Sheriff David Clarke began his closing address to CPAC 2017 as he knew everyone familiar with him would expect, by declaring “Blue Lives Matter in America!”
“To what purpose did our Founding Fathers and the soldiers of our great Continental Army strive? Did they work to form the horrible mistake of what progressive Democrats call the Great Society – a place of cradle-to-grave reliance on the benevolent providence of government as the father, the mother, the breadwinner, and the teacher?” Clarke asked as he settled down to the primary business of his speech.
“I think not,” he answered. “You see, General Washington was rightly and firstly proud of the nation that he believed lay within the grasp of the colonists, as they struggled to tear it away from the corpulent arms of an overbearing King of England. George Washington wrote to Benjamin Franklin that no country upon Earth had it more in its power to attain these blessings than united America.”
Clarke quoted extensively from Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his address. His overall theme was a call to arms; his closing request was for CPAC attendees to go out and fight. It was, in some respects, the type of closing speech one might have expected to hear if Republicans had lost the 2016 presidential election. Clarke’s purpose was to impress upon his conservative audience that they faced determined opposition from the Left, and would need to remain in fighting trim themselves if they wanted President Donald Trump to implement the policies they voted for.
Clarke stressed that Washington and his revolutionaries “never intended to build a nation to be ruled from a throne room or a centralized government.”
“They weren’t building a land where Boston, or Philadelphia, or New York City, or even today’s capital city that bears his name would dictate terms and conditions to the American people,” he continued. “No, their efforts to secure the basic human rights endowed by the Creator and formation of a most limited government, instituted justly by men and deriving its limited powers from the consent of the governed. They embraced the concept of self-rule.”
“They fought the tyranny of the throne, it’s true. They fought to end the abuse of the colonies at the hand of an uncaring and unsympathetic master, but seemingly forgotten yet chief among the complaints outlined by Jefferson in his great Declaration was the refusal of the monarchy to craft and enforce needed laws – wholesome and necessary to the public good, said Jefferson, and of immediate and pressing importance, they told the king of England. They law, they said, a law that works, a respect and reverence to the rule of law,” said Clarke.
“These goals were as key at the founding of our great Republic as the need to satisfy our thirst for freedom and religion, and assembly, and a free and unfettered media that we keeping hearing about so much today,” he added wryly.
Clarke used the Civil War as another example of the importance of law, making a compelling argument that passing and fairly enforcing good laws is as essential to the maintenance of liberty as repealing bad laws and scaling back the power of overweening government.
“Lincoln knew the failure to adhere to that standard in our shared American life would surely result in our surrender – first to the immorality of convenience, then to the sloth of inaction, and finally to the shame of irrelevance,” he proclaimed.
Clarke quoted from George Washington to support the idea that America has legitimate needs as a nation-state, and requires a certain degree of unity to endure, despite our many important differences: “We are either a united people or we are not. If it is the former, then let us in all matters of general concern act as a nation which has national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, then let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it.”
I ask, are we now acting out the farce that President Washington predicted? We have matters under consideration in this capital city, most notably concerning immigration law and its enforcement, that even the most jaded among us would begrudgingly concede are of national importance to everyone. We have border states, most notably on our southern border, that have to date disproportionately borne the brunt and the burden of our failure to act over the past decades. But is there a state in this union in which the impact of that failure is not keenly felt by the American people?
“Yet we seem to have fallen to a place and a time in our national discourse where even the mere restatement and affirmation of laws long ago crafted, and duly enacted by our Constitutional republic’s legislature – laws that were formed and codified in the people’s house, by the people’s representatives – is now considered controversial,” he observed. He went on:
In the executive memoranda on immigration laws attested to this past week, no new laws were created. No group was put at risk without affording them due process. The rights of not one of our citizens, even in a land where president, senator, and farmer stand shoulder to shoulder as equals, was imperiled in the least. Instead, we merely restated the laws that were, what they have been, and voiced an intent to see them upheld fairly, impartially, and with a haste born of necessity.
“And yet, in our modern times, that is viewed in some circles as oppressive, as controversial, and as wrong,” he noted, adding a sarcastic “Seriously?”
He called it a “perversion of thought” to say that Americans are against immigrants. “Do some critics truly believe that we have become that Orwellian nightmare that views all Americans as equal, yet with some more equal than others? Come on now, seriously?” he asked.
He said those who oppose the fair enforcement of duly passed immigration laws offer only “lawlessness, obstruction, and chaos” in other areas of American life as well.
“They offer no morality, and certainly no courage,” Clarke said. “They offer only appeasement and the false currencies of concession and popularity over the virtues of morality and certainty.”
He drew a comparison between appeasement in foreign policy and appeasement to domestic lawlessness, warning we could not expect strong support for the rule of law from “liberal legislators” who “mark as their key data point in crafting policy how many Facebook likes their pages get, or what the latest Internet polling shows, or how many smiling emojis follow their every move.”
