Mitt Romney: Why heroes are needed
Thank you so much. Gen. Rosa, Mrs. Rosa, it’s an honor to be here with you and with the cadets of The Citadel. I see an old friend and classmate of mine also. John Grinalds and I were classmates at Harvard Business School a couple of years ago. One of your distinguished alums, however, was the person who got me here.
I got a call from Harvey Shiller who’s one of the alums here of The Citadel and Harvey said, “Mitt, you’re a Republican in Massachusetts. Do you believe in free speech?”
And I said, “You know, we’re liberal up there, but, of course, I believe in the Constitution and free speech.”
He said, “Good. I’d like you to give one.”
So it brought me here. I also told my wife that I was going to joining you, and I said, “Sweetheart, did you in your wildest dreams ever see me coming to address the cadets at The Citadel?”
And she said, “Mitt, you weren’t in my wildest dreams.”
So I’ve had to reorient myself to … if you listened carefully to General Rosa’s introduction, you might have recognized that mine is not a very traditional career path. I spent most of my life in the private sector and then I went into the Olympics and had the occasion to run the Olympic Games and now I’m a conservative Republican governor in a very Democratic state.
The biggest leap perhaps was leaving the private sector, going into the Olympic world. I was not a great athlete. I’m not sure how many of you are fabulous athletes. I tried to pretend like I was, but I wasn’t, and so when my five sons heard that I was going into run the greatest sporting event in the world, there was some sense of incredulity.
My oldest son, when he saw it in the paper, called, and he said, “Dad, I’ve talked to the brothers and there’s not a circumstance we could have conceived of that would put you on the front page of the sports section.”
Now, throughout my life I’ve found pretty dramatic surprises and changes, and I think the thing I like most about the Olympic experience was the people I got to work with and the people I met. One of them was a fellow named Mike Eruzione. I know we have a few cadets here from Massachusetts. He’s one of the famous sons of Massachusetts. Mike Eruzione was a captain of the American hockey team in 1980 that won the gold medal in the Olympics at Lake Placid. Mike was the fellow who scored the winning goal against the Russians and then he was also captain of the team, of course, when they won against the Finns and brought home the gold. I saw Mike Eruzione, who for me has always been a hero, and he became a lot more of a hero for me because of his response to my question.
I said, “Mike, what was the greatest experience in your Olympics?”
And he said it wasn’t winning the gold against the Finns. It wasn’t even scoring the winning goal against the Russians. It was having the honor of carrying in the flag of the United States of America to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, and I thought this is one of my heroes.
I spent a lot of time when I was out there in Salt Lake organizing the games thinking about what it means to be a hero. What is a hero, after all?
Some years ago when my mom was about 70 years of age she was on a vacation in Acapulco and she went out swimming. She’s not a strong swimmer. My sister Jane happened to be with her on this beach. It was late in the afternoon, almost no one there, and she noticed that my mother was aiming towards shore but getting farther and farther away from shore, and at some point my mom raised her arm and said if a wave for help.
My sister looked along the beach to see if there was a lifeguard or a boat and there was not. She found one man who spoke English, about 45, 50 years old. She convinced him with much hesitation on his part—she convinced him to dive in the water and go out there and save my mother, which he did at great risk to himself, and, of course, he saved a life.
For me, that’s heroism. Heroism is about taking risk. Sometimes it’s not just about taking risk for the saving of a life. Sometimes it’s taking a risk to yourself that creates a hero.
When I was a young investor in the world of business I was traveling one day with some investment bankers from Goldman Sachs. We were flying around in a private jet. It was a Friday around noontime. We were in Chicago and one of the young associates of Goldman Sachs turned to the rest of us, these senior investment bankers and us, their client, and he said, “I need to leave you now at the commercial airport so that I can be home in New York by sunset.”
He was a practicing Orthodox Jew, and for him his respect for his religion came ahead of anything else, and even though he may have been a little embarrassed or a little uncomfortable, he put his adherence to his faith above being in with the people who were flying around on that jet that day.
For me that’s heroic, putting something above yourself. So heroism is about taking risks and it’s about believing in something greater than yourself.
Someone says you don’t have to be bigger than life to be a hero. You just have to be bigger than yourself. I love the heroes in this country.
