The following are Fred Thompson's Prepared Remarks at the 2008 National Right to Life Conference on July 3, 2008.
First, I would like to thank you for your support in my recent political endeavor. In that business, many are called, but few are chosen. We took a strong stand for the principles we believe in, and together I believe we made a difference in the debate that will ultimately benefit our country.
The fact is – I have not changed my mind about any of what we discussed. The issues. Our nation’s values. And most important, our principles. And as I watch the presidential campaign I am convinced more than ever of the importance of these principles and I bet you feel the same way.
There has been a lot of talk about the need for change in this country. That is Senator Obama’s mantra, of course. And all of the commentators say, “It is a change election.” Well, I can understand why the call for change is so powerful considering the pitiful condition that our country is in.
We simply have the most prosperous, freest and strongest country in the history of the world. So we can understand why liberal politicians and their supporters see the need for great change.
On a more serious note, we have long recognized the role change plays in lives. Edmund Burke wrote extensively about it in the 18th century. He said that change was inevitable and when properly guided, change was a process of renewal. But it was his opinion that the man who loves change is disqualified from being a reformer because of his lust … to be the agent of change.
Remind you of anybody you know?
So it is not change that concerns us — it’s change in the wrong direction. And what we may be changing from.
This country was founded on certain eternal truths – the lessons of the Scriptures and the wisdom of the ages … the recognition that there is such a thing as human nature that must be taken into account when governing … a respect for tradition and – most fundamentally – the proposition that people are meant to be free.
From these principles a government was formed – a government with its powers separated, checked and balanced, because the Founders knew that power tended to corrupt human beings. In keeping with that, they incorporated into our Constitution a system of Federalism to ensure that there was not too much power concentrated in the central government –a central government that was given certain delineated powers and no others.
From the application of these principles we developed a market economy, the rule of law, a system of trade with other nations, and a strong national defense. From the prosperity, freedom, and strength that came from this system we became a friend and example to all those around the world who aspired to those same things. We won wars, including the Cold War. We helped rebuild our enemies’ countries, which enhanced world stability, and which strengthened our own security along the way.
So with that in mind, I’d like to suggest a change for us: Instead of a constant search for the new, exciting and different, let’s re-assert the “First Principles” that made this country great.
Has freedom, liberty and the strength which guarantees them become outdated? And just what part of our Constitutional framework requires sprucing up or should be abandoned altogether?
Those changes that are momentarily popular in elite circles, which would expand our government, weaken our ability to defend ourselves, redefine marriage and life itself, sap our sense of personal responsibility and treat our people as if they were merely a collection of appetites to be fed in an election year … they must be rejected.
These are not changes we can believe in. These are changes we should run away from. Because the ideas behind these endeavors, which have long inspired left-wing politicians around the world, have led to consistently disastrous results.
Unfortunately the greatest agent of change this country has ever seen may be the Supreme Court of the United States –a fact that would astound the Founding Fathers who created it. Last month the Court for the first time in our nation’s history took from the elected branches of government the management of enemy combatants held abroad during times of war and gave these combatants the same habeas corpus rights we possess as American citizens.
Then the Court, in another 5-4 decision, overturned a death penalty conviction of a child rapist as a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Part of the opinion of the majority was based upon what they perceived as, “the evolving standards of decency” in America. The Court basically concluded we have reached the lofty moral level where a state will not be allowed to execute a child rapist no matter how young the child, no matter the brutality of the assault, or the frequency of the offender’s actions.
Logically, this can only mean that, when the Court decides that our moral standards have evolved even further, they will feel free to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. Then, presumably, we will have evolved to the level of decency of Europeans.
I am not sure what is more outrageous – holding that a state cannot impose the death penalty for such a heinous crime, the Court’s continued reshaping of the Constitution, or that we are governed by a Court’s perception of how far our standards of decency have evolved. This is a Court which is apparently unaware that most Americans’ consideration would include the child … not just the rapist.
Clearly, this is a Court that is often engaged in what can only be called a “liberal legislative function.” And these are legislative activities and outcomes that would never pass in the normal legislative process where you and I have a say in the matter.
I don’t know how to put it any plainer: If Senator Obama is elected, he will, through Supreme Court and federal court nominations cause this trend to accelerate. And that will bring about harmful changes in this country that no one in this room will want to see and no one in this room will live long enough to see rectified.
During his brief time in the U.S. Senate, the Senator strongly opposed the nomination of Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. And without a doubt – despite what he may say – he would continue to follow the agenda of those who have enabled his meteoric rise: MoveOn.org, the NEA, NARAL, and the remnants of the 1960s radical left that failed then, but sees the opportunity for one last gasp.
I highlight our courts because, second only to national security, the shaping of the federal judiciary is the most significant legacy that the next president is likely to leave—especially these days with such an evenly divided court.
The Court is important. But I want to get back to where we started … our principles. And there is no more important principle than the defense of liberty… and of life. And here, too, Senator Obama has been an agent of change in the wrong direction.
For example, in 2002 a federal law, the Born Alive Infant Protection Act was signed by President Bush. This act protected babies that survived late-term abortions. Only 15 members of the US House opposed it, and it passed the US Senate unanimously. Even NARAL did not oppose it.
That same year as an Illinois legislator, Senator Obama voted against similar legislation that would have given these babies life-saving medical attention.
I trust that he is explaining how it is that he is to the left of NARAL on this issue during the “religious outreach” meetings he’s been holding of late.
The fact is that at a time when the Supreme Court is in the balance, and America is facing unprecedented national security threats … at a time when rogue nations have or are developing nuclear capabilities … at a time when Russia is increasingly belligerent and China is engaged in a rapid military build-up, the Democratic Party has nominated for president one of the most inexperienced and the most liberal members of the United States Senate. Think George McGovern … without the experience.
On the other hand, we have John McCain. He is strongly supportive of sound constitutionalists on the bench. And he has been consistently pro-life throughout his career. His life experience has prepared him to lead this country in the troubled times we live in today. His life has been one of sacrifice, and he has exhibited the courage to place the interest of his country and his fellow citizens above his own during both times of war and peace.
Recently, Democratic minions, including former General Wesley Clark, have been sent out to denigrate the importance of Senator McCain’s honor and courage during times of war. Apparently Team Obama believes that just like timeless principles, character you can depend on is not a particularly important qualification to be President of the United States. They are dead wrong.
In light of our country’s history and what likely lies ahead, personal honor, courage and integrity are the most important qualifications for a President. I am disappointed that Wes Clark chose to allow himself to be used this way. He really shouldn’t have. It too easily invokes the image of a bantam rooster trying to belittle an American eagle.
Even more important to our future than how we view the candidates is how we view ourselves. Do we see our nation as one in decline, populated by helpless victims for whom every misfortune and every economic downturn is a conspiracy against them?
Or do we still see that we are a people of free will, willing to accept our responsibilities?
Are we a people who – as generations of American before us did – believe that our best days are ahead of us?
Will we realize and appreciate what we have and what we have achieved?
Will we remember who we are, what we stand for, and what we represent to the world? That we are free people … who respect life … who love liberty.
I believe we will. And for those who have lost sight, there are the the principles we believe in to guide them.
We’ve had them for a long time. And these principles do not change. And will not change.
Fred Thompson has been a lawyer, actor and United States Senator. He writes exclusive analysis and commentary for Townhall Magazine.