“The Will To Win”
A Time For Choosing Speaker Series
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
It is a great privilege to be back at the Reagan Library. This is a truly incredible place, and a most fitting tribute to our 40th president. Ronald Reagan’s life and leadership provide so many important lessons for our country. I wish every American could visit this library and learn from it. Especially right now, in this extremely challenging time.
It has become fashionable in some circles – even some conservatives ones – to dismiss the relevance of Ronald Reagan. They say we must move beyond Reaganism. The times have changed, they say, and it’s only right to change with them.
Well, of course it’s true that every era has its unique challenges. No period in history provides an exact map for today.
But dismissing the lessons of Reagan makes no more sense than dismissing the lessons of Lincoln or Washington. We must not reject the profound wisdom of our past. It’s a sure way to destroy our future.
And it turns out, there’s a great deal of similarity between Reagan’s time and ours. History isn’t exactly repeating; but it is rhyming.
Think about it.
Runaway federal spending and debt.
Rampant crime in our cities.
Radical leftists running our universities.
Radical Islamists holding Americans hostage.
An evil Communist empire aggressively spreading its influence in the world.
Am I talking about 1980 or today? The answer is both.
Many of the biggest challenges of our time look an awful lot like the ones Reagan faced.
Our 40th president saw things clearly. He saw that America faced an existential threat. He knew that victory in the Cold War, and success at home, depended on rebuilding our national strength and restoring confidence in the American cause.
He did just that, and we know what happened.
He rallied the American people to beat communism and preserve freedom.
He brought America to new heights of prosperity and opportunity.
More than anything, Ronald Reagan renewed our will to compete and win, and that made all the difference.
America is once again in a life-or-death struggle.
In 1981, we were up against the Soviet Union. In 2021, we face a series of enemies who want to destroy us.
Islamic terrorists. Iran. Russia. Communist China. They all want to harm America. They all want to drive freedom from the earth. And they all increasingly have the capacity and the will to attempt to do it.
I saw this threat plainly at the United Nations.
The UN is a place where diplomats from all over the world gather and exchange pleasantries. Socializing is encouraged, and confrontation is discouraged. On the surface, everyone plays nice.
But just underneath the surface it’s a very different story. A very ugly story.
At the United Nations, and in the world at large, the unfree countries outnumber the free countries. They do truly evil things and get away with it. When it’s time to vote to condemn them, a majority of the world usually takes their side.
It sickens me to think about what those countries do and how many times the United Nations refused to hold them accountable.
In Syria, a brutal murderer uses chemical weapons against women and children.
In North Korea, a tyrant expands his nuclear arsenal while starving his people.
In Iran, theocratic lunatics are building their own nuclear arsenal and bankrolling terrorists.
In Venezuela, a socialist dictator crushes freedom and tortures protestors.
And in China, the Communist Party is guilty of genocide – a genocide that is happening right now at this very hour. Yet as we saw when he spoke to the United Nations, Joe Biden can’t even call out China by name.
Make no mistake. Our enemies are not just people with a different view about how best to govern. They are barbaric.
They want to roll back history to a very dark time. They’ve spent many years building their strength. And now they’re done waiting.
The fall of Afghanistan has every one of them thinking America’s era has ended and theirs has arrived.
The Taliban victory in Afghanistan is a disgrace. It leaves America weaker in the world and less safe at home. It’s the fall of Saigon and the Iran hostage crisis rolled into one. Our country hasn’t been this embarrassed in my lifetime. The American people have every right to be angry.
It didn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t have been this way.
We went to Afghanistan to stop the terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11.
My husband deployed to Afghanistan to fulfill that mission. President Biden has thrown away what Michael and his military brothers and sisters fought for. He’s thrown away what more than 2,300 Americans died for.
Let’s look at America’s overseas force structure.
We have around 200,000 American troops deployed around the world today. Less than two percent were in Afghanistan at the beginning of this year. We had fewer troops there than we have in a dozen other countries.
