoyed it most of time. A lot of those folks who disagree with our point of view and our policies have actually come to visit me in my office in the White House and I'm glad of it. And I've been to some of their conferences – not all of them but some of them. And I’m glad of it. I will learn a thing or two and they will learn a thing or two. That’s what freedom is about. That’s what civility is about. I think that's the way the Lord wanted us to be.
And I think at the end of the day to show that in fact, this is the greatest country and the greatest democracy and the greatest example of freedom in the history of freedom that we should pretend every day that we can deal calmly and reasonably with each other and even disagree every now and then.
It is possible. You’re very kind. You’re a very kind audience.
I’ve been up and down in my life. Despite my best efforts I have learned a thing or two about getting along with folks.
Being a broadcaster is not, not bad preparation, actually, when you come into politics – at least today’s politics. Because whatever you say to me, whatever you call me, in fact, whatever question you ask me, I'm going to read you my talking points no matter what.
So, Heather and company, thank you for honoring me. I aspire to be a gentleman, some days better than others. I don’t know about the distinction part. But this is a beautiful group. We all love America, as Ms. Swanson told us, and I just ask you to think about how civility nourishes the very value, the very value of freedom that we all seek in our daily lives. Really and truly this is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That's what makes freedom great. Thank you.