When I was, oh, a little bit younger, I attended a Boy Scout court of honor. I presume I have a few Eagle Scouts here, and you know what that court of honor is. It was at a church hall, a big gymnasium kind of thing with a big long table. I was seated at the far end of the table next to the American flag and a young man was speaking.
He was the head of a troop from Colorado as I recall, and he said, “Let me tell you about an American flag we had.” He said, “This was a flag that the Boy Scout troop wanted to have flown above the state capitols of every state in America. And sure enough we’ve gotten it taken from place to place to place and it’s flown above those capitols. We were very proud. Then we wanted it flown above the Capitol of the United States and we got that done. And then one of the Boy Scouts said, ‘I’d like it to go up on the space shuttle. Wouldn’t it be neat if this flag could go into space?’”
So they contacted NASA and said, “We’d like our flag to go on the space shuttle.”
And NASA said, “You know, space in space is kind of expensive and hard to come by. We can’t carry your flag for you. We don’t do souvenirs, if you will.”
Well, the Boy Scouts then contacted their congressman and their senators, and after a lot of discussion, sure enough, that flag was getting ready to go up into space, and the boys were so proud. As the scoutmaster described it to me, they were so proud of the opportunity they were going to have to see their flag go in space. The kids, scouts, their families were all seated around the TV as they saw the shuttle take off, but then when Challenger blew up before their eyes, they recognized that something very serious and tragic had occurred. After the accident occurred, the boys waited a couple of months and then they wrote to NASA and said is there any possibility that the flag has been found, and NASA wrote back and said, no, I’m sorry, boys.
But about two years later this scoutmaster said he received a package in the mail from NASA and he opened it, and there was their water-tight compartment with their flag inside it.
He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the flag right down there next to Mr. Romney.”
And on that pole was the flag, and I looked at it and I grabbed it with my hand and I looked along the side. Embroidered on there was “Challenger Flight.” I think it was Challenger Flight 18 and the date of the flight. It hit me very, very hard because to me that flag represented the sacrifice of the people on that shuttle, people like Christa McAuliffe who was one of those who was on that shuttle—people who sacrificed themselves because of their desire for the advance of knowledge and learning and the preservation of our country’s leadership in the battle to learn more about space. I believe that heroes are more needed in America today than perhaps any other time in our nation’s history and you have the opportunity to help fill that vital need.
Recently a great American author, one of the great historians of our country named David McCullough was in Washington, D.C. speaking at the White House and he described—you may have seen his book about John Adams, describing the life of John Adams. He also spoke about his most recent book 1776. Fabulous books.
And at the end of his speech someone in the audience was reported to have asked, “Mr. McCullough, what is the most critical period in the history of America? What five-year period stands out as the most critical period in our nation’s history?”
And he said, “That’s simple. The period of 2000 to 2005 is the most critical period in our nation’s history.”
I believe he said that because we face major challenges today for which heroism is needed.
Number one, we face an attack from jihadists. I think a lot of people in this country underestimate what it is we face. This is not a small group of wackos in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is, instead, a very committed group, a very significant number of people, who are intent on overthrowing our country and collapsing our economy.
Why is that? What leads them to that? It is in part because of their belief that the nations that were once Islam or in the nation of Islam Uma are to be retaken and put underneath a califat, a religious leader who will control all of those nations under one religious law and one religious leader, and they believe the one thing keeps that from happening, and that is the strength and presence of the world’s super power, the United States of America. Therefore to reunite their lands under a califat they want to crush the head of the snake and cause our economy and our country to weaken and collapse.
Thank heavens we have a president who understands the nature and extent of this threat. Thank heavens we have a president who recognizes that the best friend for those people who would seek peace is a strong United States of America, and thank heavens we have the bravest, most patriotic fighting men and women in the world.
There are other challenges we face. We face a financial challenge. I won’t take much time on that, but we’re spending too much as a nation and not just on pork barrel projects, but our entitlement programs are overwhelming us and overwhelming our budget.
Another challenge, an economic challenge—this is something you’re going to face if you go into the private sector as I have. I came from a high tech state. Massachusetts is largely making software, hardware, very high technology products, and our economy, as General Rosa has indicated, has come back wonderfully. We’ve added jobs. We’re seeing growth again. Our employment rate is down, but I’m noticing something. We’re not growing as fast as the nation on average and we’re losing jobs to Asia.
