Editor’s note: The following talk by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) was delivered at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 2012 West Coast Retreat, held March 30th-April 1st at the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, California. Video of senator’s speech can also be seen below.
Ron Johnson: Thank you very much.
Well, first of all, thank you, Robert (Norton). I don’t have to say a whole lot more. You pretty well got it covered.
I also just have to say, Mike (Rogers), you did a great job in a town that lacks leadership, and let’s face it, our nation hungers for leadership. I know I’m sleeping a little bit easier knowing that someone like you is head of the Intelligence Committee in the House. I mean it makes me sleep a little bit better at night, so God bless you.
I also have to point out I have to thank David for inviting me here today, giving me this opportunity, but for what he’s done for this nation. I mean David Horowitz to me is a hero. I’ve been reading his books for years. I don’t want to date you, but I’ve been reading David, and he has informed me, he has shaped my opinion, and he’s done that for millions of Americans, and extremely important — he’s making extremely important points, so I just want to thank him for what he’s done for America.
I said I’m not going to depress you here tonight because I’m going to answer some questions. That’s when I’ll depress you if you ask me the right ones. But I was asked to kind of tell my story, and Robert touched on it a little bit, but I do have an unusual story when it comes to the political world. I mean I’m not a politician. I consider myself a citizen legislator. I consider myself what really was our founders’ vision — people that came to Washington that had a full life, raised a family, had a full career. You know, take that level of experience and apply it to their nation’s problems.
But how I got involved really totally was because of ObamaCare. And if you think back to the summer of 2009, I heard President Obama — and this is an unkind paraphrase, but this is exactly what he meant. He said, you know, these money-grubbing doctors could take out a set of tonsils for a few extra bucks. He didn’t phrase it that way, but that is exactly what he meant. I found that pretty offensive.
And I was actually asked to give a speech at a tea party in October of 2009. And they said, “As a business person, will you come and speak about the harmful effect of regulations on businesses?” I said, “I’m happy to come speak, but that’s not what I want to talk about.”
Instead, I told the story of our daughter. I told the story of why President Obama offended me so. Because our daughter was born with a very serious congenital heart defect. Her aorta and pulmonary artery were reversed. So the first day of life, she was taken out of Jane’s arms, and I’d kind of commented. I said, “She looks a little blue,” and the nurse said, “Oh, that’s common.” About an hour later, the doctor said, “We’ve got to rush her down to Milwaukee Children’s, where at 1:30 in the morning, one of those “money-grubbing doctors” came in and saved her life.
And then eight months later, when her heart was the size of a small plum, another group of incredibly wonderful, dedicated, highly skilled medical professionals, in seven hours of open-heart surgery, totally rebaffled the upper chamber of her heart.
Her heart operates backwards right now, but she’s a 28-year-old nurse. She’s working at neonatal intensive care unit now herself. Now, she’s saving those little babies.
And the punch line is our story had a happy ending because my wife, Jane, and I, we had the freedom. We had the freedom to call up Boston Children’s, Chicago Children’s, talk to the world’s best heart surgeons and find out what is the most advanced surgical correction for that condition.
After that speech, people came up to me and said, “Liked your speech. Why don’t you run?” Because I’m not crazy. I like my life. I’m conservative. I want to be productive. Who would ever want to get involved in politics?
Then on Christmas Eve, pretty much the middle of the night, they passed ObamaCare, and to me, that changed everything. And so I stepped up to the plate because I realized it truly is the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime.
Now, I’ve been serving for a year and three months, two days, 14 hours — but who’s counting? — in Senator Harry Reid’s “do nothing” Senate. It’s been a little frustrating.
But I have to admit last week was the most hopeful week I’ve spent in Washington yet. I actually, because this is such an important issue for me, I got tickets for all four sessions in the Supreme Court. And particularly Tuesday, the day that they argued the individual mandate, I loved to hear the clarity of Justice Thomas — I mean of Justice Kennedy. I don’t totally trust him, but I was optimistic as he pretty well laid out the case. Basically, he said, is it true now that we’re actually going to force an American to engage in commerce so we can regulate it? If so, that is going to change the relationship between the federal government and the individual in a very fundamental way. He got it. He understood it.
One of my comments as I was kind of studying to read up for the hearing — I’m not an attorney. I’m an accountant. I’m a business guy. I started reading the case law, not in detail but the summaries of it, and the precedent upon which all this explosion in government has occurred was an incredibly simple Supreme Court case that occurred 70 years ago, Wickard vs. Filburn, and it was about a wheat farmer that unfortunately in a unanimous decision — because Roosevelt was trying to pack the court and they were intimidated by Roosevelt — in a unanimous decision, Supreme Court said a wheat farmer in Ohio didn’t have the right to grow wheat for his own personal consumption.
Now, I can’t think of a more basic human right, a more basic freedom than to be able to grow your own wheat for your own consumption. What we have in the last 70 years created is layer after layer after layer of complicated precedent. We are being held hostage. One of the comments I made is we are collectively suffering from the Stockholm syndrome here. We’re being held hostage by, no offense, attorneys, freedom-depriving precedent, mind-numbing legal jumbo, when, in fact, this is very simple. It’s as simple as does a farmer have the right to grow his own wheat for his own consumption.
We need to get back to that level of simplicity and describe that to the American people, but we’re suffering from the Stockholm syndrome because now we’re begging the Supreme Court to please, please, would you just reserve that last shred of freedom for us? We would be so grateful.