Was it enough to make Afghanistan a flourishing western-style country? Of course not. No number of troops could have done that, and nation-building should never have been our mission.
But we did have enough troops to stop the Taliban from taking over and renewing a safe haven for terrorists, and that was vital for American security.
Then Joe Biden pulled everything out with no conditions. Our worst fears were realized within days. Everyone saw it coming, except the president, who promised it would never happen. Where I come from, that’s a fireable offense.
Now the Taliban is back in power, their flag flying over our embassy. Last time, they gave al Qaeda free reign to plot attacks on America. This time will be no different. Al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan, with the Taliban’s blessing. You can bet they’re hatching plans to attack us. That is who they are. That is what they do. Thinking otherwise is naïve and dangerous.
America is in greater danger today than we were just three months ago. Joe Biden thinks retreat is a sign of strength. He doesn’t even realize that his actions have told the world that America is too weak to stand up for itself.
The consequences of this failure are echoing across the world.
Now there are not one but two radical Islamic regimes in the world: Afghanistan and Iran. They are different in some ways. But they’re united in their hatred of America. And because of this administration’s policies, they are both gaining strength and determination. You can bet they will push their advantages, because Joe Biden has proven he will fold.
Russia is happy too. Vladimir Putin is thinking about how he can swallow more of Ukraine and perhaps other neighbors, and he’s pocketing the president’s foolish concession on Nord Stream 2. The media relentlessly and falsely called Donald Trump a Russian stooge. In eight months in office, Joe Biden has done more to improve Russia’s economic and strategic standing than Trump ever did. It’s disgraceful.
And then there’s the worst threat of all, Communist China.
Beijing now sees the biggest opening it’s ever had. Taiwan is directly in its crosshairs. But it’s not just Taiwan.
Japan, South Korea, India, Australia…they’re all starting to wonder if they stand alone. They too are wondering if the American era is over.
It matters if our enemies think America won’t protect our friends and allies. It matters even more if they think we won’t protect ourselves and our way of life.
That’s exactly what China, Russia, and the Islamic terrorists believe right now.
We’re in a clash of civilizations and the bad guys think the good guys lack the will to win. That perception is very dangerous for America and the free world.
Our enemies have always hoped this day would come. They know from history that when America retreats, freedom falters.
But I also saw at the United Nations that when America steps up, our enemies step back. The barbarians of the world fear nothing more than a confident and strong United States with the courage of our convictions.
The most urgent mission of our time is to stop our national self-loathing and to regain our courage and renew our convictions.
Protecting our freedom starts at home. In particular, it starts with an uncomfortable reality.
I recently came upon an observation by the eminent historian Bernard Lewis. He said, quote, “The Roman Empire and the medieval Islamic Empire were not conquered by more civilized peoples. They were conquered by less civilized but more vigorous peoples. In both cases what made the conquest possible was that things were going badly wrong within the society so that it was no longer able to offer effective resistance.”
Is he talking about Rome or America?
Have things gotten so badly wrong in our society that we are unable to resist the forces of evil?
For many Americans, the answer would be yes. A large portion of our people are plagued by self-doubt or even by hatred of America. It’s a pandemic much more damaging than any virus.
Every day, more people think living in the land of the free is a curse, not a blessing. You hear it on the news. You read it on social media and in school curricula. You see it in rage and riots on our streets.
Nowadays, we’re told our founding principles are tools of oppression. We’re told the world’s freest and most prosperous country is no better than any other. In fact, we’re told it’s worse.
Well, if that’s the case, why did so many Haitians gather under the bridge in Texas last month? They didn’t come here because America is evil. They came here because America is free. My parents always reminded me, my sister, and two brothers…that even on our worst day, we are blessed to live in America.
This plague of self-doubt is not new. It existed in Reagan’s time. Jimmy Carter spoke of a national malaise.
