Jon Kyl, the Republican senator from Arizona, delivered his farewell address to the Senate Wednesday afternoon. Kyl is retiring at the end of this term after 18 years in the Senate and 8 years in the House of Representatives. Read his speech below:
“I’m honored to have served for 18 years as Arizona’s 10th Senator—and for four terms in the House of Representatives before that. Now it is time to move on.
“My successor, Senator-elect Jeff Flake, is a good and honorable public servant who will work hard on behalf of our great state of Arizona. And my colleague John McCain will continue his long and dedicated service as well. I deeply appreciate the remarks he delivered here yesterday.
“I want to say thank you to my colleagues for your friendship. It’s been a privilege working with so many of you—on both sides of the aisle. While it’s true that Washington would benefit from more civility, the Senate, behind the scenes, is an extraordinarily collegial institution. And I will certainly miss that aspect of the job. I also want to thank my staff, past and present, for working so many long hours and for spending so much time analyzing the issues that will determine America’s future.
“Farewell speeches offer the opportunity to reminisce about the past. I don’t believe that would be the best use of your time or mine. Instead, I am going to comment on some of the biggest public-policy challenges America faces and recommend principles to guide the way forward.
“I was first elected to public office when the Reagan revolution was in full swing. Maximizing freedom guided the policies of that era, with tremendous success. My goal as a public servant has been to advance, and maintain a consensus in favor of, the so-called three legs of the Reagan public-policy stool: (1) dynamic, growth-oriented economics; (2) the social values that make limited government possible; and (3) a national-security commitment that emphasizes a strong and sovereign America. In each of the three areas, maximizing freedom—and the positive results that flow from that—is the goal.
“The Reagan years showed us that expanding economic freedom should be the North Star—the guiding light—of U.S. policy, because it is the best way to achieve sustained and broad-based prosperity for all. Free markets, low taxes, and limited government allow citizens to use their talents and resources in whatever way they choose, and to keep more of the fruits of their labor. They encourage people to invest, work, start businesses, and hire others. In other words, free markets promote economic well-being for all.
“Cutting taxes at the margins—that is, reducing the rate of tax on the next dollar earned—encourages growth. Raising taxes can have the opposite effect. Nobel economist Edward Prescott of Arizona has found that higher marginal tax rates are the reason that Europeans work one-third fewer hours than Americans.
“When marginal tax rates are lower, prosperity flows to other sectors of society allowing business to create jobs and new products, compete for workers, raise wages, and invest their profits, which can then be lent to other entrepreneurs. Everyone gains in a free economy. As John Kennedy put it: A rising tide lifts all boats.
“Look at what free enterprise has achieved. After President Reagan dramatically lowered tax rates and trimmed regulation, income increased in every quintile, millions of new private-sector jobs were created, and the stock market soared, tripling in value over eight years. The lower tax rates and reduced regulatory burden produced a more robust economy. And a more robust economy meant more revenue for government. Similar results attended the tax-rate reductions during the presidency of George W. Bush.
“In recent years, many policymakers have forgotten these lessons. Since 2008, America’s score in the Index of Economic Freedom has declined significantly, to the point that we are no longer considered a ‘free’ economy, but rather a ‘mostly free’ economy. That is what happens when you dramatically increase government spending and regulations. Now we are on the verge of a massive tax increase, which could undermine small businesses and stifle the economic growth America badly needs.
“Policymakers must focus on the basic laws of economic inputs. A faulty view has gained traction in recent years: that consumption, fueled by government spending, actually creates economic growth. It doesn’t. It just moves money around, taking from people who produced it and could productively spend or reinvest it, and giving it to government to spend. Consumption is the wrong target.
“People only change their spending habits when they know that they will have greater consistent income over time—for example, when they receive a raise at work or get a permanent tax-rate cut. That’s why temporary ‘stimulus’ tax gimmicks don’t work.
“If the problem with the economy is supposedly a lack of consumption, the government can’t solve that problem by spending for us. After all, it’s our tax money that’s being taken out of the economy and spent. And when the government borrows, it will eventually have to tax the people to pay back what was borrowed. There is no free lunch. For the government to spend, taxpayers have to give up wealth that they could have spent or invested. Keynesian, demand-side economics assumes that the government is more efficient at spending our money than we are. This assumption has proved incorrect time and again.
“Wise policymakers will find the right balance between the need for more tax revenue and the need for more economic freedom. They will remember that there is no fixed economic pie legislators should try to divide. They will remember that labor, capital, and technology are the real factors that drive long-term economic growth, not government spending. They will stop shackling would-be entrepreneurs and job creators with ever more burdensome regulations.
