Nikki Haley — AEI Annual Dinner 2019


Singer: O say can you see, by the dawn’s
early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s
last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through
the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly
streaming? And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting
in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag
was still there; O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! Announcer: Please be seated. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome AEI President
Robert Doar. Robert Doar: Good evening everyone. I’m Robert Doar, president of AEI. And on behalf of our chairman, Dan D’Aniello,
and the entire AEI community, I welcome you to our Annual Dinner. We’re so glad you could join us this evening
when we have the privilege of celebrating two great Americans: Irving Kristol and Ambassador
Nikki Haley. Now I have to say, I begin tonight remembering
the best mass I ever attended. It was the one where Monsignor DeVaney of
St. Charles Borromeo on Sydney Place in Brooklyn said, “I’m going to keep this homily short
today because there’s a game on TV I want to see.” And those of you who have been with us before
know that it has been our practice in the past at this point in the program to invite
Bill Kristol up to say a few words about Irving Kristol, the Irving Kristol Award, and to
extend greetings from his mother, Bea Himmelfarb, and their family. But Bea and Bill could not be here tonight,
though they still send warm greetings and good wishes to all of us and to Ambassador
Haley, and I know we send the same to them. Speaking of Bill reminds me of the story all
newcomers to AEI are told early in their tenure. It’s kind of a right of passage, and it’s
an important story, one we hold close in our hearts. And it goes like this. In all the years, there was only one time
when Irving Kristol and Bill Kristol appeared together on a panel at AEI. Father and son were seated on the stage with
a moderator between them. And the moderator lobbed questions to each
of them, one to Irving and one to Bill about their respective careers and views on our
country. And all was going fine until it was the final
question. The moderator asked Bill, “What was the
best advice you ever got?” And Bill was stumped. He didn’t know what to say. So much advice, which bit of knowledge to
pick? What was the best advice? And then Irving leaned into his microphone
and said, “Honor thy father.” So during my first few months as president
of AEI, Irving’s words about people in my position have provided a kind of comfort. “A think tank president,” said Irving,
“is someone who speaks with authority about subjects in which he has no particular competence.” Now, thankfully, at AEI, I am surrounded by
scholars who have exceptional competence when it comes to confronting our nation’s greatest
challenges. And many of them are here tonight. And I want to start by recognizing and thanking
AEI scholars, who are the heart and soul of our institution. Many of these scholars have decades of experience
on the front lines of public policy: shaping it, implementing it, seeing how good public
policy can lift people up and how bad policy can tear them down. And of course, Irving Kristol had a very different
kind of frontline experience. He described his time in the Army during World
War II as deeply formative. When he joined, he was a socialist. His regiment was full of tough guys from the
south side of Chicago. And by the end of his time with these competitive,
less than angelic individualists, he was pretty sure socialism would never work in America. That wouldn’t be the last time Irving was
mugged by reality. In the half century that followed, Irving
went on to become one of the greatest scholars of his generation. He shaped public debate and defined the core
values that we still fight for every day. Writing about everything from welfare and
religion to Joseph McCarthy and the sexual revolution, he never lost his dedication to
his country and its promise. His political principles live on in AEI’s
work, including economic freedom, American global leadership, and equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. This idea was crystallized for me when I first
read Irving’s essay, “What Is a Neoconservative?” And he brought the point home for me at an
AEI gathering some years later when he said he especially did not like equality in sports. Now, as a great sports fan myself, I love
that reference to sports. And for those Nationals fans here tonight,
it must have some significance. What would having your team play in the World
Series mean if all outcomes were equal? Why would anyone strive to do great things
without a chance for great success? And why should we deny the fruits of success
to people who have earned them? One of my Brooklyn schoolteachers once described
to me the joy he felt on the night in 1938 when Max Schmeling, the German boxer who had
been a favorite of Hitler and a darling of the Nazi Party, came to New York to fight
Joe Louis. Louis, the heavyweight from Alabama, known
as the “Brown Bomber,” knocked him out in less than three minutes. Given a chance for a fair fight, Louis proved
himself. Now there is an example of equal opportunity
leading to great unequal results. Irving also had a deep understanding of the
connection between politics and the human good. He hoped that one day we’d be able to bring
our public and private lives back together into what he called a congenial relationship,
where our politics supported family, religion, and community life. A great admiration for Irving’s legacy on
this front is one reason why we’ve created the new Social, Cultural, and Constitutional
Studies division at AEI. I am confident that Irving, who loved America
so deeply, would be proud of our efforts to invigorate this component of AEI’s work. It’s also why we brought the great policy
journal National Affairs, which I know will continue to be the intellectual air to Irving’s
