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Marco Rubio's CPAC speech: The transcript

The transcript of Marco Rubio's keynote speech Thursday morning at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington:

Thank you so much. Thank you. I really appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you, Senator DeMint, who believed in me when, really, the only people -- most of the people that believed in me lived in my house. And thank you to CPAC. I'm really honored that you have me here today in Washington.

You know, a week ago we didn't know we were going to make it here. We were watching the -- all the images of that winter weather, the extraordinary blizzard that even impacted government. I don't know if you know this, but the Congress couldn't meet to vote on bills. The regulatory agencies couldn't meet to set any regulations, either. And the president couldn't find anywhere to set up a teleprompter to announce new taxes.

You know, now that I come to think of it, the blizzard may be the best thing to happen to the American economy in 12 months.

I also want to take a moment and recognize all of you folks that came up from Florida that are here today. I know I saw some of the Young Republicans from the University of Central Florida here, and I wanted to recognize them. Thank you.

And finally, my wife was able to join us here today. See -- I told you people really come to my speeches.

You know, as I reflect on this campaign, not to mention all the opportunities that I've had in my life, it often reminds me of my grandfather. My grandfather was an enormous influence on me growing up. He was born in 1899 to a poor, rural family in Cuba. When he was a very young man, he had polio, and it permanently disabled him. So he couldn't work the farm, and so they sent him away to school. In fact, he became the only member of his family that can read. And he would read anything and everything he could.

Now, when I was growing up my grandfather lived with us. And on many days I would sit on the porch of our home and listen to him tell me stories about history, about politics and about baseball, as he puffed one of his three daily cigars.

Now, it's been over 27 years since I've sat on that porch. And so all the details of the things he told me are not as clear as they once were. But there's one thing I vividly remember. It was a powerful sentiment that he wanted to make sure I understood. And that was because -- and that was this: that because of where he was born and who he was born to, there was only so much he was able to accomplish. But he wanted me to know that I would not have those limits, that there was no dreams, no ambitions, no aspirations unavailable to me. And he was right.

See, I was not born to a wealthy or connected family. And yet I have never felt limited by the circumstances of my birth. I have never once felt that there was something I couldn't do because of who my parents were or weren't. Now, why is it that I've been able to accomplish the things that my grandfather could not? Why did my dreams have the chance that his didn't?

The answer is simple. Because I am privileged. I am privileged to be a citizen of the single greatest society in all of human history. There's never been a nation like the United States, ever. It begins with the principles of our founding documents, principles that recognize that our rights come from God, not from our government -- principles that recognize that because all of us are equal in the eyes of our creator, all life is sacred at every stage of life.

Yeah. These principles embody the commitment to individual liberty which has made us the freest people in history. They also made possible our free-enterprise economy, which has made us the most prosperous people in history. The result is an America where -- which is the only place in the world where it doesn't matter who your parents were or where you came from. You can be anything you are willing to work hard to be. The result is the only economy in the world where poor people with a better idea and a strong work ethic can compete and succeed against rich people in the marketplace and competition. And the result is the most reliable defender of freedom in the history of the world.

Simply put, there's nothing like America in all the world. And even today with the problems that we face, who would you rather be? Which country would you trade places with? Just remember, an afterthought, when was the last time that you heard news accounts about a boatload of American refugees arriving on the shores of another country? And yet there have always have been those who haven't seen it this way. There have always been those that don't recognize this. They think that we need a guardian class in American government to protect us from ourselves. They think that the free-enterprise system is unfair, that a few people make a lot of money, and the rest of us get left behind. They believe that the only way business can make its money is by exploiting its workers and its customers. And they think that America's enemies exist because of something America did to earn their enmity.

Now, the problem is that in 2008 leaders with this worldview won elections. And now they know that the American people will never support their vision of America. So, instead, over the last 12 months they have used a severe economic downturn, a severe recession as an excuse to implement the statist policies that they have longed for all this time. In essence, they are using this downturn as cover not to fix America, but to try to change America to fundamentally redefine the role of government in our lives and the role of America in the world.

And let's remember that the expansion of government at home has implications abroad for our country. Now, this growth in our government's being funded by borrowed money. And almost half this money is held in foreign countries. In fact, one of them, China, every time we say something they don't agree with, they remind us of that. The good news is that it didn't take long for the American people to figure all this out.

