Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL)
Ronald Reagan Dinner
2013 Conservative Political Action Conference
National Harbor, MD
March 15, 2013

Thank you guys, thank you very much.  Thank you all, Sam.  Sam, thank you for that kind introduction.  Let's close the bar off so everybody in the back can stop chattering.  That's the best introduction I've gotten in a long while.  I wish you'd all heard it.  I want to particularly thank my old friend, not by age but by longevity of friendship, Al Cardenas, for his selfless dedication to the American Conservative Union and to the conservative cause.  It is, it's a pleasure to be here tonight honoring one of America's greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan.

I'd like to begin, I'd like to begin by expressing my deepest appreciation for the kind thoughts and prayers for my dad.  He got out of the hospital about six weeks ago, and as he so aptly said, "put away the harps."  He's back at home and he's doing well.  That's the good news.

That's the good news.  The bad news is that he's no longer pampered by the nurses at Memorial Hospital in Houston, Texas.  He has a new caregiver.  Her name is Barbara Bush and she is really tough.  You see this is proof positive that no matter what your age and even if you were once the leader of the free world life has a way of keeping us humble.

Sometimes in our lives we even get to cross the thin line between humbling and downright humiliating.  A couple of weeks ago, Peter Hamby of CNN tweeted a picture of me from 1970 with what appeared to be a catcher's mitt on my head.  [b&w photo on the screen]  I still have that sport coat by the way.  Hamby felt compelled to comment on my hairstyle and said that I was wearing a mullet.  I responded of course that it wasn't a mullet, just an unruly head of hair; in 1970 we all had that.  Hamby's response was even better.  He said, technically you're right; there's a party in the front and a party in the back. 

I find Hamby's comment strangely relevant to us tonight because if you think about it the same could be said about the Republican Party.  We used to be the party in the front.  After this last election, sadly, we're the party in the back.

The question is how do we get to be the party in the front again, and please take —oh good, I'm glad it's gone.  That's what I'd like to talk about tonight.

How do we start once again to elect Republican presidents in the mold of the great man we honor tonight.  But before we answer that question, I'd like to share some things that I observed recently.

Some of you may know I had the privilege of serving as governor of Florida for eight years.  It was a blast; it was a joy.  But since 2007 I've been involved in education reform around the country and pursuing my own business opportunities that have taken me around the globe.  I travel a lot, and I've seen first hand the explosive economic growth in places like China, Singapore and Brazil.  In some of their cities, on any given day you can see dozens of cranes building modern skyscrapers and the streets bustle with people alive with the energy of commerce and innovation.

When I return home, the mood is different, different and worse.  Americans have the sense that our economy is fragile, its rewards are unfairly tilted towards the few and that the greatest prosperity in this century will be enjoyed by other people in other lands, and not by our own children.

But tonight I'm here to tell you that this conclusion is 100-percent wrong.  We potentially find ourselves at the threshold of our nation's greatest century.  We can, as President Reagan did, restore the great confident roar of American progress and growth and optimism.  Tonight as surely as you sit here the fundamentals are aligning in a way that could allow us to race past our global competitors and usher in a true American renaissance for the next hundred years.  It's there for the taking if we have the courage to grab it and push beyond the problems that divide us today.

Consider the facts.  Take energy.  With our new drilling technologies America will soon have an energy surplus.  This means trillions of dollars in new wealth for Americans, trillions of dollars.  And a foreign policy, and a foreign policy not overly influenced by oil.

How about food?  America will be the Saudi Arabia of grain in a century when the world is clamoring for more food.  Just as crude oil determined the wealth and power of nations in the latter part of the last century, food will do so in this century.

Technology.  Wireless communication, artificial intelligence and rapid advances in life sciences are transforming at a breathtaking pace every facet of American business and daily life.  Manufacturing jobs that were shipped to China a decade ago are now returning to America, but this time the work is being performed by our robots.  But the good news is that there are robots built in America by American workers and along with low energy costs create the potential for a new wave of American manufacturing in this country.  Entire classes of diseases are on the verge of being eradicated by manipulating individual molecules on the surfaces of living cells.  Driverless vehicles will flawlessly move people and products across our highways, never getting lost, never having accidents.  Already a prototype driverless car has traveled more than 300,000 miles in the crowded maze of California streets without a single accident.  3-D printing machines are being developed and downscaled for home use that will allow you to instantly create thousands of objects at the touch of a button.  Already cars are being designed and built that are printed from the computer.