Public Interest. And Irving’s lessons in foreign policy also
inform us today. While Pete Seeger was singing about flowers,
Irving was asking “Where have all the gunboats gone?” He was never afraid to promote his own pragmatic
sense of world affairs, including a firm commitment to American allies and a dedication to American
global leadership. That’s why he often lamented what he called
the ironies of neo-isolationism and the mistakes of those who would see America withdraw from
the world stage. In Irving’s mind, America’s role in the
world required a careful balancing of prudence and restraint with a willingness to act even
unilaterally when necessary, and he thought these concerns about America’s spirit and
America’s role in the world were connected. “If the United States is to gain the respect
of world opinion,” Irvin wrote in 1975, “it first has to demonstrate that it respects
itself: its own institutions, its own way of life, the political and social philosophy
that is the basis of its institutions and its way of life. To persuade the world, we have to show the
world that we love our country.” That line of thinking helps us see why our
honoree tonight, Ambassador Nikki Haley, is an ideal person to receive the Irving Kristol
Award. During her time at the United Nations, Ambassador
Haley embodied this idea that a constructive role for America in the world begins with
self-respect. She is unafraid to stand up for American ideals
and American interests, and she knows how closely connected the two always are. It was so refreshing and reassuring to hear
her press this point at the UN, and I trust she will continue to be a powerful advocate
for what is best about our country in the years to come. And like Irving Kristol, Ambassador Haley
has always been a staunch defender of religious freedom and the role of faith at home and
abroad. One of America’s greatest graces is its
welcoming of religious minorities and appreciation for the role of faith in an individual’s
life. And Ambassador Haley’s own history proves
that. Her parents immigrated to America from Amritsar,
India. They were teachers, her father in a historically
black college and her mother in the local public schools. In their new home in Bamberg, South Carolina,
the Haley family thrived there, and her success proves that diverse practices and perspectives
only enrich American public life. Regardless of whether you’re Christian,
Sikh, Jewish, or Muslim, a person of any faith or of none, American life is open to you. If you live by our laws, contribute to our
society, and bring the best of your traditions to the work of building our country, you will
be an American. Ambassador Haley’s story affirms that American
ethos. To follow her career is to see the great example
she has set at home and around the world. She has been an eloquent and powerful advocate
for America on the world stage as ambassador to the United Nations, an impassioned defender
of limited government as governor of South Carolina, and a powerful voice of moral clarity
in our national political climate. Whether it’s vulnerable people in our home
state or persecuted dissidents in China or Russia, Nikki Haley has provided a sympathetic
ear and a strong voice. And if Irving could be here tonight, he might
offer one final reminder for all of us. He wrote that “America is unique among nations
in being founded not on race, not on kinship, not on language, not on religion, but on political
values. The essence of being an American is not your
party, class, or creed, not your race or your religion, but rather your willingness to share
in a common set of principles.” Ambassador Haley, a daughter of South Carolina,
is the perfect exemplar. Irving would be proud of anyone in public
life who has set such an example of courage, decency, and patriotism. Our Irving Kristol Award is given annually
to recognize individuals’ intellectual and practical contributions to government policy,
social welfare, or political understanding. But it’s all too rare to find someone like
Nikki Haley who has done so much in all three fields. So please join me in applauding Ambassador
Haley as we honor her tonight. Nikki Haley: Thank you. Thank you so much. That’s so nice. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you, Robert. Congratulations on taking leadership of this
amazing institution. I want to thank you, your predecessor, Arthur
Brooks, and the entire AEI family for honoring me with this award. It’s humbling to stand at this podium tonight. This is the same dinner where Alan Greenspan
warned of irrational exuberance. This is the same dinner where Charles Krauthammer
described an American foreign policy for a unipolar world. And of course, it’s the dinner where AEI
interns eat for free. That’s so great. And I really want to thank all of you for
showing up tonight. AEI had the wisdom to schedule this dinner
on the same night as Game 6 of the World Series. They really wanted to test how many of you
were dedicated to public policy. I will forgive those of you who decide to
check your phones for the score, like my husband over here. It’s a tremendous honor to receive an award
named for the great Irving Kristol, who did so much to strengthen the intellectual foundations
that led to American victory in the Cold War and freedom for hundreds of millions of people. For most of the past 15 years, I have lived
and worked where AEI’s ideas are tested in practice. In South Carolina, we led the way on opening
markets, reducing regulations, reforming education, and moving people from welfare to work. For those of us engaged in conservative public
policy, AEI is a trusted source. You don’t have to agree with all of its
ideas, but you can be sure they are all deeply rooted in America’s values. You can have confidence they exist to preserve
what President Lincoln called “the last best hope of earth.” I want to start by saying I am optimistic
about America’s future. I know that for those who spend too much time
on Twitter, it may at times look like it’s all over for the American experiment. Depending on which cable network you prefer,
