If the 2017 Conservative Leadership Conference (CLC) had one theme, it was that while 2016 brought landmark victories for conservative causes, this year has brought a pushback by the Left and the establishment that will test patriots everywhere. Below are highlights of what some of the key speakers had to say about this crucial chapter in history. (For more on highlights from the conference June 16-17, check out NC Capitol Connection online.)
Keynote speaker Nigel Farage was a leader of Brexit, the drive to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, which was followed by the election of Donald Trump as president. “2016 was the most incredible year in global politics, the beginning of a great fight back in politics when the Left and the Right have become virtually indistinguishable from each other,” he said.
But a year later, he said, “These rather are sober, reflective moments.” The Left has fought back furiously, like soldiers who refuse to accept that a war is over. “The opposition is getting even more dirty,” he said, adding, “The one thing those folks don’t want is change of any kind.”
He told the crowd that Trump gives a voice to ordinary people, and although some conservatives may wince at the rambunctious, Twitter-happy president, he deserves support.
“What I want you to do is to lobby,” he said as the crowd at the Friday dinner cheered and applauded. “Lobby your senators, lobby your congressman, lobby this obstruction against what Trump wants to do. Lobby to be free, lobby for liberty, lobby to get rid of excessive regulation, lobby to be strong, lobby for America to once again be a great country. This man can do it for you.”
CLC took place only a few days after one of the most ominous events of our time: A crazed left-winger shot at Republican legislators practicing for the annual congressional baseball game. Congressman Mark Walker, who represents North Carolina’s Sixth District and is a pitcher for the Republican team, told CLC attendees the experience left him and his colleagues drained.
The attack could have been a massacre, he said. Worse, “the hate in the country has come to a fever pitch,” citing the proliferation of hashtags such as #huntrepublicancongressmen and comments in left-wing media such as “it was a shame only one prolife member got shot.”
Yet that makes it more important than ever for conservatives to continue to defend their ideas. “This is a battle for our country,” he said. “We must continue this fight.”
Conservatives work hard on policies, but we must never forget that it’s all about people: That was the message to CLC from Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. Originally from North Carolina, she learned growing up in Greenville that “we put people first, before institutions, before our convenience, before our plans,” she said. “The dignity of the human person comes first.”
“That is why, when I came to embrace the pro-life cause, I began to believe this greatest human rights struggle of our time deserves a great strategy,” Dannenfelser added.
Congressman Mark Meadows, who represents North Carolina’s 11th District, told CLC attendees too often our elected leaders in Washington have failed to make good on their campaign promises.
“And I think it’s time that we change that,” he said. “And if members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, if they can’t see the light, you need to make them feel the heat. If they don’t start changing things, you send them home, myself included.”
He concluded, “If we don’t get health care fixed by the end of July and we don’t get tax reform introduced and out of the House by July, I want you to join me and say we [in Congress] need to cancel our August recess and get our work done.”
Another perspective came from Tom Fitton, president of one of the most influential conservative organizations in Washington, Judicial Watch.
“We’re in a revolutionary period led by the progressive Left,” he said. “They want to upend the country as we know it, and they’re breaking the rules in order to do it.”
And breaking the rules might well include undermining laws that protect the integrity of the ballot box, such as North Carolina’s commonsense voter ID law.
“You’ve been undermined by your own governor,” he said. “You’ve been attacked by the Justice Department. You’ve been attacked by the Left.”
“The Left doesn’t want voter ID. The other issue is certifying that someone is actually a citizen before they are registered to vote,” Fitton said. “Why are [liberals] opposed to that? Because the Left wants to steal elections if necessary.”
Recent attacks on free speech, especially on campuses, are also troubling, said Michael Farris, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). For example, Farris said, the ADF is defending a case in Florida in which a student went to a “free speech zone” and was arrested for discussing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The crowd applauded enthusiastically when Farris countered, “There is a free speech zone that’s appropriate in this country. It’s called America.”
Author and historian Amity Shlaes discussed a president who early in his term was dogged by scandal … Calvin Coolidge. How did he overcome the taint left by his predecessor’s mistakes? “Handling the scandal wasn’t just about the scandal,” she said. “It was about executing policy to perfection — to perfection!”
He slashed red tape and cut government spending, including the White House entertainment costs. “He cut the budget so often the budget was actually smaller at the end of the term than when he came in,” she said. “And that’s in nominal dollars!”
And the surge of wealth during the Coolidge era benefited ordinary people. There were more jobs, more goods at cheaper prices, even more leisure. Rising productivity meant that the six-day workweek could become the five-day workweek we enjoy now. “The 1920s was the decade that gave us Saturday!” she said.
North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell highlighted the fiscal challenges the state still faces. He cited as an example the state retirement plan, which has been operating with an assumed rate of return of 7.25 percent. In actuality, the return is about 1 percent, meaning the fund has billions in unfunded liabilities, even as costs keep rising.
“This year we are going to pay out $6 billion in pension benefits, and that number will grow to $9 billion [annually] over the next 10 years,” he said. Of course, North Carolina is in relatively good shape compared with fiscal disasters such as Illinois. But, he added, “Our pensioners can’t pay their power bills with relativity. They have to pay it with cash.”
Though the state and nation face real problems, government can make progress where leaders focus on solutions, not just politics.
Former Gov. Pat McCrory told CLC that one of his proudest successes was reforming transportation planning. “What we did was set a formula based upon traffic safety and economic development. Neither the bureaucrats decided nor the politicians decided, the numbers decided where we build roads in North Carolina. We literally built 30 percent more roads once we took the politics out of road building.”
“I am concerned that in the future both my Republican friends and my Democrat friends are going to want to go back to the old system” he said. “In fact, if we did not have that formula right now Gov. (Roy) Cooper would be selling roads throughout the state, and frankly some of our legislators would be selling roads throughout the state and making deals.”
Journalist Ann McElhinney told CLC attendees about how she and her husband, Phelim McAleer, have been making a movie about notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell.
He might never have been imprisoned for life for his crimes except for the heroic work of Philadelphia police detective Jim Wood, who fought through an array of obstacles to help secure Gosnell’s conviction.
“Nobody cared about [Gosnell’s clinic] till Jim Wood came along,” McElhinney said. That should inspire us, she added. “Don’t let anyone tell you one person can’t change the world.”
Maintaining the privacy of individual donors and the right of private charities are essential for our democratic system, according to Lawson Bader, president of DonorsTrust.
For example, consider a key case from the days of Jim Crow laws. Alabama’s state government wanted to force the NAACP to reveal the names of its donors – an obvious attempt to intimidate them – and even ban the group from the state. But the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed “ the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations” and ruled in favor of the NAACP.
In short, Bader concluded, civil society requires a flourishing charitable sector, and that truly private philanthropy is indeed “democracy in action.”