Broadcasting legend and conservative icon Rush Limbaugh passed away Wednesday at the age of 70 after a battle with cancer. There were many highlights in a radio career that spanned more than four decades. Yet one of the most important moments in terms of his influence on politics was his keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2009.
The Republican Party had just suffered a demoralizing defeat to the Democrats and President Barack Obama. Mainstream conservatives seemed to have given up the fight. Bill Kristol, writing in the New York Times, said Obama’s inauguration marked the end of a conservative era.
In contrast, Limbaugh said of Obama: “I hope he fails.” He appeared at CPAC to explain his comment — and to rally the movement.
What followed was one of the clearest, most optimistic and prescient explanations of American conservatism ever delivered — delivered simply, without any notes, and with plenty of self-deprecating humor.
It is a speech that lives on as one of the greatest examples of American oratory.
Here are the highlights (video via C-SPAN, transcript edited and adapted from RealClearPolitics):
Let me tell you who we conservatives are: We love people. [Applause] When we look out over the United States of America, when we are anywhere, when we see a group of people, such as this or anywhere, we see Americans. We see human beings. We don’t see groups. We don’t see victims. We don’t see people we want to exploit. What we see — what we see is potential. We do not look out across the country and see the average American, the person that makes this country work — we do not see that person with contempt. We don’t think that person doesn’t have what it takes. We believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government. [Applause]
We want every American to be the best he or she chooses to be. We recognize that we are all individuals. We love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. [Applause] We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth: that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them Life. [Applause] Liberty, Freedom. [Applause] And the pursuit of Happiness. [Applause] Now, those of you watching at home may wonder why this is being applauded. [Laughter] We conservatives think all three are under assault. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you.
We don’t want to tell anybody how to live. That’s up to you. If you want to make the best of yourself, feel free. If you want to ruin your life, we’ll try to stop it, but it’s a waste. We look over the country as it is today, we see so much waste, human potential that’s been destroyed by 50 years of a welfare state. By a failed war on poverty. That has to stop. [Applause]
We love the people of this country. And we want this to be the greatest country it can be, but we do understand, as people created and endowed by our Creator, we’re all individuals. We resist the effort to group us. We resist the effort to make us feel that we’re all the same, that we’re no different than anybody else. We’re all different. There are no two things or people in this world who are created in a way that they end up with equal outcomes. That’s up to them. They are created equal, to give the chance. [Applause]
[T]ake a look at all the constituency groups that for 50 years have been depending on the Democrat Party to improve their lives. And you tell me if you find any. [Laughter] They’re still complaining, they are still griping about the same problems. Their problems don’t get fixed by government. And those lives have been poisoned. Those lives have been cut short by false promises, from government representatives who have said, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll take care of you. Just vote for us.” [Applause]
For those of you just tuning in on the Fox News Channel or C-SPAN, I am Rush Limbaugh and I want everyone in this room and every one of you around the country to succeed. I want anyone who believes in Life, Liberty, pursuit of Happiness to succeed. And I want any force, any person, any element of an overarching Big Government that would stop your success, I want that organization, that element or that person to fail. I want you to succeed. [Applause]
Now, let me speak about President Obama for just a second. President Obama is one of the most gifted politicians, one of the most gifted men that I have ever witnessed. He has extraordinary talents. He has communication skills that hardly anyone can surpass. [Laughter] No, seriously. No, no, I’m being very serious about this. It just breaks my heart that he does not use these extraordinary talents and gifts to motivate and inspire the American people to be the best they can be. He’s doing just the opposite. And it’s a shame. [Applause] President Obama has the ability — he has the ability to inspire excellence in people’s pursuits. He has the ability to do all this, yet he pursues a path, seeks a path that punishes achievement, that punishes earners and punishes — and he speaks negatively of the country. Ronald Reagan used to speak of a shining city on a hill. Barack Obama portrays America as a soup kitchen in some dark night in a corner of America that’s very obscure. He’s constantly telling the American people that bad times are ahead, worse times are ahead. And it’s troubling, because this is the United States of America. Anybody ever ask — and I’m in awe of our country and I ask this question a lot as I’ve gotten older. We’re less than 300 years old. We are younger than nations that have been on this planet for thousands of years. We, nevertheless, in less than 300 years — and by the way, we’re no different than any other human beings around the world. Our DNA is no different. We’re not better just because we’re born in America. There’s nothing that sets us apart. How did this happen? How did the United States of America become the world’s lone superpower, the world’s economic engine, the most prosperous opportunity for an advanced lifestyle that humanity has ever known? How did this happen? And why, pray tell, does the President of the United States want to destroy it? It saddens me. [Applause]
The freedom we spoke of earlier is the freedom, it’s the ambition, it’s the desire, the wherewithal, the passions that people have that gave us the great entrepreneurial advances, the great inventions, the greatest food production, the human lifestyle advances in this country. Why shouldn’t that be rewarded? Why is that now the focus of punishment? Why is that now the focus of blame?
