J.C. Watts Jr., U.S. Representative, Oklahoma

Landon Lecture
April 26, 2002

The founder of this lecture, Alf Landon, said once - and Alf was a presidential candidate, as you know, and was governor of this state - and he said once, he said, "If there's one state that prepares a man for anything, it is Kansas." And while I was born and reared in the state of Oklahoma, the border state of south Kansas, I actually lived in Kansas for about seven months when I was in the first grade, lived in Wichita, went to elementary school at a school called Dunbar Elementary before our integration, and so spent seven months here. And I can say there was a time I used to visit this campus as a student athlete, and I was in a pretty hostile environment when I was in the stadium here and it's delightful to be here on campus and not be running for my life.

Back in 1991, I was elected to statewide office in the state of Oklahoma Public Utility Commission, and under the Corporation Commission umbrella we regulated public utilities in oil and gas. And after I had been sworn in - I was an elected official, a public official in Oklahoma - for about 45 days and I was asked by a good friend of mine, a former Democrat governor in the state of Oklahoma, who at the time was the president of a university in Edmond, Okla., called the University of Central Oklahoma -- I was asked by Gov. Nye - or President Nye - to come to a swearing-in ceremony that they were having. They'd invited about 600 people to attend the swearing-in ceremony, but approximately 16 or 17 people who were going to be sworn in as new citizens of the United States of America.

And Gov. Nye wanted me to come to give a five-minute testimonial on what it meant for me to be an American citizen. And I stood before those 650 or so people and shared with them for about five minutes what it meant for me to be an American citizen. And after I took my seat, I was sitting in a place that I could see the 16 or 17 people who were being sworn in. They were eventually called up and they all stood there with their right hands raised and they took the oath to become citizens of the greatest nation in all the world.

And where I was sitting I could see the faces of many of the people being sworn in and I noticed that there were many different skin colors, many genders, many different religions, many different backgrounds. But as they stood there with their hands raised, they knew when they put their hands down there would be one thing that every single one of them would have in common, they'd be citizens of the greatest nation in all the world.

And where I was sitting, again, I could see the faces of some of the people, and it was a proud moment, and the big old tears I saw streaming down their cheeks because they had worked for five, six, seven years going through the system, they had come from their homeland and now it had finally happened, they were citizens of the United States. And I'll never forget the magic that I felt, the wonderful feeling that I felt; there was a magic in the air. And I remember saying to myself that day that I should renew or that I renewed my commitment to say that each and every day I would do all that I possibly could as an elected official, as a father, as a youth minister at the time, as an American citizen, to do all that I possibly could to sustain the greatness and the magic of being an American citizen.

And friends, I believe there are things that we must do, that we have to do, that we can do to sustain the greatness of America. I don't believe that the greatness of America will be sustained simply because we are Americans. I believe there are things that we must do. And I want to share several of those things with you this morning on what I think we must do to make sure that we never lose the magic of being American citizens.

And I think the fact that we're in and educational facility today, we're on a campus of higher learning, I believe the first thing we must do is to make sure that every child in America, in spite of the skin color, in spite of what part of town they grew up in, in spite of the fact that they might have come from a single-parent home, in spite of the fact they might be red or yellow or brown or white, that we make sure that every child in America can go to a venue of learning every single day that is safe. And that venue of learning will teach them how to read and write and do the arithmetic and today have the computer skills necessary to compete in a global marketplace.

Friends, we talk a lot in politics about leveling the playing field, how important that is. Let me tell you something, you never level the playing field, we never level the playing field.

If we have kids going to school, in some parts of a community the kids are more concerned about their lives than they are in learning. We can never have a level playing field if we have some kids - never have a chance of having a level playing field if we have some kids going to school every day in schools that don't work.

Friends, everything that I have accomplished in my lifetime, everything that I hope to accomplish in my lifetime, it has been and will be centered on two things, my faith and my education.

