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Our Fight to Save America from Washington
By Rick Perry
Foreword by Newt Gingrich
Read by Ric Reitz
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But we are fed up with being over-taxed and over-regulated. We are tired of being told how much salt to put on our food, what kind of cars we can drive, what kinds of guns we can own, what kind of prayers we are allowed to say and where we can say them, what we are allowed to do to elect political candidates, what kind of energy we can use, what doctor we can see. What kind of nation are we becoming? I fear it’s the very kind the Colonists fought against.
But perhaps most of all, we are fed up because deep down we know how great America has always been, how many great things the people do in spite of their government, and how great the nation can be in the future if government will just get out of the way.
Our fight is clear. We must step up and retake the reins of our government from a Washington establishment that has abused our trust. We must empower states to fight for our beliefs, elect only leaders who are on our team, set out to remind our fellow Americans why liberty is guaranteed in the Constitution, and take concrete steps to take back our country. The American people have never sat idle when liberty’s trumpet sounds the call to battle — and today that battle is for the soul of America.
Table of Contents
I grew up in Paint Creek, Texas. If you can't find it on a map, I won't be surprised. Just look for Haskell, Texas, population 3,000, and then go a few miles to the south and the east and you might find it. We were cotton farmers. We believed in God, we believed in taking care of ourselves and one another, and we believed that America was the greatest nation on earth. We still do.
Serving as the governor of Texas for almost ten years has given me a unique perspective on the current state of things in our country. And from my vantage point, I see a nation filled with good, hardworking people who are wondering what happened to the country they knew. It wasn't so long ago that we were expected to pay our bills, we were able to pray at the town meeting, and we believed it was important to rely on ourselves or our families rather than government.
Now, cynics will say that I decided to write this book because I seek higher office. They are wrong: I already have the best job in America. I wrote this book because I believe that America is great but also that America is in trouble—and heading for a cliff if we don't take immediate steps to change course. I wrote this book in the hopes that it will lead to a new conversation about the proper role of government in our lives and perhaps be a step toward renewing our collective appreciation for the genius of our nation's federal system of government—when it works the way it is supposed to.
I believe that government is best when it is closest to the people. I believe that states are the critical components of our federal system of government, that the Founders recognized their importance, and that empowering the states is the best way to ensure our God-given right to live according to the dictates of our consciences. I believe that we have let establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle empower Washington at the expense of states, and thus our liberty. I believe that our fight today is to restore the proper balance of power in order to ensure that America can remain free and prosperous—and capable of continuing to lead the world.
America Is Great, Washington Is Broken
A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.
—JOHN ADAMS, LETTER TO ABIGAIL ADAMS, JULY 17, 17751
SOMETHING IS TERRIBLY WRONG. There is a sense among Americans that the world we have always known is in danger of being turned upside down.
Now, do not misunderstand me. America is great. Our nation has done, and continues to do, more for the cause of freedom around the world than any nation in the history of man. And our nation is filled with people, whether they were born here or came here in search of the American dream, who are driven by faith, determination, personal responsibility, and self-reliance. They are forging better lives for themselves and their children. This is the land of opportunity—a place where, after all, a rural cotton farmer from Paint Creek, Texas, can become governor.
Americans have fed more people, clothed more people, healed more people, and improved the lives of more people—and more quickly—than any other society the world has known. And we have done it by believing in the individual, by defending liberty, no matter the price, and by demonstrating a living, abiding faith that has compelled us throughout the generations to act against evil and to advance good.
But America is in trouble, and the people know it. We sense that our way of life and, perhaps more importantly, our ability to decide how we shall live, is no longer in our control but in the control of an increasingly powerful and oppressive national government—a government run by people who simply do not share our values or our beliefs and blatantly ignore its limits.
In short, it is not America that is broken; it is Washington that is broken.