How’d we ever get to that point? You know, one of the things as I travel around Wisconsin and I depress people, I’ve been trying to, as simply as possible, describe the problem. I do it with charts and graphs. I’m an accountant. I use numbers. I can throw those at you. But in the end, it’s very simple to describe our problem. It’s very difficult to solve, but it’s very simple to describe the problem. It’s that far too many Americans have forgotten the foundational premise of this nation. They’ve forgotten what our founders knew.
Let’s face it. Our founders came from dictatorial monarchies and aristocracy. They knew the government was something to fear, not something to solve your problems because they understood that as government grew, freedom receded.
So today, far too many Americans look to government to solve their problems. Far too many Americans are willingly trading their freedom for a false sense of economic security. Anybody here feeling particularly secure?
What caused this? This is where David comes in. This is what David has described unbelievably well. The left has been relentless. They’ve been depressingly effective at addicting Americans to government. They’ve had the simple strategy evolve. I’d call it a diabolical strategy. We will addict Americans to government. Then we’ll tell them, “We’re going to protect your benefits.” That’s all they have to do. And that’s all they do do.
Now, I was talking to Bob over here at my table. One of my charts talks about the size of government. To me, I’m a manufacturer. I’m always looking for the root cause. The root cause really is the size, the scope, all the rules, all the regulation, all the intrusion of government into our lives and the cost of government.
Do you realize 100 years ago the federal government was only 2% of our economy, local government was 5%, so the total was 7%? Now, you talk about capitalism, socialism, communism. You know, in the end, it’s just a number. It’s that number.
Today, the federal government is 24%. You add in state and local government, we’re at 16%. Total, 40. Forty cents of every dollar filters through some form of government. And I don’t find government particularly effective or efficient.
To put it into perspective, Norway is also 40%. Greece — anybody hear of Greece recently? They’re at 47. By the way, their per-capita debt is less than ours. Italy’s 49%, France is 53.
No, congratulations, America. We have arrived at the lower end of European-style socialism, and again, I don’t know anybody would want to go down that path. I mean we see the results of the Soviet Union. You take a look at what a basket case Venezuela is, and anybody vacationing in the island paradise of Cuba recently, and the fact is we’re not.
So what I’ve been trying to develop — turn my efforts to is informing the American public, persuading them, and winning the argument. That’s what we have to do. That’s the first thing we have to do. We have to win the moral argument. Before we rush to the solution, before we rush to the piece of legislation, we need to inform, educate, persuade, and win the argument.
That’s been my efforts, and practically, in Wisconsin, my first goal is do everything I can to make sure that Scott Walker is not recalled.
You know, in Wisconsin, Scott Walker stepped up to the plate under repugnant levels of intimidation. You guys haven’t even heard half the story. And the members of the legislature showed the courage trying to close a $1.8 billion-a-year deficit. And you see all the trouble that occurred with that.
The federal government, our deficit’s $1.3 trillion. It’s almost 1,000 times worse. We’re going to need elected officials with some courage, and I can’t think of a worse thing for our democracy if the reward in Wisconsin for stepping up to the plate, taking the hard votes, making the tough decisions, if your reward is be turned out of office before your term is up. So that’s goal number one.
Goal number two — this is the most significant one — we’ve got to make sure that President Obama is a one-term president.
Now, Mike was talking about how divisive this president has been. The absolute best article I read on his scapegoating was written by Charles Krauthammer, and the concluding paragraph, to paraphrase it, basically went like this — President Obama is far too intelligent not to understand what he’s unleashing on this country, but if it helps his reelection, he doesn’t care. That’s what we need to defeat.
And I’d say that just — so that’s getting past that election. We’ve got to do everything. We’ve got to pull together. Now is the time to pull together, get behind a nominee, and let’s defeat Barrack Obama.
And then after that, we need to recognize that the left has been relentlessly pursuing their agenda for 100 years. This isn’t just about one election. This is going to be a decades-long struggle, and we’ve got to come up with a strategy. We’ve got to come up with a message. We need to take back our education system.
As business owners, I know I’ve got some in this — you’ve got to start informing the people that work with you that business isn’t evil; it’s what made America great.
And I will say just the last thing before I start taking questions that we absolutely have to do. We can’t sit back and be reactive to people running for office and then support any old buddy. We need to proactively go out and recruit patriots. We’ve got to have a game plan here. The left has got their game plan, and we’ve got to come up with one ourselves. We’ve got to find Americans that love this country, understand it’s precious, that it needs to be preserved. We’ve got to stand those folks up, and then we’ve got to support them.
So with that, I’m happy to take some questions.
Question and Answer
I know that wasn’t a beginning. I’ll save it for the end.
David Horowitz: Just want to say I first heard of Ron Johnson during the 2010 campaign when the news said there was this businessman in Wisconsin who had never been involved in politics and felt that the country was in dire — in danger. And it occurred to me that that’s my idea of hope and change.
And this spring, I got a call from Senator Johnson, and I know that when a Republican legislator calls me, that’s because he wants things to change.
I just spent a day — an hour-and-a-half today with Senator Johnson, and I can tell you what you already know just from listening to him. This is the real article. This is leadership that we need. I’m going to support him. I hope you all will get behind him, too.
So the first question is about ObamaCare. How much more would it cost than the administration’s estimate?
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