My father went to school - my father passed away about a year and-a-half ago at 77 years of age. He spent two days in the seventh grade, and that was the extent of his education, but he was one of the smartest men I'd ever been around in all of my life. Daddy understood what Frederick Douglas meant when Frederick Douglas said, "Some people know the importance of education because they have it." He said, "I knew the importance of education because I didn't have it."

So Buddy and Helen Watts taught that, "Our kids will go to school. You will respect the teacher in the classroom. You will not only go to school, but you will act civilized when you get there. Because you are there to learn how to read and write and do the arithmetic."

Friends, I cannot put into words to you how important education is to every child in America, and we must make sure, that kids in America go to venues of learning that are safe and that will give them the basis to compete for themselves and their family.

Another thing I believe is important for us to focus on in order to sustain the greatness of America is national security, our military. The president said, "I serve on the Armed Services Committee, and I get to see the difficulties, the challenges that we face on a weekly basis in our military." And, friends, the words that I'm about to say, the very simple words, some might see them as harsh, but I think they're very simple, I think they're very profound. But I adhere to the Roman theory. The Romans had a very simple theory; they said, "If you want peace, prepare for war."

Friends, if we expect America's sons and daughters - if I ever have to vote to call your sons or your daughters, if I ever have to vote to call you or your colleagues or your student associates, if I ever have to vote to call any American young man or young lady into harm's way anywhere in the world to protect our interests, to fight for our freedoms, then I believe I have a responsibility to give them the tools to win, not the tools to play a good game.

And when I talk national security this morning, I'm not just talking about weaponry. Making sure that our soldiers, that our airmen, that our sailors, that they're trained properly, that they have the proper equipment. I think there are many things that go into national security. Yes, we need to make sure that our men and women have the tools to win, but friends, there's more to homeland security than our military. Let me give you something that we never think about in terms of national security. Energy policy.

Now, what I'm about to say, people will say, as I've had them in Washington, I've had the talking heads, I've had the press, they've accused me of taking on a parochial interest. Well, I admit at the outset I am from an energy-producing state. In the state of Oklahoma we produce a lot of oil and we produce a lot of gas, but friends, I am much more concerned about our national security in terms of national security than I am the state of Oklahoma making profits.

Post-Sept. 11, the greatest nation in all the world, we have purchased 250 million barrels of oil from Saddam Hussein. In 1991 we fought in the Persian Gulf War. In spite of what people will say, the Persian Gulf War was about oil. And I will submit to you if it's okay for us to fight a war over oil, if it's okay for us to go to the Persian Gulf and fight a war over oil, why isn't it okay to explore for it right here at home?

Two hundred and fifty million barrels of oil from Saddam Hussein. Saudi Arabia, we don't know what's going on with this supposed ally of ours. You saw here three weeks ago where some of the nations involved as allies of ours in this fight against the Al Qaeda network were threatening to cut off oil to the United States because they didn't like the way we were handling the situation on the Middle East. Fifty-eight percent of our daily consumption comes from foreign sources. Friends, that is a national security issue.

We must be less dependent on foreign oil and more dependent on our homeland. And, friends, we can drill, and I think we should be concerned about the environment. We must be concerned about the environment. I grew up on a - we had pasture, we had farmland, the whole time I was growing up in Eufala, Okla., population about 2,000 people.

I appreciate the environment. We should fight to protect the environment, but, friends, we can drill for oil in an environmentally safe way. With the technology available to us we could go and take those 2,000 acres that we're proposing drilling in ANWR. Of the 19 million acres we take 2,000 and could replace every barrel of oil that we're purchasing from the very evil Saddam Hussein.

Friends, we can do it in an environmentally conscious way. Technology is available to us, that we can do things today that we only dreamed of doing 15, 20 years ago. So energy policy is a national security issue.