there is a sense that things are coming off the rails in America today. We have our problems; there’s no denying
that. But America has survived a revolution, a foreign
invasion, a civil war, a great depression, the largest war in world history, and social
unrest of a dozen different stripes, and we’ve come out stronger after every test. We are a truly exceptional nation. One reason things may seem dark, especially
on social media and cable news, is that we have lots of people who are attempting to
reject the very things that set America apart. This is a real problem, and it’s one we
should strongly resist. Our history is being attacked as a lie. Influential voices on the left claim America
was founded not in freedom, but in oppression. The idea that we must be in control of our
borders is dismissed as uncaring bigotry. Some are attempting to redefine American citizenship
itself. Ronald Reagan once asked Americans to choose
between being citizens or subjects. It was the ’60s; government and liberalism
were on the march. The question fit the times. Today we face a different choice. It is a choice between citizenship and victimhood. Our politics is becoming a contest over who’s
got the biggest grievance, who’s getting the short end of the stick, who’s being
taken advantage of by rigged system. Back then, Reagan pointed to big government
as the enemy, and he was right. Today, Americans increasingly see each other
as the enemy, and that’s not right. Too many regard those who disagree with them
not simply as wrong but as evil, but it’s hard to have government by the people and
for the people if we regard each other as unworthy of even having a conversation with. You see this a lot on college campuses, but
you even see it at restaurants these days. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but sometimes
it even makes me miss what passes for moral clarity at the United Nations. My distinguished predecessor and an AEI alumna
Jeane Kirkpatrick said her experience at the UN left her “in every way a sadder and wiser
woman about the world.” While I rarely disagree with Ambassador Kirkpatrick,
we do partially differ on this. My time at the UN certainly made me wiser
about the world and sadder about parts of it, but it also made me more grateful about
our country. At the UN, I worked alongside the ambassadors
of dictators and strongmen. I traveled to places most Americans will never
go, and I saw things most Americans will never see. What I saw cut through the loud and polarizing
voices in our country. I saw what sets America apart, what we must
protect and preserve. When you’ve heard a South Sudanese refugee
woman tell you about watching soldiers throw her baby into a fire, when you’ve seen Venezuelan
families walk for hours in the blazing sun to receive the one meal they might have that
day, when you’ve negotiated with representatives of a Chinese regime that is building a surveillance
state that would horrify Orwell, when you’ve seen and done these things, you see just how
profound the gifts are that we have received as Americans. And they’re not just for Americans. When the cameras were off at the UN, ambassadors
from all parts of the world made it clear to me that they envy our ability to live and
speak freely. They admire our principles. And they depend on us to lead the world in
accordance with our values. At times, this is a much harder case to make
among Americans than among nations. We are too caught up in our differences, whether
socioeconomic, racial, or religious. These differences increasingly define our
politics. To a certain extent, they should. We are very different people, and there are
important differences between the political parties. We shouldn’t gloss over those differences. We should debate them vigorously. But when we retreat into identity and grievance
politics, we make the choice for victimhood over citizenship. By constantly blaming others, we reject personal
responsibility for ourselves, our families, and our communities. The choice of victimhood takes us further
away from our exceptionalism, but we can still be optimistic about our future as an exceptional
nation. And here’s why. Ninety-three years ago, on the 150th anniversary
of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, President Calvin Coolidge said, “Amid all
the clash of conflicting interests, amid all the welter of partisan politics, every American
can turn for solace and consolation to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution
of the United States.” That statement is just as fitting today. Equality before the law. Freedom. Inalienable rights. These are not obstructions. They are our inheritance as human beings. The Declaration of Independence outlined them. The Constitution established them as a system
of government. It is these sacred principles that make me
optimistic. They anchor our nation, and they show us the
way forward. For instance, our immigration system is truly
broken. It is no longer controlled by the rule of
law. It doesn’t acknowledge, much less emphasize,
the values that make us Americans. The American people are justifiably concerned
by both the security of our borders and by America’s place as a home for those with
the dream and drive to breathe free. People from all over the world are drawn to
the United States by our exceptionalism, our freedom, our opportunity, and our belief in
human dignity. My parents were among them. They came from India to rural South Carolina
in the 1960s. My mother wore a sari. My father wore a turban. He still does to this day. We were different. We stood out, and my family felt the pain
of being judged by our difference. Many Americans have felt this pain. Many have felt much worse. But my parents refused to let it define them. They chose citizenship over victimhood. They came to the United States legally. They respected the right of the American people
to protect their sovereignty, to be the ones who decide who can join us. And in return, America welcomed them. Immigration is a source of American strength
