Imagine that you're a member of Congress. You've worked very hard. You've knocked on thousands of doors, sweating and shivering, depending on the season. You've made hundreds, maybe thousands of phone calls to people you don't even know asking for their support, begging for their money. And now you've got one of these. It's hanging on a door in Washington, DC. It says you're a member of Congress, that you represent the people of your state.
Now, imagine you're a conservative member of Congress. For some of you here in Boston, Massachusetts, that's going to take a powerful imagination, all right?
But imagine with me that you're a conservative member of Congress. You grew up on Milton Friedman. You love his free markets, free enterprise and free trade. You've watched Ronald Reagan's farewell address over and over, and you cry every time —
he gets to the part about the shining city on the hill, and how if the city had to have walls, the walls had doors — doors to let in those yearning to breathe free. You get goosebumps when you think of him telling Mr. Gorbachev to tear down his wall.
You're a conservative member of Congress, and you agree with President John F. Kennedy that America is an exceptional place. For inspiration, you go to YouTube and you watch his speech at Rice University, September of 1962, the "moon shot" speech. And you're amazed that he admits in that speech — a speech of 17 minutes of pure American exceptionalism — that some of the materials needed for the spacecraft hadn't been invented yet. No matter. We're going to the Moon before the decade is out. You agree with him that the vows of this nation can be fulfilled only if we in this nation are first and therefore we intend to be first. You've taken as your own the affect that he so embodied: that when leaders are optimistic, they're saying they believe in the people they represent.
You're a conservative member of Congress, and you believe in the precautionary principle. You believe in data-driven analysis. You know that climate change is real and human-caused, and you see in climate change a silent and slow-moving Sputnik moment. One that calls for the greatness of your nation as much as the original Sputnik moment.
You are a conservative member of Congress. You high-five the memory of Jack Kemp, and believe with him that the test of conservatism is that it works for everyone, regardless of skin color. You're appalled by the alt-right. You want them to have nothing to do with your brand, your party, your legacy. You utterly reject them. You —
You're a conservative member of Congress. You rise with compassion to protect the lives of the unborn, but otherwise you think the bedroom of consenting adults is a rather strange place for the government to be.
You are a conservative member of Congress. With John Adams, you fear the mob. Because you know, as he knew, that a mob is not able to protect liberty, not even its own. And you're amazed at the wisdom that he and other framers had in establishing a slow, deliberative governing process — an inherently conservative governing process. It would serve a country. It would grow far greater than they could ever imagine.
You are a conservative member of Congress. You fear the fire of populist nationalism, because you know that those who play with fire can't control it. You see their pitchforks and torches, and you know they're not good building tools. The pitchforks and torches can tear down and burn up but they can't build up. They can't build up the institutions and the communities so necessary to a stable and prosperous country.
You're a conservative member of Congress, and you fear the next county party convention. You so wish for your party to be the grand opportunity party, not the grumpy old party.
You know that they want to hear from you some old saw about how a secret Muslim, non-American socialist took over in the White House and destroyed the country, and you know that none of that's true.
You know that they want to hear your say that you're OK with insults, OK with "lock her up" chants and OK with policy pronouncements with all the sincerity and thoughtfulness that 140 characters can muster.
You are a conservative member of Congress. You realize that many in your party look to some good old days that you know never existed. They hold on, for example, to the fossils that fueled the last century of growth, but you know that better, cleaner more abundant fuels await us, and you know that that abundance can lead the world to more energy, more mobility and more freedom.
You're a conservative member of Congress. You realize that many in your party pine for the '50s and the '60s because those were, after all, the good old days. But you know that the Cuyahoga River was on fire back then. You know that in Pittsburgh, street lights came on at noon because of the soot in the air. The schools were segregated, neighborhoods redlined, that communism threatened freedom, and if you got cancer, you weren't likely to fight for long.
You're a conservative member of Congress and you want to sound like JFK at Rice, where JFK said, "It's understandable why some would have us stay where we are a little bit longer, to wait and to rest." But everything within you says with him, this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. You are ready to lead. You are ready to prove the power of free enterprise to solve challenges like climate change. You are ready to lead.
So I've got a suggestion for you then: lead ... now. Step out, step up. You know, we ask America's best to die on literal hills in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it too much to ask you to die a figurative death on a political hill in Washington, DC? You know, at the end of your time in Washington, they're going to take this plaque off the door. They're going to hand it to you; you're going to go home with it. Can you imagine the emptiness of knowing that you stood for nothing, that you risk nothing, that all you did was follow fearful people to where they were already going rather than trying to lead them to a better place? If you're not willing to lose your seat in Congress, there's really very little reason to be there.
So here's the thing: it's not too late. There's still time to lead. Speak out, speak up, call lunacy what it is: lunacy. Tell the American people that we still have moon shots in us. Tell the folks at the county party convention, "You bet free enterprise can solve climate change." Tell them that Milton Friedman would say to tax pollution rather than profits. Tell them that it's OK — no, it's a good thing that progressives would agree. Tell them the very good news that we can bring America together to solve these challenges and to lead the world. Tell them that free enterprise can do these things. Tell them that America must stop the dividing, and must start the uniting. Tell them. Play your part before it's too late.
Thank you very much.