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Kansas State University
128 Dole Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506
785-532-2535
media@k-state.edu
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Sam Brownback, U.S. Senator, Kansas
Landon Lecture
February 22, 2006

 

Thank you very much, and it's a great pleasure to be here with you. I like the backdrop, purple in the White House, that really looks and mixes well, I think.

It's a pleasure to be able to join you and see so many family and friends that are here. If you wouldn't mind, join me in recognizing my wife, Mary, who is here with me. Without her I'm nowhere -- she's a wonderful lady. We happened to meet at that other university, but I'm sure we would have met here, hon, if you'd have gone to school here.

Although she contends that at the time when I was at K-State I should have listened to my mother. And any of you out there that your mother nags you about something and you don't do it, particularly style-wise, listen to your mother. Because when I was at K-State I had about a four-inch Afro and my mom didn't like it particularly and now that those pictures are starting to circulate back around of that 4-inch Afro, now I don't like it. So, you know, I would have just been better off. My mom happens to be here, Bob and Nancy Brownback are here today, if you wouldn't mind greeting them as well. And one final introduction from family -- my in-laws, John and Ruth Stauffer, my mother and father-in-law are here. Glad to have them here as well.

This is a singular honor. When I was student body president, majoring in agricultural economics I sat up on this stage, and listened to great lectures being given, and then to be asked to give one, I'm honored to be asked, but we'll see if I can perform nearly to the category that the others did.

[Addressing student body president Michael Burns, an agricultural economics major] By the way, agricultural economics: right pick, good major for going into politics, it will serve you well. There are many of us in the world, the former governor of Michigan, John Engler was an agricultural economics major; the former -- the last premier of the Soviet Union was an agricultural economics major -- he was the last, I don't know if that's a good post to be in --Mikhail Gorbachev, so it's good major, it's a good place to be.

So much reminiscing for me coming into town and driving over the hill and I think back to 1974 coming into town in my F-100 blue pickup truck with a three on the tree. Most of you students will not even recognize that term, but the older will recognize what a three on the tree is, that I came into town with a four-inch Afro, to the point that I didn't need a pillow at night, because I could just bounce on my hair, with a love for country-western dancing. I love swing dancing, I was in the AGR fraternity, the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. No AGRs here? Well, a couple. It was kind of a rowdy house then; it probably is a rowdy house now, I don't know. I always had difficulty going with them -- I loved to country-western dance, but, you know, a guy with a four-inch Afro in a country-western bar is just kind of out of place, and so I had difficulty being accepted. But I found I could shape my 'fro to look more like a cowboy hat and I was all right when I would do that.

And there's a lot of changes that have taken place at K-State since I was here, and they're wonderful changes and the growth of the university and the pride of the school that's taken place, and all those things have been so positive, and Jon Wefald has been such a key leader.

But the biggest thing -- and this is no surprise -- the biggest standout thing is football, because just a great football, because just a great football school, Bill Snyder, Coach Prince, I give the best to them. But when I was here, as a number of you will remember, we tore down the goal post if we won a game, and that was if it was against Manhattan High School. You know, we just -- Joe Knopp I thought I saw. Right, Joe? I mean, that's true, isn't it?

As a matter of fact, this is true too, Wichita State University dropped its football program while I was here at school, and the next power ratings came out the next week and K-State was rated under Wichita State in power ratings in football after they had dropped their program.

Then they had a crime committed in Aggieville that they reported during that period of time. Bill Felber was -- I think you were even with the newspaper then, Bill, with the Mercury, and they reported that somebody broke into a car in Aggieville and on the dashboard there were two tickets to a K-State football game. When they were investigating the crime they found four tickets to the K-State football game. And then my all-time classic favorite that I loved was the bumper sticker developed during that season that had, I-70, K-State Nothing. That's pretty clever. You know, you've got to give it to them, that was clever.

But no more, Purple is back, and purple's back in basketball, too. I was at the KU-K-State game where we won after 13 years and cheering, cheering happily.

I've told the president my solution to how we win here in Manhattan now since Bramlage has been built. I shared this at lunch, but I'm going to share the secret here as well. I think we need to move the game back to Ahearn Field House and invite Norm Stewart over from MU to come and just to recognize him and to jinx the Jayhawks. I think the mixture of those two together will help us.

What I want to talk about, and this is of sorts the remake of a 1950s movie and I want to see how you like it. I want to talk about American exceptionalism, that this is a special place. And this is a 1950s movie and this was the Ronald Reagan speech of the 1950s, when he would travel around the country for General Electric as he's getting known across America -- not as a movie actor in some B grade films, but as he's getting known to America with an idea for this country. He talked about American exceptionalism, that this is a special, that this a unique place, that this is a special country between two oceans made up of people from all over the world and it has a special mission and a special calling. And it was American exceptionalism as designed by the pundits at the time, and you can recognize that terminology from history. DeToqueville saw America as an exceptional place, and you can see that in Lincoln's comments after America being an exceptional place. And I want to talk about American exceptionalism today.

Reagan would put it in optimistic and confident terms of his vision for America as being an aspiring bright city shining on a hill, an ideal to be aspired to by each and every citizen, a beacon of hope to the depressed and the downtrodden around the world.

I had the opportunity to meet Ronald Reagan only once. I was a lowly White House Fellow in the Bush 1 White House in 1991. Reagan had retired, moved back to California, and we as a White House fellows class had begged to see the past president, the former president, and we got an opportunity to see him. He had a great sense of wit. He told a wonderful little story. Somebody asked him in the group, "What is one thing you didn't get done as president that you wish you had?"

And Reagan -- you could tell he had had this question before -- he had the whimsical look in his eyes and he looked up and said, "Ah, I wished I'd have brought back the cavalry." And to think of Reagan you could say, "Yeah, well, I bet he wished he had brought back the cavalry."

But he had such a genial nature and humility. It was impressive to me in one so powerful. He had a saying on his desk in California that I thought was so good and so appropriate, and the saying said this: "You can be too big to be used by God, but never too small." And, it struck me as a profound statement about how to make a difference, and that Reagan seemed to embody this statement as well.

I attended his funeral this past year. Like millions of other Americans I had the chance then to reflect with gratitude on his example, his courage, and his leadership. Someone told me that Mother Theresa upon meeting Ronald Reagan had this to say about him. She said that in him simplicity and greatness lie.

In the past year I've also attended the funeral of Rosa Parks, who sat down on the bus and by that gave us a generation that stood up, I attended most recently the funeral of Coretta Scott King.

We've lost some giants lately, people who embodied the very essence of leadership and have led this nation and realized the principles upon which the country was founded. Their examples and their lives inspire us to carry their torch forward, inspired by what we can be as a nation when we live up to our best traditions.

At Reagan's funeral the image of Margaret Thatcher is the one that remains in my mind the most. She was shrouded in a black veil, hobbled by health problems, and nonetheless, stood brave and undaunted, resolved to pay tribute to her ideological partner, who with her, had changed the world. It reminded me that each of us is here for a reason and a brief season. As autumn leaves we all fade and pass and when we pass from this world it will be our privilege to be able to say, "I did my calling, I fought the good fight, I did my duty." Certainly Reagan did, as did Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.

But ideas and ideals live on, picked up by the next generation, the next Reagan, the next King, and while some battles have already been won, others remain to be fought. When Reagan traveled the country for General Electric, as I noted, in the '50s, he would often speak about this characteristic of uniqueness to American, American exceptionalism. As I noted, this great nation made up of people from all over the world had a special place and a special destiny for mankind.

Tony Blair picked up the mantle of talking about America being a special place most recently, and a few years ago he gave a speech to a Joint Session of Congress. He went ad lib for a point in time in his speech and he noted this. He said, "I'm sure right now someone in New Mexico or Idaho, someplace in this country I haven't been, but I want to go, is saying right now, 'Why us and why now? Why is so much called of America? Why is so much required of America?' And Tony Blair said, "My simple response to them is, it is your time and it is your destiny."

Indeed it is. But what is the basis for this American calling, this American exceptionalism? I believe it is in our fundamental goodness, and that if we lose our goodness we will most surely lose our greatness. Certainly we have our problems and often get things wrong, at least for a while, but then some movement based on goodness and fixing what's wrong will start up and not stop until the problem is eliminated.

Like the abolitionist movement that settled Kansas with a heart to end slavery, or the greatest generation that wouldn't stop until fascism was dead, or the civil rights movement that sought to end segregation. Each of these movements made much progress in achieving a society committed to both righteousness and justice, those two hallmarks of a healthy society. Good always triumphs over evil, even though it can take a while. Light always overcomes darkness, even though it can seem awfully dark.

So what are the battles today that we must wage in order that the United States is to remain an exceptional nation, a beacon of light and hope to others? I believe that the core battle of our day is the battle to defend the inherent dignity of each and every person, the inherent beauty of each and every soul to be respected and treated as beautiful, unique, and sacred child of a loving God. No matter where they are, no matter what they look like, no matter what their status, each is noble and should be treated as such. The beauty of the individual is truth and we know it in our hearts.

Ronald Reagan firmly believed that American exceptionalism was built on a culture, an American culture that celebrated each life that reveres each individual. And although we have made great progress in establishing a culture that respects the dignity of every person, we have more to do before we rest. Indeed, I believe our generation will be judged by our efforts, by our accomplishments in fighting for the dignity of every individual, and we will fight for all by fighting for each. We must reach out to the poor and dispossessed, offering them hope, but not fostering dependency. We must never treat one group of person as somehow of less worth than another. When we have done that in history of mankind we have always, always regretted it.

As Bono recently said -- and believe me, I'm not used to quoting rock stars -- "Where you live should not determine whether you live." Ultimately this is a discussion about our culture and our character. Our culture must be compassionate and our character must be based on the pursuit of what is right and what is just. These are time-honored truths of American exceptionalism, but they are also universal battles.

How about some examples? Let's start with poverty in America. We have too many in the United States who are in poverty. We saw their faces in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I've seen their faces across this nation and in Washington, D.C. We recognize that they are bound by chains that they cannot break alone. We must help them, but in such a way as to not build dependency but rather self-sufficiency.

According to everything we know from the statistics, the best ways to self-sufficiency and out of poverty are work and marriage. Von Haskins of the Brookings Institute recently testified in front of a U.S. Senate hearing regarding poverty, he said this, "There are only two ways known to man and God to reduce poverty. No. 1 is work and No. 2 is marriage. If the single most potent antidote to poverty is work, marriage is not far behind." Haskins went on to say "If we could just achieve the marriage rate of the l980s we could reduce child poverty by almost 30 percent. The institution of marriage is hurting in America; the marriage rate has plummeted 48 percent since 1970. Nearly half of all new marriages now end up breaking up.

One result of this weakening of marriage has been the intractable poverty related to single parent families and out-of-wedlock births. Forty years ago New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a friend of mine, (he's passed away) famously warned about the crisis of the black family. The percentage of out-of-wedlock births among African Americans at that time was 25 percent. It is now almost 70 percent. This crisis of marriage is directly related to the crisis of poverty. Children of single mothers are five times more likely than other children to be poor. Nearly 80 percent of all children suffering long-term poverty come from broken or never-married families.

Let me be clear here as well. You can raise good children in single parent households, and many of you perhaps here today come from that type of environment. It is possible and many do it in heroic situations, but it's much more difficult and the numbers move against us in a broad society.

The crisis of poverty in this country is in large degree a crisis of marriage. Marriage has the effect of lifting children and their parents out of poverty. After the birth of a child out of wedlock only 17 percent of poor mothers and children remain poor if the mother marries the child's father.

We must shore up this institution of marriage: The programs like marriage initiatives in the nation's capital, where couples are given community assistance, education, and financial incentives. They need to get married and to stay married. In the battle against poverty we cannot ignore the central role of family structure.

Stage 1 of welfare reform, I would contend, was an excellent accomplishment on eliminating disincentives to work and half of the welfare roles have been reduced. Stage 2 of welfare reform must be to eliminate those disincentives to marriage still embedded in our benefit systems at the state and federal level. It is wrong to penalize women and children for a mother's decision to get married. This is a choice we should encourage and not discourage.

How about another example? Prison recidivism. In 1980 we had about a half a million prisoners in the United States. Now the number stands at 2.1 million and today it is more likely that those once imprisoned in the American prison system will go back. We have a two-thirds recidivism rate. In other words, once you go into prison, two-thirds of the people that come out will go back into the system.

And perhaps even more frightening, children of those who have been incarcerated are five times more likely to go to prison than children of parents who have never been incarcerated. The sins of the father visiting the child.

However, there is hope in the midst of these dire statistics, and this hope can be found in programs that not only nurture education and job training skills, but nurture the soul of the individual as well. Today in prisons where mentoring programs and faith-based initiatives are operating, the recidivism rate, the rate of return of prisoners is below 10 percent.

From two-thirds, to 10 percent. Why? Because while the body may be locked up, the soul of the inmate is free and that freedom of soul can lead to a reformation of life, a life that is rooted in the assurance that there is life beyond poverty, drug addiction and crime, and that anyone can contribute in this society in a positive manner.

But perhaps more profoundly, that each and every life is precious and worthy of the ideals that founded this nation. These programs respect human dignity and effectively reduce crime at the same time. Instead of treating the prisoner as disposable, they are treated as people with dignity, who, nonetheless, must pay for their crime. The difference is that they are changed for the better on the inside and we're better off when they're on the outside.

What about Africa? President Wefald noted that this is the continent with the most concentration of suffering anywhere in the world. Sixty percent of the children, six-zero percent of the children in sub-Sahara Africa have malaria. Over one million will die of this preventable disease this year, 75 percent of them children under the age of 5, this year.

Genocide continues in Darfur. Each day an estimated 1,000 preventable deaths happens in the Congo, a silent tsunami every four months. I've seen their faces in refuge camps and squalor. I've met women over 60 and girls of the age of 4 that were victims of multiple rapes associated with war, 60 to 4. I've met child soldiers abducted and forced to kill at age 11. I've met women who have lost their husbands and children to the ravages of AIDS and they themselves have it too.

Yet hope remains and our hearts go out to them. We must help, but again, not in a way that builds dependency, but rather in a way that builds dignity.

Many have stated to me, and they know it in this country, we have given millions, if not billions, for years in aid to Africa and people are worse off today than they were when we started. What went wrong? Certainly some of the money went into dictators' pockets, but also much of it was wasted on conferences and consultants, telling people what to do, rather than giving them the tools to do it with.

Let me give you an example, malaria. We spent over 90 percent of our money budgeted for malaria on consultants. Now, the African leaders I talked to tell me that they know what to do about malaria, they don't have the money to do it. Indeed, it's the old adage, you can teach a man to fish, but if he has no fishing pole he isn't going to catch many. We must change this by getting medicines and food and water-drilling equipment, and African trained doctors and teachers to Africa, not one more conference at a nice hotel. Also, you need to go to Africa, people-to-people style, you need to do a work study-abroad in Africa, in Rwanda, in a country there, or take a spring break trip. Instead of going south, go really south. Go and visit. Go with a group that drills water wells. Go with a group that goes and helps distribute malaria medicines. You will be changed forever. You need to do it.

American exceptionalism also leads to the pursuit of big dreams, dreams so big others wouldn't even think of them, like the end to death by cancer, by the year 2015. Senators recently sent a letter to President Bush urging this objective, and we can do it with more and earlier diagnostic tools, more treatments approved earlier on an experimental bases, and healthier lifestyle. People will still get cancer, but we can stop deaths by cancer if we truly focus on this worthy effort, and can you imagine the freedom that brings, to be able to say that and to do it.

The fear of getting cancer is the No. 1 fear in the United States today. No. 2, by the way, is public speaking, if any of you are interested in that. What liberty it would be, what a gift to the world of American exceptionalism.

Another exceptional size dream is cutting our dependence on foreign oil and starting to move toward other energy sources. Again, America is called upon to lead and we're seeing the president talk about that this week.

Let me give you a quick example of something we can do right now. Half the people in America drive less than 20 miles a day, and not very many of them live in Kansas. But half of America only drives 20 miles or less a day. What if they had a plug in car, that when they pulled into the garage at night they plugged it in, and it can do its first 20 to 30 miles on electricity and then switch over to run completely on ethanol. That technology is available today in a bipartisan bill and the Congress is moving forward to help move that technology to market now.

It will drop our dependency on foreign oil and it will help America lead in an area that needs leadership -- of us moving the economy away from the gasoline hydrocarbon base that we rely on right now.

All of this can and I believe must be done while balancing the budget and continuing to grow the economy. The uncontrolled spending going on in Washington has to be brought in check. Our problem in Washington is that we have a systems failure, and the system currently is designed to spend.

Again, as Ronald Reagan once noted, "There's nothing so permanent as a temporary government program." What I've been arguing for in the Senate is a systems change. Twenty-five senators supporting legislation create a government reform commission modeled after the Base Closing Realignment Commission, where we've been able to close military bases and put those assets into higher priority areas. The system works where a commission meets, they look at all of the military bases, they say these should be eliminated, they give the list to the president, he or she checks off on it, it goes to Congress, it's to be voted on up or down within a certain period of time unamendable.

Either you agree or you disagree, and by that system we have been able to close 100 military bases, put that money in higher priority areas. We need to use that system and that approach for the rest of government, a systems approach to be able to cut and reduce ineffective or wasteful government spending.

I've been around the government system and believe me it's built to spend. You've got to change the system, otherwise it's like asking a cultivator to do what a combine does, it just doesn't fit, it won't get it done. You've got to change the system.

And I also believe we need an alternative flat tax to keep the economy growing and creating jobs. Not a removal of the current tax code, which I would support, but we've tried that for a long period of time. I think it's time for us to build into the tax code an alternative flat tax. If you want to file under the old tax code system, God bless you, here it is, go ahead. We're going to create an alternative flat tax, 19 percent, no deductions, no credits, no nothing, here's the rate, period. If you want to do it, this is it. You pick which way you want to go. You can't jump back and forth, but you pick which way to go, as a way of growing the economy.

My fellow Wildcats, don't look for change, for you are the change, you are the revolution, and each of you has the quality of exceptionalism I speak of today. Each of you hold the key to the ideals of fundamental goodness, a greatness based on purity of purpose. But the question remains: who among you will have the bravery needed to turn the key, unlock its possibilities and lead all those searching for the opportunity that we call America? May America remain exceptional on through my generation and yours, as we remain true to our calling and those have passed before us.

God bless you all, God bless America.