You can't argue with the fact that power has increasingly been consolidated in Washington. In 1960, the government of the United States spent approximately $92 billion annually, or $509 per person. By 1987, that figure had grown to $1 trillion, or $4,127 per person. This year, federal spending is projected to surpass $3.7 trillion, or $11,500 per person.2 There are over 2 million civilian federal employees, an additional 1.5 million in the U.S. military (that part is a good thing), and millions more involved in federal contracts. There are over 4,500 independent federal criminal laws and over 163,000 pages of federal regulations scattered across hundreds of agencies in 15 different departments.3 The federal tax code and its supporting regulations total over 9 million words across thousands of pages.4
The federal government is massive and grows more so by the day. Indeed, by the end of the 111th Congress, there will likely be more than 6,500 new bills introduced in the House of Representatives and 4,000 more in the Senate, designed, ostensibly, to cure the nation's ills.5
Of course, it never occurs to the power brokers in Washington that perhaps they are the cause of much of what ails us. But it does occur to the American people. I have had the privilege of meeting and talking with tens of thousands of my fellow citizens from all walks of life, and I can tell you one thing for certain: the American people are fed up.
We are fed up with being overtaxed and overregulated. We are tired of being told how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house, what kind of cars we can drive, what kinds of guns we can own, what kind of prayers we are allowed to say and where we can say them, what political speech we are allowed to use to elect candidates, what kind of energy we can use, what kind of food we can grow, what doctor we can see, and countless other restrictions on our right to live as we see fit.
We are fed up with a federal government that has the arrogance to preach to us about how to live our lives, and the chutzpah to haul every baseball player and other "evildoer" in the world before a congressional committee—or some comic such as Stephen Colbert. Meanwhile, Congress, arguably one of the most incompetent regimes with one of the worst track records of mismanagement in the history of mankind, runs up over $13 trillion and counting in debt.
We are fed up with bailout after bailout and stimulus plan after stimulus plan, each one of which tosses principle out the window along with taxpayer money. We can't even keep up with all the spending, be it the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the auto industry bailout, the AIG bailout, or President Obama's failed $787 billion "Recovery Act." The list goes on and on.
We are fed up with a federal government that pledged $200 billion to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when their mismanagement, coupled with ridiculous federal regulations, led to the inappropriate lending policies underlying the financial crisis in the first place. And we are fed up with tax credits that amount to pure giveaways to certain citizens at the expense of others—the government picking winners and losers based on circumstance and luck with no real benefit to the economy.
We are fed up with a Department of Homeland Security that refuses to secure our borders, resulting in more than 10 million people living in our country illegally, thousands more coming in daily from all over the world, and almost 1,000 children being born in our country every day to parents who are here illegally.6 Meanwhile, politicians use the issue of immigration as a political tool to divide Americans.
We are fed up with a self-interested Congress that spends its time earmarking over 9,000 pet projects in 2010 worth over $16 billion, a number Democrats tout as an accomplishment because it represents just over half of the peak amount of $29 billion under Republicans in 2006—all of which corrupts the political process and wastes our money.7
We are fed up with a Congress that often fails to even read the legislation it passes and that increasingly writes laws, such as the health care bill, that are over 2,000 pages long.
We are fed up with activist judges who tell us what is right and wrong and deny us the right to live as we see fit—from deciding when life begins and where the Ten Commandments can be displayed to telling the people how to punish criminals.
We are fed up that Social Security and Medicare teeter on the verge of bankruptcy, amassing unfathomable liabilities for future generations, that the federal government refuses to admit it, and that there is no leadership in Washington to do anything about it—unless you count yet another committee chaired by a retired senator that will no doubt be appointed to fix them.
We are fed up with a federal government arrogant enough to declare it knows more about our health than our doctor and that is willing to risk the best health care system in the world while blatantly lying that it is not on the path to a single-payer, government-run system.
But perhaps most of all we are fed up because deep down we know how great America has always been, how many great things the people have done in spite of their government, and how great the nation can be in the future if government will just get out of the way.
America is great. Yet for some in our nation, to make such a statement is considered arrogant, close-minded, or jingoistic—the kind of thing said by cowboys, as if it is a bad thing to be a cowboy.
At a press conference in Strasbourg in April 2009, President Barack Obama said in response to a question about the traditional notion of American exceptionalism, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."8
You got the first half right, Mr. President, but even if Greece were not facing an economic meltdown, I still believe that America is unique in its greatness. I believe that it is exceptional, and has been ever since its founding, because of its reliance on and belief in the individual, in liberty, in equal justice under law, in God, in a limited constitutional government, and in the willingness of its people to risk their lives in defense of those things around the world.