“And here’s some more good news about growth-based free enterprise. It is the most moral economic system ever devised, for three reasons. First, it is premised on the truth that success only comes by supplying something to others that they really need or want. In the bargain, both sides benefit. Second, this system has produced incredible wealth around the world, lifting millions out of poverty. No economic system can come in helping people. So, it is the most moral economic system in providing material benefits.
“But, free enterprise provides more than increased income and material prosperity. Those things help, but they aren’t what make humans really thrive. The key determinant of lasting happiness and satisfaction is what American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks has called ‘earned success.’ People are happiest when they do something they are good at—when they create value in the lives of others—and genuinely earn their income, regardless of how much it is.
“Brooks put it very well in his book The Battle: ‘Earned success gives people a sense of meaning about their lives. And meaning also is key to human flourishing. It reassures us that what we do in life is of significance and value, for ourselves and those around us. To truly flourish, we need to know that the ways in which we occupy our waking hours are not based on mere pursuit of pleasure or money or any other superficial goal. We need to know that our endeavors have a deeper purpose.’
“The earned success that comes from doing a job well explains why fabulously wealthy people often choose not to retire after they have earned their fortunes. They’re motivated by the satisfaction that comes from spending the day productively—creating, innovating, and solving problems. They’re creating purpose-driven value in their own lives and oftentimes tangible value in the lives of others.
“The effect of earned success also explains why people who win the lottery often become depressed when they find out that free money offers hollow joy.
“Because free enterprise promotes freedom to achieve, and, therefore, more opportunities to earn success, it is the most moral economic system ever created. It is also the fairest system because it rewards merit, hard work, and achievement. This is what brought my grandparents to this country, along with millions of other immigrants. Incidentally, real free enterprise has no place for crony capitalism because it doesn’t have government picking winners and losers.
“The biggest economic favor that policymakers can do for Americans is to follow the Reagan legacy and support of free-market policies that make more opportunity, more mobility, and more earned success (and human flourishing) possible for every American. Free enterprise is the only economic system that gives us so many opportunities to pursue fundamental happiness and lasting satisfaction.
“President Reagan devoted his presidency—and indeed his entire career in public life—to the expansion of economic freedom. But he also understood that economic freedom depends on certain cultural underpinnings, such as marriage, family, and personal responsibility. He understood that family breakdown and social pathologies would ultimately make people more reliant on government, and thus more eager for government to expand, sapping them of individual responsibility and the need to care for others in the family or community.
“In short: Reagan understood that economic conservatism would not survive—could not survive—unless social conservatism survived too.
“The United States has a stronger philosophical attachment to freedom and limited government than any other nation on earth. And yet, I also recognize that many cultural trends are working against us. For example, nearly 41 percent of all American children are now born to unmarried women, compared with fewer than 11 percent in 1970. Without stable, two-parent families, the government bears more of a burden of caring for these children. The growth in food stamps and other support programs proves the point. And at some point, this makes it harder to maintain a political consensus that favors limited government, economic freedom, and programs that help people out of poverty, rather than entrenching it.
“Why? To quote Princeton scholar Robert P. George: Limited government ‘cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that sooner or later will be government.’
“In other words, in the absence of two-parent families, the government fills the financial role of the father (to say nothing of other critical roles fathers play.) Over time, more and more Americans have come to rely on the government to provide for their most basic needs—needs that two-parent families have traditionally supported. And those Americans are now competing for increasingly scarce resources.
“This is not to judge the status of these families or to suggest it is not appropriate for government to provide the help. It is precisely because we do care that we provide help through the government and other institutions. But that is an action to ameliorate the effects of a condition, not to change the underlying condition.
“I believe we must to do all we can to revive the marriage culture, increase family stability, and ensure that more children grow up in two-parent households. Strong families have always been the key to upward mobility and economic security.
“If we want to remain an aspirational society—a society where children have the opportunities and the resources to pursue their dreams and create a better life—then we must encourage young Americans to embrace what Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution have called ‘the success sequence.’ That sequence is very simple: (1) Complete high school, (2) get a full-time job, and (3) get married, before having kids. If you follow that sequence, you are ‘virtually guaranteed’ to avoid poverty.
“The marriage culture is fighting an uphill battle against forces that threaten to overwhelm it. I would urge everyone who believes in limited government and economic freedom and the real self-worth and well-being of our children to do their part in rebuilding the institution of marriage. No other social cause or campaign is more vital to America’s future.
“When it comes to shaping our culture, we must also improve the quality of our students’ civic education. I fear that many American students are graduating from high school and college with only the vaguest knowledge of our founding and our constitution—what it means to be an American. It is hard to defend rights if you don’t know what they are and where they come from.
“Schools shape students’ views about our priorities as a society and what principles are worth standing up for. Instead of teaching history and the fundamentals of America’s founding, many curriculums focus on small, politically-correct topics, such as gender, class, diversity, and ethnicity. The entertainment industry and many major media outlets, too, dwell on these topics and lend them outsized importance.
