November 19, 2004,
Although just a few miles away, traumatized Kerry supporters were signing up for group therapy, the mood at Restoration Weekend was chipper. Hosted by author David Horowitz, the annual gathering of conservative movers and shakers convened at the Boca Raton Resort & Club last weekend to look back at the victories of November 2 and, more important, look ahead to what comes next.
The weekend was smorgasbord of conservative commentary. One particularly good panel, composed of Michael Barone, Dick Morris, John Fund, Congressman Ed Royce (R., Calif.), and White House staffer Matt Schlapp, discussed the 2004 elections and prospects for 2008. All agreed that the president has his work cut out for him. Not surprisingly, Michael Barone was particularly insightful on this point. Bush's win was due to a coalition of voters "primarily defined on cultural issues," said Barone, but now "he's trying to use it to win policy goals on economic issues," notably Social Security and tax reform, and people will need convincing. Barone compared these "ownership society" proposals with the similarly ambitious domestic programs pursued by other reelected wartime presidents. "President Lincoln backed the transcontinental railroad, land-grant colleges, and the Homestead Act. That's what agricultural America needed." Similarly, after his reelection in 1944, FDR passed the GI Bill of Rights, the FHA and other policies that enabled Americans to get more education. "We moved from being a non-high-school-graduating to a college-student country. We moved from a country of renters to a country of homeowners. That was the program for industrial America." Similarly, Barone said, Bush's reforms make sense of post-industrial America. In fact, he said, such programs could potentially help strengthen the GOP's narrow 51 percent majority if the White House can sell them to the American people and win at least some support from Democrats. "If you were on a roller-coaster on election night, that roller-coaster ride is not over."
And, by the way, Morris thinks it's a near certainty that Hillary Clinton will be the Dems' nominee in 2008.
Other notable speakers were Senators Jim Bunning (R., Ky.), Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), and Trent Lott (R., Miss.); Congressman Jack Quinn (R., N.Y.); NRO's Victor Davis Hanson; Middle East expert Daniel Pipes; former CIA director James Woolsey; Wayne LaPierre; authors Frank Gaffney, Bernard Goldberg, Michelle Malkin, and Phyllis Chesler; Generals Paul Vallely and Thomas McInerney; Col. Buzz Paterson; and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Jack Jacobs.
The biggest rounds of applause came on Saturday night, with the presentation of the Annie Taylor Awards for political courage. Back in 1901, Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher, became the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. (Upon emerging from her barrel, she proclaimed to the crowd, "No one ought ever do that again!") This year's awards went to a trio of Vietnam veterans: John O'Neill, the organizer of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth; Carlton Sherwood, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who produced Stolen Honor, the POW documentary the Kerry campaign tried so mightily to censor; and James Warner, a former Marine pilot who spent five years as a POW in Hanoi. (For more on these men, see John Fund's report on the awards ceremony.) The final recipient was John Bryant, the founder of Operation Hope, a nonprofit investment organization that, among other good works, helps poor families across the country become homeowners.
The highlight of the weekend, for me at least, was the Friday evening keynote speech given by Natan Sharansky. In his introductory remarks, Bill Kristol of Fox News and The Weekly Standard noted that Sharansky has lived "two lives," both remarkable. In the first, he rose to prominence as a Jewish refusenik in the U.S.S.R., was convicted in a show trial on charges of spying for the U.S., and imprisoned for nine years in Moscow and Siberia until public outcry led to his release in 1986. Since then, in his "second" life as a human-rights activist and politician in his adopted homeland of Israel, he has founded a new political party dedicated to helping immigrants acculturate into Israeli society and has served in the cabinets of three prime ministers. The day before speaking to us in Boca, he met with President Bush, to discuss the war on terror and Sharansky's new book, The Case for Democracy (the president famously apologized for not having finished the book before their meeting, only having gotten to page 210). When he stood up to speak, eschewing a microphone in honor of the Sabbath, I couldn't help but feel lucky to be there and lucky we have men like him walking the earth.
Sharansky's overarching theme, in his talk as in his book, was that in the war on terror "our greatest weapons are freedom and truth." The way to defeat terrorism and reform the societies that breed it is to make the spread of democracy the polestar of our foreign policy, for it is only democracy that will lead to stability in the long term. He pointed out that at the end of World War II, critics scoffed at the notion that Japan and Germany could be remade as peaceful democracies, just as they do about Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere today. (Encouragingly, President Bush echoed this same point in his press conference with Tony Blair last Friday.)
Promoting democracy, however, requires understanding something about dictatorships. Sharansky explained that under dictatorships he called them "fear societies" there are really only three groups of people: true believers who support the regime, dissidents who oppose it openly, and an ever-growing number of "double-thinkers" who realize the injustice of the system but hide their opposition because of fear. To keep the double-thinkers from becoming open dissidents, the dictatorship constructs the whole totalitarian apparatus of loyalty oaths, show trials, airbrushed history books, and the like. Sharansky described how, when he was five years old in Ukraine, his father came home and told him Stalin had died, and, after making sure the neighbors couldn't hear, that this was cause for rejoicing. Sharansky understood but couldn't show it: "The next day I went to kindergarten and I was crying real tears like all the children, and I was singing the songs" in praise of Stalin. A double-thinker was born though of course he didn't remain a double-thinker for long.
Sharansky explained that the number of double-thinkers who become dissidents depends in significant part on the support given to dissidents by the free world. That, he said, was the power of Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech: It told Sharansky and his fellow prisoners in the Soviet Gulag that they weren't alone. I couldn't help but think that this was another reason to be glad to be glad Bush was reelected; he'll speak to the Sharanskys of Iran and North Korea and elsewhere in a way Kerry probably couldn't muster.
Horowitz, whose most recent book, Unholy Alliance, analyzes the roots of the Left's opposition to the war on terror, said at one point that his goal in life is to teach conservatives "bad manners" to teach them to fight the battle of ideas vigorously without fear of being attacked. The presence of Sharansky, as well as former POW James Warner and the other Vietnam vets, served as a reminder of how important that battle is.