“I for one find no safe harbor or vista-like view on the middle ground, wheedling or seeking for others to announce the virtue of my actions,” declared Clarke, whose history of boldly confronting controversy over his words and actions certainly support that claim. “You see I, like President Reagan, see things not only as Left and Right, but as forward and backward – swimming sometimes against a powerful tide, or simply treading water, fundamentally failing our duty to make any choice at all by voting ‘present.’”
This was an important part of his overall theme about keeping all hands on deck, and conservatism at battle stations, rather than allowing intense opposition from the Left and media to paralyze Congress and the administration. He emphasized the point with an especially apt Reagan quote the audience adored: “I suggest to you that there is no Left or Right, only an up and a down. Up to the maximum of individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”
Clarke said that as a career police officer, he understood the importance of public servants respecting the public that grants them authority through the consent of the governed.
“We the people do not follow established rules simply because a law enforcement officer is present to enforce them, but because of our basic love of, trust of, and reliance on our fellow citizens,” he argued. He quoted Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter’s admonition that “if one man can be allowed to determine for himself what the law is, then every man can. That means first chaos, and then tyranny.”
“American law enforcement officers have always understood this simple truth,” Clarke said. “They spend their life’s work, as I have thus far, exemplifying my faith in, my belief in, and commitment to our American system of justice – a system renowned the world over for the provisions of individual due process as a right endowed in each of us by our Creator.”
“The rule of law doesn’t divide us,” he said. “It binds us together in our great American life with shared behaviors, beliefs, and manners. I call it, as do many of you, ‘American exceptionalism.’ We are a nation of limited government in which everyone willfully, and as a matter of civic duty, must obey the law. And the value derived for the small price paid of observance of the common law is the greatest treasure known to mankind: freedom. Sweet freedom.”
“Freedom is why we get up in the morning and tend the fields. It is why we stay up late at night watching foreign markets. It sustains us. It feeds us. And once we have tasted it, we can never have enough to be satisfied,” he said.
“As a conservative I believe with all my heart, that in furtherance of the common good, freedom means you decide your destiny. You, your family, your household, your neighborhood, your small town, your state – and yes, in those few matters of national scope, your nation,” Clarke said. “To cede as a matter of simple course of expediency, to cede those powers too quickly or injudiciously to Washington D.C. is just plain wrong, and it always has been.”
He quoted Reagan again: “We have come to a time for choosing… either we accept the responsibility for our own destiny, or we abandon the American revolution and confess that an intellectual belief in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan our own lives.”
Clarke exclaimed, winning the longest and strongest applause of the hour:
How refreshing is that simple concept, that we who run our lives know the course of our own destiny better than some congresswoman from California, better than some judge from Joplin may know it sitting in a mahogany-paneled office in Washington, making the decisions that can undermine all of our great efforts. How refreshing to see a return to that respectful thought of the importance of self-determination, and to turn away from the conceit and arrogance that was its predecessor at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue before January 20th, 2017!
In President Donald Trump we have chosen a leader – a leader who I expect many of you in this room well know I both campaigned and vigorously supported for the highest office in this land. And he was a candidate that I’m certain many in this room also supported, and some may have at first opposed in some measure. That’s fine. That’s the great nature of this republic. We have choices, and we decide. However, in President Trump I sense a return now to those key virtues first extolled in that letter to a tyrant monarch in 1776. I sense a pride in our nation, and a voice to that pride that I have found lacking for the last eight years.
“We were constantly told by former President Obama that America needed to humble itself. He told us humility is a virtue. But false humility is an affront to the senses, and pride in the greatness and might of our nation has never been a sin,” he argued.
“President George Washington himself observed, upon the occasion of his first inaugural, ‘There is a rank due to the United States among nations which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness.’ Consider those words once more: ‘A rank due the United States of America.’ Allow me to translate that language from 1789 to 2017. It means: ‘Put America first,’” he said.
Clarke faulted the mainstream media for “mocking and taunting” President Trump’s America First vision, portraying it as “dark and feral.” He said:
No, it’s not. Yet those who held the office before President Trump would rise up from their graves and nod in agreement with the importance of our shared effort and potential for reward that President Trump offered us when he said, ‘We the citizens of America are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country, restore its promise not for an elite few, but for all of our people.’ He said together, we will determine the course of America and the world for many years to come. President Trump reminded us we will face challenges, we will confront hardships, but we will get the job done.
Clarke said in closing:
Ladies and gentlemen, today is our moment of truth, our point of no return. The choices we need make at this moment are opposed by entrenched interests. The ‘resistance’ looms. They attack our motives, they assail our beliefs, they decry our notion of justice, they proclaim the high ground of virtue, and they threaten upheaval if not given their way. What will history show we did with our moment of truth? Did we stand and fight, or did we cut and run?
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is my challenge to you. These are your marching orders: Go forth to stand and fight,” he said.