I’m not saying it just because I believe it. It’s in my — This is a core. I want the best country we can have. We want the most prosperous people. We want to be growing. We want to lead the world. We want everybody to want to come here legally. We want this country to be so damn great and we just cringe to watch it — basically, capitalism, be assaulted and our culture be reoriented to where the people that make it work are the enemy. That’s not the United States of America. The people that make this country work, the people patying their mortgages, the people getting up and going to work, striving in this recession — to not participate in it — they’re not the enemy.
There are going to be more controls over what you can and can’t do, how you can and can’t do it, what you can and can’t drive, what you can and can’t say, where you can and can’t say it. All of these things are coming down the pike, because it’s not about revenue generation to them, it’s about control. They do believe that they have compassion. They do believe they care. But, see, we never are allowed to look at the results of their plans, we are told we must only look at their good intentions, their big hearts. The fact that they have destroyed poor families by breaking up those families, by offering welfare checks to women to keep having babies, no more father needed, he’s out doing something, the government’s the father, they destroy the family. We’re not supposed to analyze that. We’re not supposed to talk about that. We’re supposed to talk about their good intentions. They destroy people’s futures. [Applause] The future is not Big Government. Self-serving politicians. Powerful bureaucrats. This has been tried, tested throughout history. The result has always been disaster. President Obama, your agenda is not new. It’s not change, and it’s not hope. [Applause] Spending a nation into generational debt is not an act of compassion. All politicians, including President Obama, are temporary stewards of this nation. It is not their task to remake the founding of this country. It is not their task to tear it apart and rebuild it in their image. They have.
[Crowd chanting “USA”]
It is not their task, it is not their right to remake this nation to accommodate their psychology. I sometimes wonder if liberalism is not just a psychosis or a psychology, not an ideology. It’s so much about feelings, and the predominant feeling liberalism is about is about feeling good about themselves, and they do that by telling themselves they have all this compassion. You know, if you really want to unhinge a liberal — it’s hard to do because they’re so unhinged now anyway, even after — but all you have to do is say you know what, the things you people do, the things you people believe in, are cruel. That’s the last way they look at themselves. They are the best people on the — they’re the good people. You tell them that their ideas and that their policies are cruel, and the eggs start scrambling.
Conservatives are naturally happy. We seek happiness. We pursue it. It’s part of who we are. So what can you do? Live your life. I swear, folks, you do not know in just the everyday life that you live in your neighborhoods, your homes, or — a favorite word of this administration, your “communities,” [Laughter] remember, the root word there is “commune.” [Applause] — be happy, live your life according to your values and principles. Knowing you’re going to fail, no human being is perfect, you’re going to make mistakes, but live your life — you’ll be stunned at how many people you impress. Don’t be afraid to tell children that they’re wrong. They don’t know what you do. They simply haven’t lived long enough. It’s not their fault, but they’re being fed a bunch of garbage in school and don’t be afraid to tell them that they’re wrong.