“These topics tend to be political and emphasize what divides us. They ignore our common heritage of freedom, equality, self-reliance, human dignity, faith, and community. As William Bennett recently wrote, when we look at what students are being taught, it’s easy to see why more of them say they prefer socialism over free-market capitalism. ‘Politics is downstream from the culture,’ he writes.
“Bennett also noted that Plato said the two most important questions in a society are: ‘Who teaches the young and what do we teach them?’
“I believe we need to think long and hard about these two questions. It’s time to have a serious discussion about civics education. If Americans don’t understand or appreciate the foundations of our republican government, those foundations will gradually erode. In that sense, political and historical literacy is critical to the preservation of our constitutional freedoms.
“As President Reagan famously said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same’
“Moving on to the last leg of the Reagan policy stool, national security. I have tried to follow the Reagan legacy of pursuing peace through strength. As President Reagan once said, ‘Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because America was too strong’
“President Reagan knew that weakness tempts aggression, and he believed that deterrence meant ‘making sure any adversary who thinks about attacking the United States . . . concludes the risks to him outweigh any potential gains. Once he understands that, he won’t attack. We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression’
“American strength remains the best guarantor against major armed conflict between nation-states. While it is not our role to police the world—and we couldn’t do it in any event—it is also true that we are the indispensable nation to help safeguard liberal values around the world.
“For America to continue its leadership role, however, we must have a military with both the capability and the flexibility to address a wide range of challenges. And, yes, it means adequately funding the military requirements inter alia by avoiding the devastating sequestration of necessary defense investments. I would like to speak to four of our challenges:
1. Nuclear Modernization
2. Missile Defense
3. Terrorist threats
4. Transnational Law
“For the first time in the history of U.S. nuclear policy, the president has placed nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, rather than nuclear deterrence, ‘atop the U.S. nuclear agenda.’
“Ironically, more treaties or unilateral actions that take us closer to nuclear disarmament will not help address the nuclear dangers we face today; such actions will serve only to make our allies, who depend on U.S. nuclear guarantees, more nervous, while potentially weakening the credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence.
“Senate support for the 2010 New START treaty was based upon a commitment to modernize our aging nuclear complex and weapons. As that commitment starts to decay, it will become increasingly difficult to rebuild the responsive nuclear infrastructure that even the president agrees is necessary for further nuclear reductions, as well as the continued credibility of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
“The New START proceedings made it clear that the nuclear balance between the United States and Russia under New START force levels would be stable (except, of course, for the huge disparity in tactical nuclear weapons that Russia enjoys). There would be no incentives to strike first during a crisis, nor would there be incentives to grow our respective nuclear arsenals in the future.
We should think very carefully, therefore, before we contemplate any changes to longstanding U.S. nuclear deterrence policies, or pursue further reductions, in support of the president’s disarmament agenda. We absolutely cannot know for certain that fewer numbers of weapons will make us safer. In fact, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft recently reminded us ‘that strategic stability is not inherent with low numbers of weapons; indeed, excessively low numbers could lead to a situation in which surprise attacks are conceivable.’
“Policymakers would do well to heed the advice of Winston Churchill, offered in his last address to the United States Congress: ‘Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure, and more than sure, that other means of preserving peace are in your hands.’ Against the backdrop of more than 100 million war casualties from conventional weapons in just the 30 years before development of the atomic weapon, this is sobering advice indeed.
“The second challenge is missile defense. Recent events illustrate the importance of missile defense in today’s security environment. Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system protected its population against rocket attacks, giving Israeli military and political authorities the time and space necessary to avoid a devastating ground war, which is ultimately what made a truce possible. As Secretary of Defense Panetta said at the time, ‘Iron Dome does not start wars, it helps prevent wars.’
“Elsewhere in the world, Turkey has requested NATO Patriot batteries to protect it against Syrian ballistic missiles, potentially armed with chemical weapons. Meanwhile, Japan, South Korea, and the United States recently activated their ballistic missile defense systems in response to North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile launch—yet another reminder that the threat doesn’t stand still.
“And in response to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and longer-range ballistic missiles, NATO has agreed to support the deployment of short-, medium-, and long-range ballistic missile-defense systems to protect alliance territory and thereby avoid potential Iranian nuclear blackmail. So, the benefits of defense are well appreciated, especially by those most directly threatened.
“We’ve proven that it is possible to hit a bullet with a bullet, and we’ve debunked the Cold War–era argument that missile defense contribute to a new arms race: Since the U.S. withdrew from the ABM Treaty, we have reduced the number of deployed nuclear weapons from 6,000 (START) to 1,700 (Moscow Treaty) to 1,550 (New START).
