We've got our own room with wireless access, plenty of tables, chairs and power cords and extra laptops - just in case. All the speakers and commentary is piped into the room so we can blog while the speeches are going on. Many of the speakers have agreed to be available to the press - and that includes the bloggers. This afternoon, Grover Norquist, from Americans for Tax Reform, was meeting with and being interviewed by bloggers.
AFP has gone out of their way to make it possible for us to participate and cover this event - and we're very thankful!
Despite the excellent accommodations for bloggers, I chose to sit in the ballroom for the speeches and take notes, which are below. I plan to live blog the general session addresses tomorrow morning. I will probably not be able to live blog the breakout sessions as I'll be on one of the panels: Old Media vs. New Media: How Ordinary Citizens Can Make Their Voices Heard. My fellow panelists are Dan Gainor, Director of the Business and Media Institute, Don Irvine, President of Accuracy in Media and John Fund, from the Wall Street Journal. I'm in terrific company!
Now, on to the event itself.
This evening was their Tribute to Ronald Reagan Dinner. They present Sen. James Inhofe (OK) with their highest honor, the Washington Award.
The first speaker was Edwin Meese III, former US Attorney General under Ronald Reagan. He told a lot of Reagan stories and had three memorable tidbits from Reagan:
1. The preservation of freedom is the duty of every citizen.
2. There is no 'right' or 'left,' there is only 'up' or 'down.'
3. Freedom includes the freedom to fail.
Columnist George Will spoke the longest of the guests and was rather entertaining as he educated us on otherwise depressing points to consider. He started with, "I live in Washington so I'm depressed most of the time."
He likened the vote on the bailout to what he was told when Barry Goldwater was running for president. He said he was told that if Goldwater was elected, there'd be 20,000 troops in Vietnam. He voted for Goldwater and that's exactly what happened. (For those of you who don't remember Goldwater, look him up, but also know that he lost the election.) He then pointed out that everyone said that if Republicans voted against the bailout, the markets would tank. Well, you can see that many of the Republicans (though not as many as should have) voted against the bailout and look - the markets have tanked.
He then spoke about self control and individual responsibility. He said we have "an enshrined entitlement mentality that is bred by the welfare state." It was once said that government should budget the way an American family does. However, today the American family budgets like government does. In 1980, the average household debt was about 50% of the GDP when totaled up. In 2007, that percentage had risen to 100%. In 1980, Americans saved $.10 of every $1. By 1990, they were saving only $.05 of every dollar and by 2005, that savings was a negative number. Today, the average self-reported debt on credit cards is $12,000, with most people thinking of their homes as an ATM - a perpetual source of funds based upon the wrong assumption that the value will forever increase.
"We've separated the pleasure of purchasing from the pain of paying for it - just like the American government."
He talked for a bit about the creative destruction of capitalism ... that thrift and industriousness of the capitalistic system leads to productivity, which leads to luxury which then can undermine the precepts of thrift and industriousness. He described socialism as 'find the losers and subsidize them.'
He explained that Americans have become passive in the face of giveaways from the government. Half the people in their 50s have no retirement funds and of the half who do, only half of them have more than $10,000 saved. In their minds, Will said, it's not their job to plan for themselves. There has been an erosion of the idea of personal responsibility, reflected by two intersecting lines on a graph. One line represents the declining participation in the income tax with the bottom 50% of taxpayers paying only 3% of the taxes. The other line represents the increasing dependency on the government they're not paying for. Government has become a free good - an incentive for perverse behavior.
Will criticized Presidential candidate Barack Obama's tax plan, which he called a 'new entitlement.' He questioned how you could give a tax cut to people who don't pay any taxes? Well, you call it a tax credit, but it's still taking from those who produce and giving to those who don't.
Will also explained the difference between death and taxes - death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.
He also criticized how the unions and many candidates bemoan the loss of manufacturing jobs, often blaming free trade. But, he said, when you look at the facts you will see that despite losing all those manufacturing jobs, productivity has increased. Just like the number of people in agriculture. It used to be as high as 50% of the workforce who were in the agriculture industry. Today, agricultural workers are under 2% of the workforce, yet we still produce enough food to feed our increased population and export to the rest of the world. That's because we're more efficient and productive in our farming. And this efficiency isn't a problem, nor is it a crises. It's a triumph of American ingenuity.
He emphasized that today the world is a better place. There is no longer any rival for the United States in terms of examples for how to run a free country. He said that capitalism doesn't just make us better off, it makes us better. He then suggested what people, per President John Kennedy, could do for their country: reserve a spacious portion of your life for which the government is not responsible.
Other speakers included Dr. James C. Miller III, former Reagan Budget Director, and author Dinesh D'Souza who, at the young age of 26, was a senior policy advisor to Reagan.
Miller reminded us what a kind-hearted person Reagan was, never seeing 'bad' in a person. He said Reagan's position was not that Congress was bad, but that the rules of the system under which Congress operated were bad. Reagan said 'if you get the rules right, you'll get the results right.'
D'Souza told of his attempt to explain to his mother, who still lives in India, about the American political system. He said there are two parties: the stupid party and the evil party. He is a proud member of the stupid party, but occasionally, (like with the bailout), we do things that are both stupid and evil - and we call that ... bipartisanship.
D'Souza reminded us that Reagan opposed collectivism abroad (as in the USSR) and at home (as in the welfare state). He told of a time that a reporter asked Reagan a question about blame. The reporter said to Reagan, you blame Congress, you blame the corporations, you blame everyone, but does any of the blame belong to you? Reagan paused and then said, "Yes - because for many years, I was a Democrat."
The recurring theme throughout the night was not to live in the past glory of the Reagan presidency. It was to remember and highlight the fact that the Reagan presidency was glorious because of the principles it stood for and articulated well ... principles as pertinent and vital today as they were then, but which are in such low supply in today's political world.
Saturday's General Session Speakers:
John Stossel, Co-Anchor ABC 20/20
Fred Barnes, Editor of the Weekly Standard
U.S. Representative Tom Price (GA)
Steve Moore, The Wall Street Journal
John Fund, The Wall Street Journal
Hermain Cain, Radio Host
Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform
Bob McDonnell, Virginia Attorney General
Erick Erickson, RedState.com (and one of my fellow Samsphere bloggers)