Don’t go the Oprah route and say, “Gotta be friends with my parents, and my kids, first and foremost.” Understand they’re going to hate you for a while and they’re going to rebel against you and someday they’re going to think you’re the smartest person they ever met. But you owe them the truth. You owe them the truth about things. You owe them the truth about morality. [Applause] You owe them the truth about values. [Applause] You owe them the truth about politics. Next thing, we’ve got to stop treating voters as children. [Applause] Somebody says they want something that’s bad for them, do you give it to them just to be nice? Or do you tell them, regardless of their age, no, you shouldn’t have that? Well, it’s none of your business. Well, maybe not, but I still — and then you back out of it. But you still have to have the ability to tell people what’s right and wrong. And that’s not authoritative. That’s not authoritarian. And it’s not trying to deny somebody a good time. It’s not trying to interrupt somebody’s hedonism, pleasure. It’s about all of us with shared values trying to make sure that people live the highest quality lives they can, but yet ultimately, it’s their decision as to what they do. But the point is, don’t treat them like — especially voters — as kids just, “If they say they want it, okay, we’ll come up with a plan to give it to you.”
I mean, there’s some people you can’t say you want the President to fail. Ladies and gentlemen of the United States, the Democrat Party has actively not just sought the failure of Republican presidents and policies and now wars for the first time, the Democrat Party doesn’t stop at failure. Talk to Judge Robert Bork. Talk to Justice Clarence Thomas about how they try to destroy lives, reputations, and character — and I’m supposed to say I don’t want the President to fail? [Applause] We’re in for a real battle. We are talking about the United States of America — and there will always be an America, don’t misunderstand me — we’re talking about it remaining the country we were all born into and reared and grown into. And it’s under assault. It’s always under assault. But it’s never been under assault like this, from within, before. And it’s a serious, serious battle.
So as you leave here, as you leave here: optimism, confidence, not guilt, it’s not worth it. There’s nothing to be guilty about. Don’t treat people as children. Respect their intelligence. Realize that there’s a way to persuade people. Sometimes the worst way is to get in their face and point a finger. Set up a set of circumstances where the conclusion is obvious. Let them think they came up with the idea themselves. They’ll think they’re smart that they figured it out. Who cares how you persuade them, the fact they can be persuaded is factually correct, it’s possible. But the main thing to do here is stop thinking that we are a minority. Stop thinking that it is being in the minority that liberates you. It is your beliefs. It is your core principles, it is your confidence that liberates you. It is not being in the minority.
We — in fact, for those of you watching my first national address and still hanging in there — we really are not that happy about being a minority and we’re out to change it. [Applause] So I have — I’ve gone over my allotted time by an hour. [Applause]
But I want to thank all of you so much for everything that you have meant to me and my family in my life.
[CROWD: Thank you.]
Now wait, see — I understand it’s mutual. And I hear people — you have made my heart grow so much that it barely fits in my chest cavity here tonight. But the things that by virtue of your listening to my radio show and being active in this movement that we all cherish and love, you have meant more to me, my family, and my life than whatever it is I might mean to you, even though I know that’s considerable. [Laughter, applause] You still can’t outdo the absolute joy and awe and thanks I feel for all of you. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and the numbers just keep growing. And I can’t tell you how appreciative I am and proud to be in a movement with the same passions, desires, and core beliefs that all of you have, because we know that it’s right for the country, and we know it’s right for people. It’s not something that has to be forced on them. It’s not something that has to be authoritatively pressed on them. We are what is, and that’s why we are an enemy because we’re effective. The people that do want control look at us as the enemy. We’re always going to be — don’t ever measure your success by how many Drive-By Media reports you see that are fair to us. Never going to happen. Don’t measure your success by how many people like you. Just worry about how they vote. And then, at the end of the day, how they live, but that’s really none of your business once they close the doors. Thank you all very much. It’s been great.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.