Every time we have a flare-up in the Middle East you see the price of oil go up at the pump. You know, anytime something happens concerning energy policy, we have to go to OPEC and say, "Hey, don't turn off the pipeline, don't turn off the spigot, keep it flowing."

And then I will submit to you, if we're going to stay on foreign oil, why not expand in areas that are more stable? I've spent a lot of time in West Africa and Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea; they believe there are enough reserves there - or there are more reserves there than in any other place in the world. Why not shift some of the resources to the continent of Africa? They would love to see us do that on the continent of Africa. So energy policy is national security.

In order to sustain the greatness of America I believe it's important at this time in our nation's history that we say to the people around the world, and I believe President Bush got it right in this war against terrorism. Friends, we must say to the world, no other nation has been called on to lead the way America has. No other nation has talked to dictators who are now in democratically controlled governments about free markets and capitalism and economies and operating a military under civilian rule. No country has been called on the way the United States of America has.

And again, I believe it's important in this time in history, as President Bush has said, to send the message loud and clear to those around the world, "Either you are for us or you are against us in this fight against terrorism."

And I would remind the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at the Crawford Ranch, and I admit to you, I am talking as a Monday morning quarterback; I am not there on the Crawford Ranch with the president; I don't know what he's going to say; I don't know what's being said; I don't know how the meeting's going to turn out, but I guarantee you I'd take the opportunity to say to the Crown Prince, "Look, Prince Abdullah, we have protected you, we have defended you, we've got military bases in your country."

My daughter - now , this is me speaking - "My daughter spent time on a military base in your country. Now, you're sending some very confusing signals here about where you stand in the war against terrorism. Now, I would remind you, Prince, that 15 of the 19 terrorists that attacked American citizens on Sept. 11 were from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden was from Saudi Arabia. You raised $90 million for the terrorists' families in your telethon. Prince, I don't understand this. You claim to be our friend. I don't understand what you're doing. Prince Abdullah, I've got to say to you, if you expect me to commit American lives to defend you, you must send the signal loud and clear that you are a friend, you are not a foe."

Friends, it is critical that this war against terrorism - you know, we've got some difficulties, we've got some interesting things happening on foreign soil in the Middle East. There are some very interesting things happening. The fight against terrorism was going very well. Friends, I have enough confidence in American soldiers, and I don't ever want to be cavalier about it or take anything for granted, but American military forces, they will perform well wherever you ask them to go.

And they performed very well in Afghanistan and different parts of the world. We've seen them perform over the last five or six months in Afghanistan and again perform very well. And now we've got the Middle East conflict.

And I've been quite fascinated, Mr. President, that over the last two or three weeks we've had people become critical and many Republicans critical of the president in his handling of the Middle East situation. And I would ask you to consider some things.

First of all, this war has been going on - the conflict in the Middle East has been going on for many, many years. I believe that America should and we will be a staunch supporter of Israel. I believe President Bush should and will be a staunch supporter of Israel. But you know what, solving the Middle East conflict, it isn't going to be solved with me coming to Kansas State University and giving a 25-minute lecture. It isn't going to be solved with me standing at a national press conference telling the president what I think should happen. It isn't going to be solved by my going on the floor of the House and issuing a 30-second sound bite that the news can use and put it in a caption on the evening news. Why? Because it's a very complicated, complex situation.

Now there are some conservatives that have gone after President Bush over the last two weeks; they don't like the way he's handled it. You've got some people on the left, they've gone after the President, they don't think he's handled the Middle East crisis the right way. They don't think Secretary Powell did a very good job when he was over there.

Think about this. If Arafat is as evil as we think he is, and I think he is, we expect President Bush, we expected Secretary Powell to go over there and straighten it out in two days, when the Israeli army was less then 20 yards away from Arafat when they invaded his compound, but they didn't lay a finger on him. But yet, we think that President Bush, that Secretary Powell should be able to solve it in two days.