when it is conducted in accordance with our principles, but it must be a two-way street. We welcome immigrants who come to America
in accordance with the rule of law, and we must call upon those immigrants to embrace
our values and respect our laws in order to become Americans. American leadership in the world is also challenged
by some today. To remain strong, they say, America must give
up its advocacy of freedom and human dignity abroad. This represents a failure of memory. A world without United States leadership does
not mean a world in which our values and interests peacefully coexist with other countries. If it meant countries could live peacefully
pursuing their interests, there would be more to recommend the United States retreating
from the world. Instead, it means a world with Chinese values
devoted to Chinese interests. It means a world with Russian values devoted
to Russian interests. It means a world in which radical Islam runs
rampant. That is a dark place for American values and
a dangerous place for American security. It would be nicer and cheaper if American
leadership was not needed to protect our values and our interests. Sadly, that’s not the world we live in. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to
spend a day in the United Nations Security Council. Some of its powerful members not only don’t
share American values; they actively work to defeat them. We faced a choice, either sacrifice our values
in an attempt to win friends at the UN or defend our values and fight some fights virtually
alone. Freedom and human dignity aren’t just the
right values to promote. They are our most powerful foreign policy
tools, which is why we fought for them. We called out Russia for its violations of
Ukraine’s sovereignty. We sanctioned the North Korean regime for
representing a unique evil in the world, a dictatorship that is starving its own people
to finance the creation of nuclear weapons. And on Israel, after a heartbreaking betrayal
by the previous administration, we once again embraced our friend and ally. At the UN, Israel is the clearest example
of this worldwide clash of values. The only fully democratic country in the Middle
East is routinely demonized as an oppressor. The only country in the region that represents
religious freedom, gender equality, and gay rights is singled out for abuse in the tragically
misnamed UN Human Rights Council. If America does not lead the way in stopping
this nonsense, no one else will. Here at home, the presidential election season
is upon us. With that comes the inevitable running to
the partisan barricades, and that’s okay. Electing a president is serious business. The two sides have very different visions
for our country. We deserve a spirited campaign to debate those
differences, but here again, respect for the Constitution should guide us. President Trump is a disruptor. That makes some people very happy, and it
makes some people very mad. But if we are a country that lives by the
rule of law, we must all accept that we have one president at a time and that president
attained his office by the choice of the American people. When I was in the administration, I served
alongside colleagues who believe that the best thing to do for America was to undermine
and obstruct the president. Some wrote about it anonymously in The New
York Times. Others just did it. They sincerely believed they were doing the
right thing. I sincerely believed they weren’t. The president was the choice of the people
in accordance with our founding charter. No policy disagreement with him, no matter
how heartfelt, justifies undermining the lawful authority that is vested in his office by
the Constitution. For those who don’t like the president,
they are free to protest him, and many do. But if you serve in the administration, you
are not free to push your personal agenda. What’s at stake is not President Trump’s
policies. What’s at stake is the Constitution. We are a nation with a history, borders, and
common language. We are also the first nation devoted to a
higher good. Our beliefs are what make us Americans. Our Constitution is what allows this great
experiment in democracy to survive and thrive. AEI gets this. You are working to restore respect for the
Constitution and American life. Congratulations on your new research division
for social, cultural, and constitutional studies. Another reason I’m optimistic is because
I’ve been spending time with high school and college students. Most often they face hostility on their campuses
because of their conservative views, but they are undaunted. They want to be leaders, specifically American
leaders. They appreciate the things that make America
exceptional. The more time I spend with these young people,
the more confident I am about our future. These young Americans are not complacent,
far from it. They understand that our ability to speak
freely, to debate, to worship and determine our own destinies, these are things to be
grateful for and preserve. It was 1862 when Abraham Lincoln called America
“the last best hope of earth.” Our country was more deeply divided than ever
before or since. It was a time of war for the country and a
time of political peril for Lincoln. Still, he showed confidence in America’s
future. In his message, Lincoln asked repeatedly,
“Can we do better?” He answers his own question by reminding his
countrymen and women of America’s higher purpose and greater gifts: our exceptionalism. I can’t match the wisdom and eloquence of
Lincoln, but like him, I believe in the American people’s ability to find our way through
any challenge by honoring the beliefs that define us. There will always be work to do to be a more
perfect union, but we will always do better if we acknowledge the truth that the world
already knows about us. Even on our worst days, we are blessed to
be Americans. Thank you very much. God bless. Thank you.

10 thoughts on “Nikki Haley — AEI Annual Dinner 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *