THE UNIQUE ROLE OF LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS & THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ALL
At the Log Cabin Republicans of Houston annual Lincoln Dinner, the new president of LCR H, Marco Roberts, delivered remarks calling for a fresh re-assessment by all Republicans of the social issues challenging the unity of the party and to proactively take on those challenges; and invoked the “special” role of Log Cabin Republicans have, and their responsibility to do so.
[Greetings, and remarks on the speakers for the evening].
But, before I welcome them on to the podium to share with you their thoughts, I would like to borrow a few minutes of your time to talk to you about Log Cabin Republicans of Houston, about the central role Log Cabin Republicans of Houston is set play in major questions now at issue around the country, and also within our party, and its special responsibility to do so.
For many years now the ideological and political divide has been inarguably growing within our country, between the two main political parties – and especially within the Republican Party. In my belief, our growing national inability to address the many serious problems affecting our country in new, real, and very measurable ways, whether they be in education, healthcare, falling middle class and working class wages, or instability abroad, is in large part due to a second set of problems that are harder to measure, but are just as pressing on people’s minds: The dispute over what are legitimate rights of free expression, freedom of religion, and the substitution in our national culture of the right to respectfully disagree with, instead, the right to be profane, crude, and verbally aggressive.
Let me talk first about our freedoms.
It is often that glittering benefits, and seductive assurances of security and government approval of personal choices are offered if only we agree to surrender just a little more of our rights that protect our personal individual autonomy. Our good friends on the left do not make a secret of their greater confidence in the decisions and choices of a collective – meaning government – over those of individuals, on how to run our businesses and individual lives. Of course, when they say government, they mean one under their wise direction.
And less often, but still in my mind all too frequently, many on our side of the aisle are convinced that it is reasonable to give in to these offers half way – as if reason is always found mid-way between two opposite points. As if the reasonable answer to someone demanding you cut off both your arms is to offer cutting off one. Sometimes compromise is found halfway between two points, but that is never the case when it comes to the fundamental liberties, and founding values of our country.
Let us not forget how we got here. When I was an activist leader in college way back during the Reagan era, advocating for the First Amendment rights of gay students on the campus of Texas A&M, 90% of Americans did not believe in the rights we advocated then or [do] here today. But, many, even at Texas A&M did recognize our right to speak, even if they strongly disagreed with what we had to say. And, ultimately, in a court case that reached the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States, twice, that fundamental freedom was asserted for good.
Those Americans and Aggies of yesteryear possessed a Voltairian respect and understanding of what it means to be a free society, one that, based on what we have been seeing in campuses across the country, and even among some of our own recent city leaders, fewer have today. And that understanding is this: it is not enough to be for your own free speech. In fact, your free speech will not exist for long if you do not uphold it for others – especially those with whom you strongly disagree.
May I stop here and say that in the SREC we have no one who understands and upholds this value more than our friend Bonnie Lugo here.
In a visit with our group last year SarahJane Swanson, who is running for judge of the 127th District, said something that was extremely important. She explained – and I hope I say this correctly – that a judge that is always happy with the result of his or her judgments is not applying the law, they are applying their own personal opinions. It’s the difference between standing for a principle, and just standing for what you want.
*** comment from SJ Swanson in the audience giving credit to Scalia***
Well, I thank you for bringing that Scalia thought to me.
So, principle, like morality, only really means something when you apply it even when the result does not favor you.
Any new individual right not based on the fundamental rights spelled out in the First Amendment of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; the right to property, to believe as you choose to believe, to associate as you choose to associate, and most fundamentally, to speak as you would on your own behalf, or on that of another - any new right that requires forfeiting those others in any measure as its price is not a new right at all, but a privilege granted by an authority that can then withdraw it at its own discretion.
There are also those who believe, mostly from the left (but again not entirely) that if we pass enough laws, and get enough court judgments, then we do not need to make a case for our cause, we can just impose it. I have heard people say – on both sides – there is NO discussion! It is as if they have overlooked the other cornerstone of our freedoms – the principle of government by the consent of the governed.
In a free country of equals, no one should ever expect to enter the marketplace of ideas to then be expediently relieved of the obligation, in my view a moral obligation, to make their case to the people for whatever their cause may be.
Let me enlist our Party’s founder and the namesake of this event to explain.
Lincoln himself understood the importance of this, not just as a matter of principle, but of practicality too. He said “In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.” He often cautioned against disregarding the sentiment of the people, even if ill-founded, and obliged us to make a case in all causes of justice.