It is a very complicated situation to keep the coalition together in fighting the terrorist network and trying to tear down these terrorist cells in 60 different countries. It is a very complicated matter to keep the allies, to keep the coalition together, and at the same time try to bring stability to the Middle East.

And, friends, I submit to you that I doubt very seriously - there's a difference in conflict management and conflict resolution. You'll never have conflict resolution in the Middle East. I have lived - at 44 years of age I have lived under six different presidents. And you know what, if President Bush spends 24-7 over the next seven years - if he spends 24-7 over the next seven years in the Middle East, I promise you the next president will inherit it, just as the last six presidents have inherited the situation from their predecessor.

I have prayed in the last two weeks that God would give our president his team. I have prayed when Secretary Powell was in the Middle East that God would give him wisdom beyond his years, as we once again as a nation have been called on to intervene in a very, very hostile and complex situation.

What else do I think is important in terms of securing the future of America? Strong economy, jobs, growth. Taxes are involved in that equation. We've had this national debate over the last - every year that I've been in Congress we've had debates over taxes. And, friends, I believe that if 68 percent of the economy is driven by consumer spending, why is it a bad thing to give people some of their money back to help buy their kids school clothes, to help them put food on the table for their families, to help buy that much needed appliance that they've needed for two years.

We cannot sustain the greatness of America by asking America's working people, America's working families, to give the federal government - to give the local, state and federal government 50 cents of every dollar they make in some government tax or government fee. And, friends, I submit to you the only way that we're going to spend - the budget that we'll spend this year for 2003 that we're putting together, we're going to spend $2.1 trillion - roughly $2.1 trillion. And I tell you, the only way that I can get that $2.1 trillion, the only way my colleagues, that we can get that $2.1 trillion to spend, there's one of three ways we can get it. We can tax your personal income, we can tax your business income, or we can put a government fee on something that you use.

Friends, I'm not trying to be cute here, but let me tell you something, there's no such thing as government money. It all comes from you, either taxing your personal income, taxing your corporate income, or putting a government fee on something that you use. Now, there's a fourth way we can do it. We can vote to borrow it. But even if we vote to borrow it, you know how we pay it back? We tax your personal income, we tax your corporate income, or we put a government fee on something that you use. That's the only way we can do it.

Now, I believe there's a role for taxes. Did I say Texas or taxes? I believe there's a role for taxes. We need taxes to help kids get education, to continue their education. We need taxes and fees for our schools. We need taxes and fees for our roads, to have an infrastructure so my wife can drive my kids to school and she can go to the grocery store, or she can go to the cleaner's. There's a role for taxes, and I just think they're too high. And everything that I've said to you today, some would say, "Well, he's supposed to think like that, he's a Republican."

Friends, I thought like that in 1989 when I was a Democrat. My thinking didn't change once I became a Republican. Do you know where I got these thoughts from? From Buddy and Helen Watts, on education, that's where I got them from. You go to school and you learn. You act civilized when you get there because you're there to learn. National defense is just common sense to say, "Don't ask our soldiers to fight our wars with one had tied behind their back."

The economy, every time you see an employee you must see an employer. Somebody had to risk their capital. I have been a small business person. I employed five people, I had to risk my capital, I had to go to the bank and get money and borrow money in order for me to create those five jobs. My thoughts on taxes has nothing to do with me being a Republican. I just think we ought to eliminate the marriage tax; I think it's unfair for two people to fall in love with each other and they walk down the aisle, and if I'm the one that's marrying them, as soon as I say, "You may kiss your bride," that's a $1,400 kiss, because your taxes go up $1,400.

I think it is unfair if you own a McDonald's franchise, if you own a ranch or farm, if you own a McDonald's franchise, you think about this -- you can own that franchise for 25 years, the federal government, they've never cooked one Big Mac, but when you die they get 50 percent of your business. The federal government, they've never planted one single crop, but if you die they get 50 percent of your farm. Friends, I think that's unfair, it is totally unfair.