Or how about our youthful potential.  As a nation if we get immigration right—and I hope and pray that that's the case this year— we're going to stay young.  By 2050, China will have more old people than America has people.  America remains younger than all industrialized nations. 

These are but a few of our advantages, and collectively they point toward a century of prosperity and world leadership that is unparalleled in world history.

But, there is a very dark cloud on the horizon.  All of these advantages are at risk if the federal government continues on its arc of irresponsibility.  Our federal spending addiction and the lackluster system of public education are the two greatest impediments to achieving our potential in this century.

Conservatives have the solutions to these problems, and liberals have the proposals that will only make them worse.

I know.  As governor of Florida I balanced our budget for eight years in a row while cutting taxes every year.  And I've dedicated much of my adult life trying to revolutionize our schools so they serve children and parents and not an indifferent bureaucracy.  But you must know this.  All of our successes at the state level, and all of the work being done in the private sector that's incredible can be undone if we continue to lose presidential elections.

We'll forfeit our ability to chart a better future for our republic.  This would be tragic in every sense of the word.  So when I think about our options going forward, I think about Sam Palmisano, who was kind enough to introduce me tonight.  As you know, Sam is the former CEO of IBM and probably the best CEO in America in the last decade.  Sam's also just a fantastic human being.  He's easy to talk to, but he's also a visionary and a true leader.  Sam told me an amazing story.  He was deeply involved in assembling the team that created Watson, a super-computer that can understand natural language with all the ambiguities associated with human speech. 

Watson can breeze through more than 200 million pages of text to find an answer in less than three seconds.  So what do you do when you have this kind of amazing capability at your fingertips.  Naturally, you appear on a TV game show.  Watson, Watson competed on the game show Jeopardy and easily defeated the all time human champion Ken Jennings.  Do you know what Watson's doing today?  Watson is now being used in research hospitals like Sloan-Kettering to diagnose and suggest treatment options for desperately ill cancer patients.  Watson is able to look at all of the available information, listen closely and make critical medical recommendations without the personal biases that afflict mere mortals.  The thing that most astounds me is that Watson can learn from his past mistakes, and every decision that it makes helps the next decision to be a little more accurate.  The first round of Jeopardy for example ended with Watson tied for first place with $5000 in winnings.  By the time the second match ended, Watson had won over $77,000 and Ken Jennings had only won 24 grand.  A little scary right?  Well I wonder what Watson would say if it brought all that computing power to bring to bear on the political future of the Republican Party.

First, Watson would probably note that Republicans lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.  In those six elections, Watson would be quick to point out that Democrat candidates received 26,064,651 more votes than our Republican candidates.  That's a staggering number.  How can it be?

If Watson were to read the blogs, the tweets, the Facebook posts that mention the Republican Party, it would find that all too often we're associated with being anti-everything.  Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on.  Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates, even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party.  So tonight my thought is this.  If Watson can learn from its past mistakes, so can we.  This means that we must move beyond the divisive and extraneous issues that currently define the public debate.

Never again, never again can the Republican Party simply write-off entire segments of our society because we assume our principles have limited appeal.  They have broad appeal.  They have broad appeal and we need to be larger than that.  For exactly the same reason that millions of immigrants were drawn to our shores from every nation we need to draw into our party people from every corner of society because conservative principles and not liberal dogma best reflect the ideals that made this nation great.

We should be united in the principle that everyone should be given the opportunity to rise to the top, to raise a family and to be free.  Our core principles—greater individual responsibility, more personal freedom, smaller and more effective government—are the  only principles that can offer our children the full measure of their potential in the greatest of American centuries.

I'm here to tell you there is no "us" or "them."  The face of the Republican Party needs to be the face of every American, and we need to be the party of inclusion and acceptance.  It's our heritage and our future and we need to couch our efforts in those terms.  As Republicans we need to get reacquainted with the notion that relationships that really matter are not made through Twitter or social media, real relationships take time to grow and they begin with a genuine interest in the stories, the hopes, the dreams and the challenges harbored within each of us.