I talked to the chief executive of a major corporation, a high tech corporation, and said, “What do you see over the next ten years?”
This is a very high tech instrument company. I imagined this company would be in this country forever. He said, “What I see over the next ten years is that 90 percent of my employees will be in Asia.”
And I said, “Why is that? Is it just to get a lower labor rate?”
He said, “No, no, no. It’s because of the ample supply of knowledged workers there and the cutting edge suppliers that are there.”
I said, “That can’t be true.”
And I looked at the numbers. About 15 years ago the number of Ph.D.s in math and physical science in the United States a year was about 4,700 a year being graduated. All of Asia combined, around the world, in schools around the world, here and there, was about the same number, about 4,700 a year. Today we’ve dropped to 4,400 a year. We’ve dropped in the number of Ph.D.s in math and physical sciences and they’ve grown to 24,900. Engineering degrees, they outnumber us in China alone by about five times. They’re hardworking, educated, motivated, ambitious, mercantile. The capital markets of the world have recognized this. There are 120 chemical factories, over a billion dollars that have been announced in the world. A hundred and twenty of them. Fifty of them have been announced in China alone. Do you know how many are announced in our country? One.
We’re going to have to wake up and recognize that this is both good news and an opportunity but also a threat. The good news of course is that people that have been locked in poverty for generations are coming out. It’s a wonderful humanitarian change. Markets will now be opened to our products and services that have been closed forever virtually, but at the same time we recognize that it’s a challenge and a threat, and America has to rise. This is not just about, by the way, making nice incomes and doing well as a population. It’s more important than that. You can’t be a tier one military, you can’t be the world’s super power, you can’t be a world super power and be a tier two economy.
To lead the world militarily you have to also be a leader in the world economically, and so the stakes are very high. There are a number of things we’re going to have to do to get going again.
One of my favorite old cowboy philosophers was someone named Will Rodgers. He said even if you’re on the right track, if you don’t move, you’ll get run over. We’re on the right track, but we need to get moving again. We need to raise the bar in education, K through 12 as well as institutions of higher learning, particularly in areas of math and science. We need to invest more as a society in technology. That’s what’s allowed America to lead in the past. We’re not investing as much as we should there.
Oh, we do well in some areas. We invest in science, excuse me, space technology, defense technology, healthcare, and we lead the world in those areas. But we also need to invest in such areas as power generation, automotive technology, material science, fuel technology. As the president said the other night, we’re addicted to oil. We use far too much oil and I’d rather be putting billions of dollars in institutions of higher learning with the best researchers and best minds in our country to find ways to use less oil and to use it more efficiently than put billions of dollars in the hands of countries that are not always our friends.
There are other things that we have to do to make ourselves more competitive. I think we need to change our immigration policies and laws. It doesn’t make sense to me, for instance, that if you’re bright enough to be able to get into a great institution of higher learning—let’s say you’re from Pakistan and you get into MIT to get a Ph.D. You’re the very top of the world. You get into MIT. You’re going to get an engineering degree. You’re going to get a Ph.D. You graduate in the top of your class. There’s only one condition on being able to come to MIT, and that is that you’ll go home when you’re finished. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to have our border porous to those people without skill and without education but to have it entirely closed to people who would come here and be the best and brightest and add to our society and make us more competitive.
I think we also have to be very serious about negotiating with the Asians at this point while we’re in a position of strength. They need us as much as we need them. We need to negotiate with great strength with regards to protecting our intellectual property, with regards to policies that will improve our balance of trade, balance of payments, and also finally, to improve our monetary policies as well.
There’s a fourth challenge. I mentioned three, the jihadists, the financial challenge we face as a nation by overspending, and third, the challenge from Asia. But there’s a fourth, and that’s cultural challenge. When I was in college the word “culture” didn’t mean a lot to me. I remember talking to a friend whose father was a professor of sociology and I said, “What is that anyway?”
And he said, “Well, sociology, that’s the study of cultures and differences among people.”
And it sounded awfully soft to me without a lot of real meat to it. As time has gone on I’ve come to appreciate that some of the soft things out there are very, very important—indeed to the strength and preservation of our leadership as a nation.