But it’s much worse now. The America-doubters are more powerful than ever.
They’ve captured the school classroom, the corporate boardroom, the media green room, and the backrooms of government. They own the commanding heights of culture and politics, and they’re using their position to turn Americans against each other, and against our own country.
This problem runs deeper than being “woke.”
It’s bigger than “Critical Race Theory.”
Those things are dangerous, but the greater danger is that anger toward America is now the bedrock belief of the American left.
As my great predecessor, UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick famously said, in Reagan’s time the left was happy to “blame America first.” Today’s Democrats don’t even believe in America.
We’ve reached a place where the President and Vice President of the United States routinely accuse America of “systemic racism.” Virtually every elected Democratic politician agrees.
This is an astonishing turn of events.
Just seventeen years ago, Barack Obama gave the speech that launched him on his way to the White House. It was at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
This is one of the most noted passages from his speech.
Then-Senator Obama said, quote, “We are one American family. There is not a black America and a white America, a Latino America and an Asian America. There’s the United States of America. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes.”
Can you imagine any prominent Democrat making that statement today?
Democrats have given up on America as a colorblind society. They see America’s flaws as more profound than its strengths. They deny the massive progress we’ve made, and they punish anyone who disagrees. They are quick to praise those who attack America, and eager to attack those who praise America.
Democrats have abandoned Barack Obama’s unifying message on race and national identity.
Republicans cannot make the same mistake. That message was our message first. We must once again take it to the American people.
We’re fighting for a society where people are judged by actions, not color;
Where discrimination is ended, not embraced;
Where censorship is rejected, and free speech protected.
We want a country that cherishes its principles and takes pride in its progress.
And we know the only way to bring out the best in America is to believe in America.
We must not be ashamed of the American story. We should tell it everywhere we go.
We know that some of it’s hard to hear. The founders weren’t saints. They lived in a time in which slavery was legal, and women’s rights were an afterthought.
We don’t need to make excuses for those obvious injustices.
But we can’t act like that’s all the country is. The left is so focused on what was wrong, they miss the profound things America got right.
The American founding remains history’s biggest leap forward for human freedom.
For the first time, a nation proclaimed that all people are created equal, that we all have unalienable rights, and that government is legitimate only when it derives from the consent of the governed. What happened in 1776 turned history on its head, and billions of people are better for it.
So no, America isn’t perfect. But the principles at the heart of America are perfect.
And the story doesn’t stop there.
The founders set a standard for America to meet, and they summoned the American people to meet it.
If you’re reading a woke history book, you’d never know it.
But if you’re reading a real history book, you will meet the heroes who pursued the promise of freedom, equality, and justice for all.
That promise sparked a fire in the hearts of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the abolitionists who brought slavery to an end.
It moved the minds of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, the suffragettes, and all who’ve made women’s rights a reality.
That promise filled the air when Martin Luther King, Jr. told us of his dream. It was made more real with the end of segregation and the victory of civil rights.
That promise of America has been the constant in my life.
I’m the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. We were the only Indian family in our small, rural Southern town, population 2,500. My dad wore a turban. He still does to this day. My mom wore a sari. Nobody knew who we were, what we were, or why we were there. I was a brown girl in a black-and-white world. Every day, my family faced stares, whispers, suspicion, and exclusion.
But then something very American happened.
The community looked beyond skin color. They got to know my family as hard-working people who shared their values. Slowly, those stares turned into smiles. Those whispers turned into words of friendship. We went from being left out to welcomed in. Not every day was great. But nearly every day was better than the one before.
I haven’t just seen the American story. I’ve lived the American story. And take it from me, the first female and first minority governor of South Carolina…America is not a racist country.
This is a story Republicans should tell. And it is a story Republicans should finish. The moral mandate to make America freer, fairer, and better falls to us.
Lord knows, there’s a lot of wrongs to right.
There’s an education system that fails too many students.
A welfare system that traps too many in poverty.