When I ran for governor in 1998, a woman named Berthy Aponte, the mother of a developmentally disabled child from Fort Lauderdale, and at a time, at the time a complete stranger to me, stood up in a town hall meeting I had and challenged me to help children like hers.  I'm sure I said something pleasant in response, but it wasn't good enough for Berthy.  She wouldn't let me up for air.  Over the next months that followed, I traveled South Florida with Berthy and visited group homes and talked to parents who feared nothing more than having their disabled child outlive them and become a ward of an uncaring state.  Imagine what it would be like to be a mom or a dad of a child and your biggest worry was that you would die before they did and no one would take care of them.  When I became governor, we had a renewed focus on helping the developmentally disabled.  And in elevating their lives I actually found out that we elevated the lives of all Floridians.  All this flowed from my personal connection with Berthy.

We used to be the party that understood personal connections, and that they mattered.  We need to be that party again.  And when we speak to people and make the case for conservative principles, you should know that the happy exception does not always prove the rule.  It is not a validation of our conservative principles if we can only point to the increasingly rare individual who overcomes adversity and succeeds in America.

Here's reality.  If you're fortunate to count yourself among the privileged, much of the rest of the nation is drowning.  In our country today if you're born poor, if your parents didn't go to college, if you don't know your father, if English isn't spoken at your home, then the odds are stacked against you.  You're more likely to stay poor today than at any time since World War II.  Unfortunately the great tragedy of the last decade is that liberals have channeled the anger and frustration that comes from this oppressive dynamic and used it as an opportunity to attack the very idea of success itself.  In their view, anyone who has climbed to the top one-percent or top ten-percent or top twenty-percent for that matter has committed some form of gross social breach and they deserve our scorn.  This is enormously short-sighted because in a fair capitalist system financial success should be the by-product of innovation and achievement.  And without innovation and achievement we will no longer move forward as a nation. 

And so our central mission as conservatives is to reignite social and economic mobility in this country.  It's called the right to rise.  There are many facets to our mission, but let me briefly mention four.

First, we need to re-establish in America the idea that success is a good thing rather than being viewed with distaste and suspicion.  Success desperately needs to be cool again.  We need to offer the citizens of our nation role models who demonstrate that success isn't about taking, it's about creating something where nothing before existed.  It's about the way wealth ripples from a bold idea to spread to every part of our nation.

Second, we need to equip every child with the best tools to rise.  Every child in America deserves the best education on the planet.  Why not?  After all, after all, we're already paying for it.  We spend more per student than any country in the world and yet our kids frequently rank in the bottom quartile on math and science scores.  I could stand here all night and tell you about the details of the system that could get us there—don't worry I remember I'm only supposed to speak for 25 minutes—but we need to have the leaders and the authority to put that system in place.  Somewhere in America a child is being born who will design and build the next and better version of Watson.  His or her creation may save your life or the lives of your children and grandchildren.  It may save the lives of millions.  The tragedy is that for every child who reaches their full abilities, who builds that Watson, there are hundreds who could have done the same thing but are stuck in failing and indifferent schools.  We are squandering America's greatest resource and I believe only reform-minded conservatives have the resolve to confront and end the single greatest waste of human potential in my mind in the history of the world.  We need a transformation of education based on standards benchmarked to the best in the world, a system of no excuses accountability that refuses to accept failure and rewards improvement and excellence; a culture based on empowering parents with an abundance of choices for their children's education. and a deep understanding of the transformative power of digital learning.

Third, we need to have a government that allows small people to rise and large businesses to fall.  Government should help create a level playing field.  Maximize the opportunities for the players and then step back.  This doesn't mean government plays no role in regulating business, but it does mean that government doesn't pick the winners and losers or create such huge costs that only the large can comply.

And finally, and finally we need to realize that each of us in the conservative movement has a far greater role to play as a private citizen than as part of a government or as its critic.  There is a political realm and a social realm and we shouldn't confuse the two.  We shouldn't rely on government bureaucracies to instill virtue in people.  Government should fill potholes; it's our individual duty to fill the holes in the human heart.  As conservatives we need to recognize the limits of government and the much more powerful influences of parents, churches, charities and role models.  We can do so much more by setting an example and by living our principles than by merely taking.  We need to be out in our communities helping our neighbors, mentoring our children and demonstrating that generosity, compassion and human potential are immensely more powerful than a thousand government programs.

So I see our path forward as conservatives and I believe the future is extraordinarily bright.

I'll end where I started.  As to the rumors of the demise of the conservative movement, as my dad said, put away the harps.  We have within our grasp the means by which our country will reclaim its momentum, leave its imprint on this remarkable century and secure a better future for all.  God bless you all.  Thank you for coming.

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