There’s a book that’s been written a couple of years ago called The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. It’s written by a professor named David Landis at Harvard College, and Professor Landis goes through about 500 pages exploring the growth and the collapse of different economies around the world and he ends up with this conclusion. He says if anything can be learned from the history of economic development, it is this: Culture makes all the difference.
If you look at what has made the United States of America the greatest and most powerful economy and military force in the world, I believe it relates to our culture. What is our culture? What defines us?
You have an idea about what that is. There are a number of things that I think define us. One is we love liberty. We love opportunity. We’re willing to work hard as you do here. We’re a people who are, a people of faith. We don’t all believe in God, but we almost all believe in a purpose greater than ourselves, and most, in fact, do believe in God and try and abide by the principles as they’re taught by the religions that we welcome. We have respect for human life. We recognize that the family is the foundation of our society. All of these principles are under attack or under challenge in different places in our country at different times, but they’re so essential to our preservation that we have to defend them.
In my own state of Massachusetts for instance the supreme judicial court has countenanced marriage between people of the same gender. I think that’s a mistake. Why is that? Not because I don’t think people that are adults should be able to have equal rights. I understand why the court did what it did. It looked at heterosexual couples and said they can marry and if heterosexual couples can marry, then to have equal rights homosexual couples should be able to marry.
I understand that, and I’m tolerant for other people’s choices. But I believe that marriage is primarily about not adult rights, but children and the development of the next generation, and I believe that the ideal setting for raising a child is with a mother and a father involved where the elements of each different gender can be part of the development of that child. I believe every child in America has the right to have a mother and a father and even if there’s a divorce or a death, you still learn from the attributes of that gender with which you associate.
Now, I know there’s some people when they hear about those challenges I’ve just described, they get a little concerned. And I want to indicate to you that I’m very optimistic about them. Why? Because America always rises to the occasion.
My dad used to say there’s nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success. We get a little complacent and sit back on our hands. But we’re going to rise to the occasion as we recognize the extent of the challenges that we do face.
Abigail Adams wrote to her son when he was a little discouraged during the time of the foundation of our country. She said great necessities call out great virtues, and this is a time of great necessities and it is calling forth great virtues.
I began by telling you the story of Mike Eruzione of the miracle on ice hockey team in 1980. I had an experience that made me just remember how much I love this country and why I’m so optimistic associated with the games in 2002. I met a young athlete named Derek Parra, a Hispanic American from California. He was an inline rollerblade skater. His wife convinced him to strap on some ice skates. He tried it. He was fast, very fast—fast enough to make the Olympic team. He got a silver medal in speed skating as a Hispanic American that had only used rollerblades and then he got a gold medal in speed skating. Absolutely extraordinary.
I asked him if he would sit with the vice president in the closing ceremonies representing all the athletes, but as I did so, I said, “Derek, what was the most meaningful experience in your Olympic games?”
I wondered what he would say and I was proud and it made me optimistic about the future of this country.
He said, “It wasn’t winning the silver medal. It wasn’t winning the gold medal. The most powerful experience in my Olympics was carrying in the flag that had flown above the World Trade Center on September 11 of 2001.”
You may recall if you watched those Salt Lake City games, eight athletes carried in that tattered flag. They brought it before the orchestra and the choir. They had expected that when it was announced the crowd would erupt in cheers. Fifty-five thousand people were totally completely silent showing their reverence for the emblem of our nation and its liberty.
He said, “We stopped in front of the orchestra and the choir and they began to sing the national anthem,” and then he said, “They surprised us by singing a reprise of the last line one octave higher with more orchestration. ‘Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.’” And he said, “As they sang that a little gust of wind filled the flag and lifted it in our hands, and it was as if the spirits and voices of all of the men and women who had fought and died for American liberty had breathed into that flag.” And he said, “As that happened, tears ran down my face.”
And I recognized that is why this nation will always rise to the occasion, why we will remain the most powerful nation upon the earth and help preserve the peace of the earth. It is because of men like Marine Second Lt. Almar Fitzgerald from this institution and others whose names, the other 11 names whose names appear next to the chapel, it is because of their sacrifice, their love of liberty, their love of faith, their love of these institutions, that we have the nation we have.
Thank you, cadets, for your service, for your willingness to consider education, heroism, and your commitment to the United States of America. Thank you so much.