A health care system that’s too costly and bureaucratic.
There’s a crime wave that claims too many lives, disproportionately Black and Brown lives.
There’s a crisis at the border that undermines our safety and our national identity.
There’s too much trust in central planners and the fantasy of socialism, and too little trust in the genius of the people and capitalism.
More than anything else, we must restore America’s moral courage. We need the confidence that our cause is just and our principles are true.
If we lose that, we’ll lose everything. We won’t have the will to win the fight between freedom and tyranny. America will destroy itself from the inside, and our enemies won’t have to lift a finger.
Now is the time to remind our fellow citizens that America deserves our hard work and our love.
Students need to hear that message. Businesses need to hear it. And we should take that message to communities where Republicans don’t go nearly enough.
We cannot ignore minorities and women. The left is feeding them a false narrative about our country, and more often than not, it’s all they hear.
It is up to us to provide the truth about America.
The sooner we lead a new awakening of patriotism, the quicker we’ll stop the decaying belief that our country is systemically racist.
The sooner we rekindle faith in our first principles, the faster we’ll make even more progress toward justice for all.
Most of all, by restoring belief in the goodness of our national cause, we’ll prepare the country to beat the challenges of the 21st Century.
Only a confident and proud America can win the clash of civilizations.
I have faith we’ll come through this crisis.
After all, it was only sixteen years from the fall of Saigon to the fall of the Soviet Union.
When President Reagan predicted the Soviet collapse, it appeared unimaginable. Nine years later, it happened.
I firmly believe that freedom and democracy will also leave Chinese Communism and the criminal regime in Iran on the ash heap of history.
And when I look to the American future, I see what others don’t see, and I marvel at it.
I see a country proud of its principles, and its place in the world.
A free people at peace with each other and protecting our values.
A culture shining as a beacon for all to see.
Today that vision seems impossible. But it’s not just my vision.
It is what Abraham Lincoln meant when he called for a “new birth of freedom” during another terrible time in our nation.
It is what Ronald Reagan had in mind when he called us “the last, best hope of man on earth” at another time of great division in our country.
Like them, we are called to bring out the best of our country and summon the best of our people. And like them, I know we’ll succeed, no matter how hard that may seem right now.
There are those who see America’s glory days as behind us, but I don’t believe that. How could I, after all I’ve seen?
As a brown girl, growing up in a small Southern town, I saw the promise of America unfold before me.
As governor of South Carolina, I saw our state move beyond hate and violence, and unite to take down a flag that did not belong at our State Capitol.
As Ambassador, I saw that America is still the standard. Where we lead, the world follows. When we speak, the world listens. What we are, the world wants.
I was reminded of America’s special role every day at the United Nations. But one day stands out among the rest. It was the day I stood on the Simon Bolivar bridge between Colombia and Venezuela, watching thousands of Venezuelans pour by, fleeing from socialist tyranny.
I can still see their faces. They were hard and sad. Most had walked many miles in the blazing sun to get the only meal they would eat that day. They were coming from a place where they killed zoo animals for food.
Entire families passed me, carrying what few possessions they had. For some, it was a stuffed animal. For others, a plastic bag with a couple pieces of clothing inside.
When I left the bridge, I went to a nearby shelter run by the Catholic Church, where the Venezuelans were gathering. I met a few of them and hugged them. After a few minutes, more and more families started to gather around. I didn’t understand why they flocked to someone they’d never met.
And then it hit me. They didn’t care who I was. They cared where I was from. In me, they saw America, and in America, they saw hope.
The time has come to revive that hope. We must keep it alive for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, and yes, our world.
Ronald Reagan said, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” America is now putting that to the test. I have faith we can pass that test, like we always have.
Our challenges are steep, but they are not too steep to overcome, so long as we believe in America and fight for America.
We have no higher calling as a people. Together with you, I pledge to answer that call, and inspire our country once again.
Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless America.