“We must continue to disabuse some of the notion that U.S. vulnerability to the Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals is a source of stability, when in fact the most important constitutional and moral duty of any president is to protect the American people.
“We have made some progress deploying domestic missile defenses since the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, though we have also squandered opportunities to do more.
“Here are just a few missile-defense challenges for the future.
“First, over the past four years, the Obama administration has consistently reduced funding for missile defense. Second, it has refocused funding on regional missile defenses at the expense of protecting the homeland and developing future technologies.
“Third, the administration has scaled back the number of ground-based interceptors protecting the homeland from 54 to only 30 -- numbers that do not meet the standard established by the Missile Defense Act of 1999, which required a defense capable of addressing accidental and unauthorized attacks from any source. And, fourth, the administration has no plans to modernize interceptors that are more than 20 years old and therefore unlikely to keep pace with future threats.
“And there is, as I said, very little funding devoted to new, breakthrough technologies that could provide even more effective defenses for the United States, such as lasers and space-based interceptors.
“We must remember, as NORTHCOM commander General Jacoby has explained to Congress, that ‘no homeland task is more important than protecting the United States from a limited ICBM attack ...’
“Finally, one of the greatest challenges we face today stems from Russian attempts to limit the development and deployment of U.S. and allied missile-defense systems. The United States cannot allow Russia to dictate to us limits on the capabilities of U.S. missile defenses. If they could be effective against a Russian launch, so be it. That’s what it means to protect Americans from potential threats. If the Russians argue that they pose no possible threat, then our missile defense should be irrelevant to them.
“From negotiations on the New START treaty to threatening the United States and NATO in an attempt to limit our planned deployments in Europe, the Russians have never abandoned their goal of limiting the effectiveness of U.S missile defense. The answer is not ‘reset,’ but recommitment to the principle that the most moral way to protect the American people from missile attacks is by missile defense.
“The third national-security challenge I’d like to discuss is the threat of political Islam.
“To defeat an enemy we must first know the enemy, and that includes calling them by their name: radical Islamists who seek to impose their ideology to rule others—to govern political, social, and civic life, as well as religious life.
“Intelligence is key to defeating political Islam. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Patriot Act are good examples of the tools we need to know what our enemies are planning, and who they are, before they strike. These tools cannot be allowed to expire.
“The Patriot Act reflects a recognition that the investigators charged with preventing acts of terrorism should have at least the same investigative tools as federal agents charged with targeting mobsters or health-care fraud.
“The fourth, and last, national-security challenge I’ll mention is the rise of transnational law, which poses a serious threat to American sovereignty.
“Our government was founded on the principle that laws should be made through a democratic process, so that the people could hold their legislators accountable. The American people elect their own representatives, and therefore, control their own affairs.
“Americans want the benefits of global cooperation based on widespread acceptance of useful international ‘rules of the road.’ But such rules, like our domestic laws, should be adopted through democratic processes that ensure accountability on the part of the legislators. They should not be imposed by international bodies with zero accountability to the American people.
“The rise of global governance, I believe, challenges this principle. By global governance, I mean the use of multilateral treaties, and other agreements, to delegate power on matters such as the environment, natural resources, and individual rights to new international bodies with broad powers and little or no political accountability. Such issues have traditionally been decided by the laws of individual nations, not by international bureaucracies.
“Some treaties would directly implicate U.S. national security flexibility or capability. One such treaty was defeated by the Senate in 1999—the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would have jeopardized America’s nuclear deterrent by preventing us from ever again conducting tests of our nuclear weapons. We should never give up the right to verify that our nuclear deterrent works. It is critical that we know, our allies who rely on us know, and our potential adversaries know, or our weapons will not have deterrent effect. I urge my colleagues to defeat this treaty again should it come up in the President’s second term.
“In conclusion, Mr. President, in all three areas I’ve discussed, we’ve had successes, and we’ve had failures. I think of what Margaret Thatcher said as she was leaving public office, that there are no permanent victories in politics. What she meant was, you can leave office having upheld your principles and accomplished some of your policy goals, but that doesn’t mean there will always be a consensus in favor of your preferred policies—or that your accomplishments won’t be reversed in the future.
“As I look back on my 26 years in Congress and my 18 years here in the Senate, I am deeply proud of everything we accomplished, from tax relief and welfare reform to missile defense and nuclear policy—not to mention things of primary importance to my state. But I also understand that political victories can be ephemeral—because in a democracy, the debate over these issues never really ends; it is always ongoing.
“I will miss being involved in these important debates and decisions. From now on, my role in these matters will be as a private citizen—but I still aim to be involved.
“It has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve, and it is very difficult to say goodbye. But I will depart Capitol Hill with enormous faith in the American people, a profound appreciation for the miracle of the American Republic, and a resilient optimism about America’s future.
“I thank my colleagues.”