It is this willingness to defend liberty and answer the call of duty that most defines the exceptionalism of America. After I graduated from college at Texas A&M University in 1972, I was blessed to serve over four years in the United States Air Force flying C-130s. That experience had a profound impact on me and remains one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. But as proud as I am of that service, I confess that I stand in awe of the men and women in uniform today who are answering our country's call.
One of the greatest parts about being governor of Texas is the time I get to spend meeting with those brave men and women, be it in my visits to the many great bases throughout the state, or in my travels overseas to such places as Iraq and Afghanistan. When I spend time with those who are putting their lives on the line in defense of liberty and our nation, I know that the great World War II generation has some competition for the title "greatest." Never is that reality clearer than when I talk to the family of a young man or woman who has paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of liberty.
These brave Americans are following in the footsteps of the generations that came before them. America has always answered the call to defend freedom. Throughout the past century, over 600,000 Americans have given their lives in defense of liberty, almost none of whom perished on American soil. More than another million were wounded during that time. And what have we asked for in return? Land. But not land taken in conquest—rather only, as General Colin Powell once noted, "enough land to bury our dead."9 One need only take a trip to Normandy, France, where 9,387 Americans are buried—including thirty-three pairs of brothers buried side by side—under a sea of crosses and Stars of David, to realize our willingness to sacrifice.10
Just as no other nation in the history of mankind has sacrificed or given more for the cause of liberty or the pursuit of justice throughout the world, no other country has done more to promote economic prosperity or to improve the global standard of living than has ours. I have witnessed the greatness of America's economic engine and her generosity firsthand. Thousands of entrepreneurs and hardworking Americans are laboring as we speak to create jobs and build the economy. The United States of America accounts for about 6 percent of the world's landmass and less than 5 percent of its people, yet its economy generates almost 25 percent of global gross domestic product.11
Americans have won more Nobel Prizes than the citizens of any other country, a total of 38 percent of all Nobel Prizes awarded.12 The United States ranks among the freest economies in the world, and according to rankings published annually since 1973 by Freedom House for political freedom, civil liberties, and freedom of the press, the United States has received the highest possible rating each year since the inception of the survey.
Thousands of Americans are working every day to make the best health care system in the world even better, and saving countless lives in the process. The United States is the home of medical innovations ranging from the polio vaccine to the artificial heart. Thanks to the efforts of the March of Dimes and Dr. Jonas Salk, in 1994 polio was declared eradicated in all of the Americas. The measles vaccine was also invented in the United States, and endemic transmission of measles (among other formerly deadly diseases) has been virtually eliminated in the United States. The United States is home to about half of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.13 More than 90 scientists either born or working in the United States have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.14
And because America is historically a country dedicated to freedom and equal justice under law, and also a country of opportunity, innovation, and invention, where our people are free to prosper as they push the boundaries of science and commerce, the lines at our door are long, and growing longer. Well over 3 million people from around the world are on a waiting list for a chance to come here to pursue the American dream, and some of those people have been on that list for 20 years.15 Still millions more risk imprisonment—or even their lives—to come here illegally, which, besides being a problem in and of itself, is indicative of how badly people want to come to this great nation.
I am particularly proud of the job states like Texas have done and continue to do in the face of the economic challenges that have gripped our nation in recent years. We know that the route to success is lower taxes, smaller government, and freedom for every individual, because we have seen it work. Indeed, the well-known economist Ray Perryman has pegged Texas as the "last in and first out" of this current economic crisis because of our job growth at the end of 2009 and an unemployment rate that has stayed well below the national average.
Indeed, the Texas unemployment rate is the lowest among the nation's ten largest states, as is our state's level of debt, according to Forbes magazine. We have also produced more private-sector jobs than any other state in the nation over the past ten years, and earlier this year, Texas was named the top exporting state in the country for the eighth straight year. That's what happens when you free up citizens to compete. And as a result, we were able to finish our last legislative session with a balanced budget, a tax cut for 40,000 small businesses, and over $8 billion set aside for our state's "rainy-day fund." In fact, Texas and Alaska are responsible for two-thirds of all state dollars set aside in reserve. A sad indictment on the rest of America, this is a source of pride for those of us in Austin.