And now as we near these midterm elections, what the American people are looking for is very clear. They are looking for leaders that understand what has happened, will come up here and stand up against it, and in its place will offer a clear alternative. First, we have to understand what's happening. Leaders at the highest levels of our government are undertaking a deliberate and systematic effort to redefine our government, our economy and our country. Now, people, as I said, all across America figured this out over a year ago, and they didn't wait for their senator or for their congressman to do something about it. They did it themselves. They have taken matters into their own hands, from tea parties to the election in Massachusetts.

From tea parties to the election in Massachusetts, we are witnessing the single greatest political pushback in American history. Now, the political class tries to make sense of all of this, but they can't, because never has the political class or the mainstream media that covers them been more out of touch with the American people than they are today. You see, 2010 is not just a choice between Republicans and Democrats. It's not just a choice between liberals and conservatives. 2010 is a referendum on the very identity of our nation.

And the issues are so big, so consequential, so generational that many of the old rules of political engagement will not apply. For example, a long list of early establishment endorsements will not spare you a primary. Clever one line slogans aren't going to spare you the need to discuss policy issues in detail. And the old, tired political attacks that worked once in the past aren't going to get you elected this time.

And the reason is simple because people get it, because they understand that if we get this wrong, there may be no turning back for America. That's why the second thing leaders want -- the second thing that people want are leaders that will come here to Washington, D.C. and stand up to this big government agenda, not be co-opted by it.

After all, the U.S. Senate already has one Arlen Specter too many. And after all, America already has a Democrat Party, it doesn't need two Democrat parties.

Now, look, it's true, Americans do want leaders that will come to Washington, D.C. and work together to get things done, but that comes with a very important caveat, it depends what they're trying to do. If they're working to lower tax rates, simplify the tax code, they want us to work together. If they're working to get control of a runaway of a federal debt and annual deficits, they want us to work together.

If they're working to defeat radical Islam and the threat that it poses through terrorism, they want us to work together.

However, however, if the goal is to abandon America's free enterprise economy, if the goal is to convert America into a submissive member of the international community, if the goal is not to fix America, but to change America, then they want leaders that are going to come up here and fight it every step of the way.

That cheer -- I don't know what that one was, but that Marco cheer always worries me because I'm always afraid that someone is going to starting screaming, "polo," and would ruin the speech.

Thank you.

Finally, voters are looking for leaders that will offer a clear alternative. You know, this severe economic downturn is a perfect time to embrace and reinvigorate the free enterprise economy, not to abandon it. And look, jobs aren't created by politicians; they're created by people who are willing to use their money to start a business or expand an existing one. And what they're looking for are clear signs from Washington that Washington is serious about pro-growth policies, about controlling spending and about ending the practice of monetizing our budget shortfall.

So here are a few measures that I think will help set change or send that signal. Let's reform the tax code and reduce tax rates across the board.

Let's eliminate double taxation by abolishing the taxes on capital gains, on dividends, on interest. And while we're at it, let's eliminate the one on death, too.

Let's significantly lower the corporate tax rates so that once again it's competitive with the rest of the world.

Let's stop big government energy mandates like cap-and-trade, and instead trust the American innovator to make us energy independent.

Instead of having the federal government go out and open an insurance company, let's make a series of simple changes that puts the consumer in charge of health-care spending in America. And while we're at it, let's try some lawsuit abuse reform, as well. And finally, let's undertake serious measures that show that we are serious about getting control of our federal national debt.

Now, Americans are also looking for clear alternatives on the issues of national defense. As I said earlier, there is no greater risk to this country than the risk posed by radical Islamic terrorists. Let me be clear about something. These terrorists aren't trying to kill us because we offended them. They attack us because they want to impose their view of the world on as many people as they can, and America is standing in their way. We need to make it unmistakably clear that we will do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, to defeat radical Islamic terrorism.

We will punish -- we will punish their allies, like Iran -- and we will stand with our allies, like Israel. We will target and we will destroy terrorist cells and the leaders of those cells. The ones that survive, we will capture them.

AUDIENCE: Marco!

RUBIO: We will get important -- remember the Marco Polo thing I told you? We will capture them, we will get useful information from them and then we will bring them to justice, in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo -- as I said, in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo, not a civilian courtroom in Manhattan.

Let me close by saying this. For many of us who were born and raised in this country, including me, it's sometimes easy -- sometimes easy to forget how special America really is. But I was raised by exiles, by people who know what it is like to lose their country, by people who have a unique perspective on why elections matter, or lack thereof, by people who clearly understand how different America is from the rest of the world. And they've taught me this my whole life.

And they taught me, by word and by deed, that what makes America great is not that we have more rich people than anybody else. What makes America great is that there are dreams that are impossible everywhere else but are possible here. And why is that? It's because of the choices that people that came before us made.