And friends, we get you from the time you get up, from the time you go to bed. You wake up in the morning, from the time your feet hit the ground and you go in there and you turn that water on, we tax your utilities. You go and you sit down at your breakfast table, we tax your food. You get in your car, we tax your car. You stop at the gas station to get fuel, we tax your gas. You go in and you clock in at work, we tax your income. You go home in the evening and you sit down, you sit down in the Lazy Boy, the recliner, and you turn the TV on and you turn to ESPN or you turn to Fox Sports Net and we tax your cable.

And then you go to bed at night and you get down on your knees and you pray to a living God that - man, you thank him for your day, and you get off your knees, you kiss your bride, and you think that's free, we have a marriage tax. And then if you decide "I'm sick of taxes, I'm going to die," you still can't get away from us, we have a death tax.

So it's too much. There's a role. But, friends, I believe the families that I know, they have a whole lot more that they need to do with their money than their congressman needs to do with their money. There is such a thing as being fair. Retirement security, looking at new ways to deal with old problems.

And last, but not least, I do believe we need cultural renewal. And, friends, it isn't politically correct in Washington, D.C., it's not politically correct in many parts of society today to talk about evil, to talk about wrong choices, to talk about personal responsibility.

Friends, I've made bad choices in my life, and you know what, I promise you before the good Lord calls me home I'll make more bad choices. Do you know what Buddy Watts taught me? Minni Watts, my grandmother, do you know what she taught me? She said, "When you make a bad choice you can't blame it on the president." Responsibility means I have to be responsible for the good and the bad choices that I make. Doesn't mean you're better than anybody else, it doesn't mean that you're perfect, it just means you're going to be personally responsible for the choices that you make.

Cultural renewal. Friends, we cannot sustain the greatness of America if we buy into an ideology that says, "If it feels good, do it. If you don't want to do it, don't. If you don't like it, divorce it. If you can't handle it, drink it or drug it." And we can't sustain the greatness of America.

You know, we've used all the wrong models in trying to create productive human behavior and wealth. And before we go to questions, one of the worst models we have used in America over the last 40 years has been the model of welfare. There is a role, in my opinion, for welfare. I believe we have a moral obligation to take care of those that cannot take care of themselves. There is a role to have a safety net. But think about this. This is the model that the government created to help people. They said, "If you utilize this model, we're going to penalize you if you save money; we're going to take your benefits." The federal government says to poor people, "You can't save money."

How do you get ahead in America -- two ways to do it, either you save or you invest. The federal government doesn't say that to rich people, but they say to poor people, "You can't save money. You can't own a car. As a matter of fact, you can't own anything."

The federal government says to poor moms, "You can't marry the father of your children or we'll take your benefits." One point, 5 million inmates in America on the prison ministry that I've worked in, they say to us, "We had no father influence, no male influence in the home in growing up," and yet the federal government says to these poor moms, "We'll penalize you and take your benefits if you marry the father of your children."

You know what, I think that's dumb. I think we ought to encourage Dad to be in the home, not discourage Dad from being in the home. Hallmark Cards here 10 to 12 years ago had an event in prison, 1.5 million inmates, they said, "We'll give you a Mother's Day card with a stamped envelope, and you can send moms a Mother's Day card." A hundred percent participation. So they said they would do the same thing for dads. "We'll give you a stamped envelope, send your dad a Father's Day card." One percent participation.

Friends, I don't think the federal government ought to be involved in discouraging dad from being in the home. We should encourage that, not discourage it.

Well, I could go on and on, but we are running out of time and I agreed to take some questions. But friends, this place you and I call home and the rest of the world calls America, it's a pretty fascinating place. And I’m delighted that in some small way God has given my the opportunity to serve my state and serve my nation in the United States House of Representatives over the last seven years. Thank you very much.

J.C. Watts Jr.
Landon Lecture
April 26, 2002