Dec 14, 2011
Speech to the Nevada County Republican Women Federated
Grass Valley, October 2011
hank you for the very kind invitation to be with you today and I am truly honored to be called by those who devote themselves so faithfully and so selflessly to the noble cause that gave birth to our great party and has given it life and vibrancy ever since: freedom.
Now, I have to confess a little bit of envy. I find myself in the company of the very fortunate, for you have known freedom all of your lives. Upon further reflection though, I must admit that fortune has been very kind to me as well, seeing how I’ve come to know freedom against all odds — thousands of miles away from the United States as a small boy in the heart of the Soviet Union.
I remember vividly the week before my parents, my brother, my grandmother and I left Moscow for the United States. As we went to say good-bye to my uncle in St. Petersburg, Russian authorities ransacked our little apartment full of boxes and bags packed with our meager belongings, looking for any cursory reason to rescind our exit visas.
Over the years that my parents sought to leave, we became accustomed to an occasional search: coming home to find an open drawer in the kitchen, bookshelves tinkered with, or the doormat muddied by strange feet.
But that week, we returned from St. Petersburg to a scene of utter chaos with toppled furniture and torn-up boxes, their once neatly-folded contents now punctuating the dull gray carpet with specks of color. My mom and especially my dad, whose doctorate in physics had subjected him to decades of surveillance, were stoic. In this insult they saw yet another manifestation of an increasingly desperate tyranny.
My brother, however, was only six years old at the time and he was apoplectic, clinging to my mother and sobbing hysterically. And then she said these words to Eugene, which are forever etched in my memory: “Don’t cry sweetie,” she told him in a soft yet confident voice. “Don’t be upset. In just two days we are leaving for America. This won’t ever happen there.”
In my formative years, I often wondered what must have been that great force, which inspired my parents to persevere through searches and surveillance, through threats of arrest, harassment, and job terminations all in the pursuit of America for themselves and their posterity.
And as I reflected on that fateful October day when our world was upended by the KGB, the resolve in my mother’s words explained it all: “We are leaving for America. This won’t ever happen there.”
And watching the resolve of my blind 88-year-old grandmother to become an American citizen exploded that realization into bold colors.
My grandmother was born in 1911 – 6 years before the Russian revolution. One day shortly after the revolution, a band of communist marauders arrived at her parents’ doorstep to remedy a serious offense: the crime being that my grandmothers’ parents happened to own a house. Exercising a crude Russian version of eminent domain, the thugs ordered that the house be immediately turned over to the local Communist Party. When my grandmother’s father protested, he was taken away – never to be seen again – and the rest of the family expelled from their home.
My grandmother spent the next seven decades nurturing a quiet, but nonetheless fervent determination to persevere through the scourge of communism long enough to someday see freedom firsthand. She finally arrived in the United States at the age of 82, resolved to do whatever it took to spend her final years as an American citizen. For her that meant spending over a year clutching an old black tape player, on which my dad recorded questions and answers to the naturalization exam that she muttered to herself day in and day out.
And in the year 2000, aged 88 and completely blind, she presented herself to the Immigration and Naturalization Service examiner. The examiner was stunned: she had never before seen a blind 88-year-old so determined to pass the citizenship test, which she did with flying colors. Four years later my grandmother passed away – a patriotic American citizen and voter – proud to the last day of completing her journey from servitude to liberty.
So, what makes us Americans? Is it just a tie by blood to this land? Or is it something more? For that matter, what makes us Republicans?
In a speech commemorating Independence Day of 1858, Lincoln answered this very important question. He said these words:
“We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us.
There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men-descended by blood from our ancestors — among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe — German, Irish, French and Scandinavian — men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things.
If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as through they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are.
That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”
That is the force that binds all of us as Americans. That is the force that has from the very beginning of our party united us as Republicans. That love of freedom is the shining star that guided my family through every indignity of the communist regime and made them kindred spirits with every other American long before they ever set foot on this soil.
Mankind is accustomed to seeing fortunes rise and fall, economies blossom and wither, governments alternate between good public policy and bad, war and peace overtake the world, but as long as America exists as we know it, this ever-changing world is assured one great constant: the allegiance of Americans to their founding principles of limited government and individual liberty; that rights come neither from government nor a committee of men that indeed they come from Nature and Nature’s God and that it is the most solemn duty of government to protect these rights from infringement.
Now, it is altogether fitting that from time to time we remind ourselves that these principles are universal. We have hewed to them the longest and thus conquered the pinnacles of prosperity heretofore unknown to mankind. And I have to admit to some pain watching these sacred principles embraced abroad at the same time as they appeared to wane in America, especially when they take root behind that old iron curtain.
My uncle is the only family member who stayed behind in the USSR. To this day, he lives in St. Petersburg, which Czar Peter the Great had the presence of mind to build on a swamp. The soil freezes in the winter and melts in the summer, rendering conventional building foundations structurally unfit. So, my uncle’s business lays a special type of foundation that allows buildings to be erected on this inhospitable terrain.
Several years ago, he worked on a project to bring the furniture store Ikea to St. Petersburg. The entire process to procure the necessary permits took ten days, at the conclusion of which the City held a reception in honor of my uncle’s company to thank them for bringing prosperity to St. Petersburg. To this day, he does not believe me when I attempt to assure him, quite seriously, that in California it would have taken him decades, not days to break ground on a new Ikea.
So, now we find ourselves at a momentous time for our country, where these time-tested principles of freedom are challenged from within by a contrivance utterly alien to human nature itself – a sultry siren song of utopia that will stem from an all-powerful government that is the source of all rights, whose survival depends not on the consent of the governed, but rather on the brute force with which it suppresses its subjects.
And indeed history has taught us that the darkest danger that menaces this great nation is not a mighty army separating us from our land or our treasures; rather it is us separating from our principles. We know every scene of the tragedy that invariably follows such separation. History has already written it for us in plain form and I have witnessed it first hand.
Our founders were keenly aware of this danger. John Adams wrote to John Taylor this warning in 1814:
“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.”
It seems that history has laid at our feet both the noble challenge of preserving the spirit of our nation and the keys to fulfilling that sacred task.
In the midst of the horrors of World War I, Winston Churchill assured his uneasy nation of victory was with these words. He told Parliament: “That hour of decisive victory will soon be at hand. It is bound to come if only our patience is combined with energy.”
So let us couple that advice with Ronald Reagan’s admonition that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction and let us now resolve to combine our patience with energy to restore our nation’s founding principles of individual freedom and limited government to its forefront.
Patience and resolve are key. After all, a great ice field that shackles a mighty sea all winter does not vanish from sight in an instant. Its fate is sealed once sunshine comes, and yet the ice is resilient: it cracks and buckles and heaves and makes noise as it splinters into pieces that in turn finally give way to the turbulent blue waters.
And so it is that by resolving ourselves to nurture the bond of our Party to our nation’s founding principles we will assure our posterity of its destiny — that vibrant, and tumultuous sea of freedom that my family found in America. So, thank you for all that you do.