Almost every other country in the world chose to have the government run the economy. They chose to allow government to decide which companies survive and fail. They chose to allow government to determine which industries are to be rewarded. But the problem is that when government controls the economy, those who can influence government keep winning, and everybody else just stays the same. And so in those countries, the employee never becomes the employer, the small business can never compete with a big business, and no matter how hard your parents work or how many sacrifices they make, if you weren't born into the right family in those countries, there's only so far you can go.

Now, we've had our excesses here in America, but for the better part of 234 years, Americans have chosen something very different, Americans chose individual liberty instead of the false security of government. Americans chose a limited government that exists to protect our rights, not to grant them.

Americans chose a free enterprise system designed to provide a quality of opportunity, not compel a quality of results. And that is why this is only place in the world where you can open up a business in the spare bedroom of your home.

That is why this is the only place in the world where a company that started as an idea drawn out on the back of a cocktail napkin can one day be publicly traded on Wall Street. That's why this is the only country in the world where today's employee is tomorrow's employer. And yet, there are still people in American politics who, for some reason, cling to this belief that America is better off adopting the economic policies of nations whose people who immigrate here from there.

Now, they have the right to believe whatever they want, but I do not have that option. You see, I'm one generation removed from a very different life. My mother was one of seven sisters born to my grandfather that I talked about earlier born to very humble parents who struggled every day. My father had it even tougher. His mother died when he was only six years old and the day after her funeral, he went to work selling coffee in the streets of Havana with his father and as best as I can tell, he worked from then on for 70 years.

They came to America with virtually nothing, no English, no money, no friends. Only the strong determination to provide their children all the opportunities they never had.

My mom worked as a cashier, a factory worker, a maid and a K-Mart stock clerk; my dad primarily as a bartender. Both of my parents worked jobs so their children could have careers and their lives were never easy.

How many nights did I hear the keys of my 70-year-old father at the door as he came home after another 16-hour day? How many mornings would I wake up and run into my mom who was just coming home from the overnight shift as a stock clerk at K-Mart?

When you're young and in a hurry, the meaning of those moments escape you, but as the years go by and as my own children get older, I understand it now. I realize that my parents were once my age, that they once had dreams -- that there were some things that they once wanted to accomplish. But because of where they were born, because of who they were born to, because they lost their country, their dreams never had a chance. So they came here to America and went to work and it became the mission of their lives to give us the chance to do everything that they could not.

And so now I know that every chance I have ever had and everything that I will ever accomplish, I owe to God, to my parents' sacrifices and to the United States of America.

My parents never achieved wealth or influence, but their hard work opened doors for their children that had been closed for them, and so to me, their story is the very essence of the American miracle. It is a story that is rare in the world, and yet, it is common here. It is common here because those that came before us chose to live in a free society. It is common here because those who came before us chose free enterprise. But now our leaders are asking us to choose something very different. They're asking us to abandon the things that separate us from the rest of the world.

Those that came before us made their choice and now, you and I must make ours.

Now, I must decide, do I want my children to grow up in the country that I grew up in or do I want them to grow up in a country like the one my parents grew up in?

Now you must decide. Do you want your children to inherit your hopes and your dreams?

AUDIENCE: Yes!

RUBIO: Or do you want them to inherit your unfulfilled and unresolved problems?

AUDIENCE: No!

RUBIO: And so now we must decide. Do we want to continue to be exceptional, or are we prepared to become like everybody else?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: No.

RUBIO: It's a clear choice between two very different futures. And the task this year for us is to make sure that Americans choose the right one. You see -- my four children, your children and grandchildren are members of the most important generation in American history. If we succeed in convincing the American people to follow up, theirs will be the most prosperous generation in the history of our country. But if we fail, they will be the first to inherit a diminished nation.

The final verdict on our generation will be written by Americans who haven't even been born yet. Let us make sure they write that we made the right choice, that in the early years of this century, faced with troubling and uncertain times, there were those who believed that the great American story had run its course. But we did not agree. Fear did not lead us to abandon our liberty. Uncertainty did not lead us to abandon the entrepreneurial spirit. We fought for and held on to those things that made us exceptional. And because we did, there was still one place in the world where the individual was more important than the state. Because we did, there was still at least one place in the world where who you come from does not determine where you get to go.

Let us ensure that history's record of this time is clear that like those Americans that came before us, we rose to face the challenges of our time. Like those Americans who came before us, we made the right choice. And because we did, at least for one generation more the American miracle lived on.

Thank you all. And God bless you. Thank you for having me.

(C) 2010, Federal News Service

By Post Editor  |  February 18, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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