This is not to say Texas and Texans aren't struggling, too. But by remaining committed to the idea that Americans prosper when left free from government interference, and by remaining patient and working hard, Texas is leading the nation through the economic turmoil.
Beyond our economy, our greatness in Texas and throughout America is observed in the character of our people. Take a moment to consider the outpouring of love and charity demonstrated by the citizens of my state and others around the nation to those desperate souls suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and countless other devastating events. The people of Harris County did not hesitate to welcome as many as 200,000 residents of New Orleans, processing tens of thousands of evacuees and working hard to find shelter, food, clothes, medicine, and other basic necessities.
Americans freely give billions of dollars, volunteer countless hours, and otherwise devote their lives to help those here at home and around the world who are in need. Of course, the U.S. government consistently contributes more toward overseas aid than the government of any other country, but what is far more impressive is the amount individual Americans give in voluntary donations. U.S. private giving to poor nations reached $37.3 billion in 2008.16 The next highest were the United Kingdom and Germany, which each gave less than $2 billion. Total charitable giving in the United States is estimated by the Giving USA Foundation to be $303.74 billion in 2009, exceeding $300 billion for the third consecutive year.17
There has never been a challenge our nation has not risen to meet, driven by a people blessed by the Almighty and given by our forefathers a historically limited government that frees the individual to achieve greatness. That is the story of our America.
So America is great, and it's worth saving. But what are we saving it from? In the largest sense, we're saving it from Washington. Our "historically limited government" no longer is very limited; in fact, it has been turned on its head.
The Constitution established a general government of limited, enumerated powers specifically to prevent the consolidation of power in Washington and to leave all remaining powers with the states or the people. This important concept was purposefully memorialized in the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution reads:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
But the endless arrogance in Washington demonstrates a total disrespect for the Constitution and for the limits on federal power that the Constitution requires. By forsaking the very framework of government given to us by the Founders, we have allowed government to control us instead of controlling the government ourselves. The American people are increasingly aware of this and find it maddening.
It is not just the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches that limits the consolidation of power. What was particularly ingenious of the Founders was their crafting of a unique form of government that also spread power between the state and the general governments—both sovereigns, if you will. Dividing the government's authority preserves liberty, and by limiting the general government's powers and leaving the rest to the states, the Founders made sure that most decision making would be handled at the level closest to, and most accountable to, the people.
Ask yourself this: are you most likely to gain the attention of the President or your local mayor? Your U.S. senator or your local city councilman? Your congressman or your local state representative? The answer is obvious. Your city council, your mayor, your local school board, and often even your state representative are people who live and work in your neighborhood. These are people you are likely to be able to influence and whom you can more easily hold accountable. So, is it better for them or for Washington to have more power over your life? The Founders knew the answer to this question over two hundred years ago, and they were right.
We can all still be proud Americans while acknowledging that we simply do not agree on many fundamental issues. We are a diverse people—incapable of being governed from a faraway capital by people who do not share our values. Recognizing this fact is critical to the preservation of a free state. Federalism enables us to live united as a nation, with a federal government that is focused on our national security and that has specific enumerated powers, while we live in states with like-minded people who share our values and beliefs. Crucial to understanding federalism in modern-day America is the concept of mobility, or "the ability to vote with your feet." If you don't support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don't come to Texas. If you don't like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don't move to California.
For too long, the silent majority has sat idly by, allowing the political establishment to wage an assault not just on the Constitution and the fundamental American principle of limited government, but on the very idea that it is a government closest to the people that best guarantees the blessings of liberty.
The political establishment responsible for this assault consists primarily of two camps.
First, there are those who believe in the primacy of the government over the individual, referred to as liberals, so-called Progressives, or statists. I do not care which descriptor you use—whether they are Democrat or Republican, whether they are well intentioned or ill-, whether they deny it or not—they simply do not believe in those things that have made our nation the greatest in the history of the world. They do not believe what I believe.
