On Saturday, I've been honored to give the keynote at CPAC. It's this big yearly event for conservatives. Previous speakers include Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney — Ronald Reagan spoke at it like a billion times.
And now me.
Wow, things are really going downhill aren't they? I guess a lot of people "weren't available" and they're like, all right, fine. Ask the marshmallow man.
I figured they'd have found a Plan B by now and cancelled me, but they haven't. So I've got a dilemma: I don't really know what I'm going to say yet. Seriously, I'm just not sure on what the exact message should be.
A comment from Dick Cheney Thursday at CPAC caught my attention. And I love Dick Cheney — he's an incredibly smart and honorable man. But he said something that jumped out at me:
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FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think 2010 is going to be a phenomenal year for the conservative cause and I think Barack Obama is a one-term president.
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In a way, that bothered me. Yes, it's going to be a good year for conservative politicians, but it's not going to be a good year for the country. And not solely because of President Obama and the Democrats. It's been everyone.
Has electing so-called conservatives in the past really helped us?
After seven years, George W. Bush was in line to be the first president since World War II to increase federal government employment faster than private sector employment. I read a Reason magazine article that gave some of the following stats:
• In 2005, the average federal worker earned $59,864 a year; the average private sector worker earned $40,505
• Today, the average private sector salary is $40,331; but government salaries are up to $71,206 and they are set to increase again this year to $75,419
So pardon me if I don't get a thrill up my leg just because Scott Brown won in Massachusetts. I don't know Scott Brown, maybe he will be the next James Madison. But why should I give him the benefit of the doubt? What past evidence suggests that the "R" next to a politician's name means things will get better?
The progressive idea of a big, bloated government has infected both parties. In a survey, 80 percent said "the main thing that influences what members of Congress do in office" is either "personal self-interest" or "special interests."
But it's not just Congress; state governments are doing it too. There are 21 states who currently have under-funded pensions and entitlements. And, even if you're in a "safe zone," it doesn't mean you're safe.
In 10 years, California's annual pension contributions have gone from $320 million to $7.3 billion. Meanwhile the state is crumbling around it.
Let's say you went spending crazy and went completely bankrupt. You lose the house, the car, the family, but you say, "Hey, I'm still paying for the boat. That thing is rock solid." Well, I got news for you: You're going to lose the boat eventually.
But it's not just the states. It's you and me. There's no such thing as a free lunch, but somewhere along the line in the last 70-80 years we've been convinced there is one. And we've also been convinced we are entitled to that free lunch.
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Take Tiger Woods' apology. He came out and gave what I thought was a heartfelt apology. But he said something I think is what the president should be telling every American:
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TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have far — I didn't have to go far to find them. I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself.
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Isn't this exactly what our politicians have done? And exactly how entitled we have become? Politicians don't think the rules apply to them. They only think about getting themselves re-elected. They've run through the boundaries of the Constitution.
And what about us? We think we are entitled: This is America! We deserve it! But, just like Tiger said, we were wrong. It's got to stop. And it starts with us. And that's what the president needs to tell the American people.
Washington needs to stop the spending, yes, but you have to make sacrifices too. I just mentioned the pensions. In what world does it make sense to continue to promise funding a system where this routinely happens.
Also in that Reason article — this will make your eyes bleed — in California, state workers often play the "3 for 50" game. When you turn 50, you are eligible for 3 percent of your final year salary, multiplied by the number of years you've worked. Pretty sweet. So if you work 30 years and retire at 50, that's 90 percent of your final salary. And, as if that's not enough, many times the unions work it so huge raises come in your last year and you can find extra work and apply that total to your pension.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is trying to battle bloated pensions right now. Listen to this example from his out-of-control state:
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GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: One state retiree, 49 years old, paid over the course of his entire career, a total of $124,000 toward his retirement pension and health benefits. What will we pay him? $3.3 million in pension payments over his life and nearly half a million dollars for health care benefits: A total of $3.8m on a $124,000 investment. Is that fair?
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You pay $124,000 into the system and get $3.8 million out of the system? Forget about "fair," how is that sustainable? It can't last.
But it starts at home. Are you willing to have your own sweet pension deal go away? Because if you are not, guess what? Someone else isn't either. And the problem will persist. Sure, the politicians allowed this system to get set up, but we keep playing their game and voting the same guys in on both sides. We haven't been able to reconnect with common sense.
You must be willing to stand up and say it's been a great ride, but the ride is over. So far we haven't been able to do that — just like Tiger, we feel entitled. So and so got his, why shouldn't I get mine?
Why do you think Oprah Winfrey built that big school for kids in Africa and not here? She was asked that very question and said that in South Africa, "there is this — sort of desperate yearning to know better and do better that you just don't have in the United States. You don't have it because the opportunity's always been there."
We expect it. We assume big government will be there for us every step of the way.
Well, I hate to be the Friday buzz-kill, but it's not always going to be there. America has been recklessly spending in the last few decades and it's catching up to us rapidly.
Now, we've got a choice to make: Do we choose the fundamentally transform America to a Marxist, spread the wealth, cradle to grave nanny state? Where no one gets a boo-boo? And, as we have seen in country after country, is only sustainable through the barrel of a gun? Or do we come to our senses and realize that spending and taxing kills business? And stop with the pensions that literally pay out 30 times what we put into them!
Look, the Founders designed a country that has created more prosperity, peace and overall goodwill than any other nation in the history of the world. But we became complacent. Progressives have steered us off course and those progressive mistakes are about to catch up with us. The party is over. It's time to do the right thing so our children may not be able to have a party, but at least they can still have some cake.
You have to be willing to make sacrifices of your own.
No more palaces for schools. Haven't you ever seen "Little House on the Prairie"? Or Spanky and "Our Gang"? We didn't always have everything handed to us on a silver platter. Remember how they lived? You can do it without big government.
Yes, you might have to take your parents in. But since when has that become a burden? Think about your mom and dad. They cared for you. They changed your diapers. They fed you. They raised you. But, you won't take them in now that they are frail and old? I know they may smell weird and suck on Werther's Originals all day, but they are your parents.
I visited a friend recently. He was taking care of his mom. I saw the pain in his eyes, as he watches his mom getting older. But I also saw the gratitude in his mom's eyes. No government program can ever replace that. Sure, they can prop you up and pay for some things and make life just a little bit easier. But easier isn't always better.
The greatest American generation isn't called great because it was easy. Our grandparents didn't eat lard sandwiches, ration food or win World War II because it was easy, fun, free or even fair. They did it because it had to be done.
America as we know it is either going to be restored or fundamentally transformed. One of those two options ends in real freedom. But only the one that takes hard work and sacrifice is worth doing.
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