Many of us dismiss those that disagree with us with words like “oh they are crazy, or stupid, or evil.” I know I have. And, yet, that is not true of most human beings. People subscribe to ideas and beliefs for real reasons, even if on the surface they cannot articulate them, or they turn out to be wrong. To dismiss people who disagree with you, is to choose not to understand, to not bother with the human who sees the world differently than you. You don’t have to agree with those you oppose. But, if you do not attempt to at least understand their reasoning – however flawed it may be – than what hope do you have to persuade them?
But, that is not where our obligation ends. How we argue and advance our cause matters too.
Again, quoting Lincoln:
"If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one. On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart."
Let me tell you something. If to win your cause you have to cheat and lie, ruin the reputations of the honest, silence those who oppose you, and talk about other human beings as if they were trash and filth; if it does not matter that you have to do those things to advance your cause, then I have news for you: your cause does not matter, for it is not a just cause. There is no path to justice through injustice, or to truth through lies.
The truth is, if your cause is truly just, truly noble, then you should not fear the freedom of others to ask you for clarity, to question you and even challenge your ideas, or to tell you are flat out wrong. The worst than can happen is that you find out you were wrong. If we are wrong about something, wouldn’t we want to know?
I am not saying you cannot argue with passion and force. That is what I am doing right now. But many people have it backwards. They seem to think you have no right to offend people with your ideas, but it is ok to offend them obscenities and name-calling. It’s the other way around. No one has the right to not be offended by your ideas – they are only entitled to your common courtesy.
But for Log Cabin Republicans, and all Republicans, there is an additional responsibility beyond defending fundamental freedoms, making our case, and doing so in the manner counseled by Lincoln.
You see, let’s facet it, with but one bright, now ancient exception: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was passed by Republican, not Democrat, votes, nearly all of the social changes brought about these last 50 years have been Democrat notions eventually accepted by Republicans. It often seems that when it comes to social issues, Republicans are always fighting a losing rear-guard action, usually ending up with more government mandates we don’t seem to know how to fight
And now around the country we see the fights across many states over the issue of religious freedoms and how they balance against new concepts of rights. Whatever side you may fall on in those particular fights, from Arizona, to Indiana to Georgia, or even Houston from the opposite side- you have to admit that passing laws that we then have to walk back is not a winning strategy, nor does it secure any gains for anyone. Perhaps we should look to Utah, where Log Cabin Republicans helped secure a compromise with social conservatives that protected everyone’s right not to have their livelihood threatened over their beliefs that have nothing to do with their job or business.
We, the Log Cabin Republicans, are uniquely poised to respond to these new questions. We Log Cabin Republicans have more than a unique opportunity to play a critical role in these issues that are roiling the country and posing a challenge to the cohesiveness of the Republican Party; we have a responsibility.
There is a reason there is not a donkey on some banner somewhere adorning the walls in this room. There is a reason I am standing in this room with you and not in some other with a group of Democrats; and presumably why you are here too. Nothing against our friends at the Stonewall Democrats, I am sure they are mostly very nice and sincere people. But we believe in different things. As our Doug Markham often reminds us, we are more than just a home for Republicans that share particular characteristics – after all, many of our members don’t share those characteristics – more than that, we are an organization based on a set of shared values, and we need to reflect that. Yes, I am told “but Marco, they have ten times the people and the money in our community”. Sure, they do. But I believe we have the brains and the talent in this room to do what we have to do. And, whatever you or I may think of Donald Trump, he has taught us two things: the power of taping into public sentiment, and…. that anything is possible.
The Republican Party has thrown the football, but there’s been a blocked intercept, the football is now in free fall high in the air, and anything can happen with the issues that are in play. Let’s be the ones to catch it.
As Michael Baker always says, it is time for us to lead.
It must be our job to prepare NEW answers to the issues that are coming the party’s way, and are already here, and work with our fellow Republicans of all stripes, like our friends at the RLC and the HYRs, to help the party to proactively step out in front of these new issues so it can define new, principled Constitutional answers to address them, rather than simply wait to have them defined for us by those who favor more government intrusive solutions.
Let me end with this
Let’s follow the example of our party’s founder. Let’s not sit around waiting to fight the march of history. Let’s step out in front of it and forge it under the Republican principles of limited government we all share in this room. Let us, as Log Cabin Republicans win the war of ideas, with our ideas, and help the party achieve a more principled alignment with its wise and wonderful stated commitment to the idea of limited government, freedom of belief and conscience, of the fundamental value of the autonomous, self-reliant individual, and of what it means to possess true personal independence; and in that process, and in making that case, make the party stronger and wiser, and in doing that, help secure the future of our country, which after all, is the whole point of our party’s existence.