The statists believe in a powerful, activist central government that advances a radical secular agenda in the name of compassion. They hide behind misguided notions of empathy and push token talking points about fighting for "the little guy," all the while empowering the federal government to coercively and blatantly undermine state-, local-, and self-governance.
Second, there are those who enable the statists—a group largely made up of old-guard Republicans, sometimes professing a questionable belief in conservatism—who are complicit in expanding Washington at the expense of the states and the people. They cowardly and selfishly empower themselves politically by compromising liberty issue by issue, often selling principle for a bridge, a museum, or some building named after them back in their home district or state. It is not enough to pay lip service to limited government or conservative principles if you go forward promoting and embracing flawed, misguided policies that expand the size and scope of the federal government.
Now, let me clear up one thing. I am a proud Republican. As frustrated as I am at many in my own party for their waste and incompetence, and as many good friends as I have in the Democratic Party, I am firmly convinced that there is no comparison between the two political parties in modern, twenty-first-century America. As I have said before, "Republicans often aren't on the right page—indeed, some aren't even in the right chapter. But most are in the right book. Most Democrats today, on the other hand, can't even find the library."
And what I mean by that is simple. Republicans, in general, believe in low taxes, low regulation, less spending, free-market health care, constitutionalist judges, protecting innocent life, enforcing our laws and our borders, peace through strength, empowering the states, and generally advocating principles closer to limited government than not. On the other hand, most of my Democrat friends—unfortunately—generally believe in higher taxes, more regulation, more spending, government-run health care, activist judges, choice over life, open borders, capitulation to our enemies, a more powerful Washington, and generally a bigger and more active government than not.
The truth is, I really don't care what party the statist is in. The fact of the matter is, it is the statist, and those who support or enable him, who is the problem. For too long he has undermined this country by empowering the national government at the expense of liberty. An America defined by the statist in Washington is an America doomed to fail.
But I don't believe that is our fate. I believe in an America defined by the people and by the concept of liberty, an America that will prosper and continue to lead the world. I believe in an America that will stand up to and call out the establishment for what they are, and will change the course of history by stripping them of their power at the ballot box and by exercising the power of the states to stop blindly accepting every demand the federal government makes.
It is the call of our generation—of you and me—to fight to preserve, as Ronald Reagan referred to our great nation, "the last best hope of man on earth." At stake is the birthright of our children—their right to proudly proclaim that they are American and for that to be synonymous with liberty and the willingness to sacrifice for it. At stake is the future not just of our nation but, the future of self-government and the right of the people to live free according to the dictates of their conscience.
In short, it is not enough to be fed up. We must act.
Hundreds of thousands of patriotic Americans have taken to the streets in protest—invoking the historic Boston Tea Party in the process. They are running for office and swarming the voting booths, sending shock waves from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Their anger is directed against the establishment—that lumbering mass of old-guard politicians who do not understand that there is a quiet revolution taking place. And the shock waves are being felt on both sides of the political aisle.
These are the political winds that shape our time. We have now seen in several consecutive elections that the American people are indeed fed up. Over the course of just two elections, Republicans lost 14 seats in the U.S. Senate and 53 seats in the U.S. House between 2006 and 2008. This year, however, the situation has reversed, and Republicans are the ones who have gained seats.
This is just the beginning of our fight. Our cause is simple: to restore the balance of power intended by our Founders but forsaken by secular progressives determined to say what government will do for the people rather than allowing people to do what they can do for themselves. Our goal is to take power away from Washington and instead empower states, communities, and individuals, because America's future greatness is inextricably intertwined with states pushing back.
Our Founding Fathers had a vision of states working together but also competing against one another to put different ideas in play, seeing which ones work, which ones don't, and then allowing governors and legislatures to look around and say, "You know what? That's a good idea over there." Restoring that vision will enable us to live according to our beliefs and our values—and to prosper according to the fruits of our labor, free from interference from a faraway bureaucrat, legislator, or judge.
Our fight to save America from Washington might well be the last chance for the last best hope of man on earth. America the people, and America the idea, endure. Whether they continue to endure is up to us. The good news is that the American people always rise to a challenge.
Why States Matter
Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority.
—THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autobiography1
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