Bill Whittle: Selling Conservatism

The Firewall star explains how to pitch a pro-freedom message at Restoration Weekend.

Below are the video and transcript to Bill Whittle's speech at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 20th Anniversary Restoration Weekend. The event took place Nov. 13th-16th at the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Before I start things I'd like to just say one thing. This is my first time here. It's my third time here but it's my first time here actually working for the Freedom Center and working with David.  And being the person who's always written his own videos and very proud of his own videos, I've had a chance to actually work with David on scripts and let me just explain to you briefly how that goes.  I'll have a script idea for something I think is really profound, important and deep and I'll send it to David and David will go, "Ah, mostly no, you really kind of missed the boat.  You should concentrate a little more over this and take some of this out and add this beat over here."  And I say, "Well, yes sir, that'll be great" and then I hang up the phone and go, "Oh, you're going to get your beat over here.  You want a beat over here?  I'll put a beat over here.  I'll take this out of my video ... tell me who's going to write my own videos ..."  And I say, "Yeah, no, no, no.  We'll take this out, no problem.  We'll take it out.  We'll add this.  Sure.  Here ya go.  Take a look at it.  It's fine.  You're paying me here …"  It's so much better, it's just so much better.  It's so much better.  Curse you Comrade Horowitz.  Curse you and your magnificent vision for how to make a message clear and on point.

So what are we going to talk about today? Well, two years ago I was on this very stage just a few days after we took a shellacking by the Democrats.  I was on this stage two years ago after we'd lost a big election and I was terrific.  And if there's any correlation between those two things, this morning I am just gonna suck because we whipped those racist, anti-Semitic communists out of their boots.  We whipped them out of their boots.  Couldn't have happen to a nicer bunch of venal criminals.  So I'm sure the question everybody's asking is what now?  I mean, what now?

When Obama was elected it was the lightworker descending from heaven into the Roman columns and two years later the American people said enough of this guy.  We recaptured the House of Representatives.  That allowed him, allowed us to stop him from doing an awful lot of damage.  We had this incredible reverse in 2012 and now we have the Senate.  What does the Senate give us?  Well, this is not what I want to talk about today, but I think what we have with the House and the Senate is we have the ability to deliver legislation to the president's desk and we should be delivering a lot of legislation to his desk and make that son of a gun veto it.  Make him own it.  Make him take personal responsibility for the first time in his life and say "Nope, nope."  The 2015 Small Business Anti-Regulation Act.  Nope.  The 2016 IRS Restructuring Bill.  Nope.  Make him own it.  The Secure the Boarders for American Safety Act.  Nope.  Make him own his policies and failure by sending the kind of legislation the American people want to see and have him veto it.  And you put some markers down for 2016.

But that's not really what I want to talk about today.  What I'd like to talk about today briefly is this.  What are we actually selling to the American people?  What's our message?  For six years now we've been saying these guys are awful and their policies are awful and they're damaging the country and here's the evidence.  And they are.  And we keep doing this and that's what the videos do, but we can't just be a party or a movement that has a negative message.  Don't do that 'cause the American people have a perfect right to ask, "Well, if we don't do that then what do we do?"  What do you think is a better idea?  That's what I want to talk about today.  I'd like to talk about what I think the conservative message; I won't say the Republican message, but I will say the conservative message.  What is the conservative message moving forward from this point especially starting in 2016?  And I think where we have to start from is we have to start from the progressive message 'cause they had a message in 2008.  And that message was "Hope and Change."  And that's where we need to start.  Because hope and change appealed to a lot of people; appealed to a lot of stupid people, but it appealed to a lot of people.  Because hope and change, when you think about it, first of all, are unbelievably vague terms.  They're extremely vague.  Hope.  Hope, hope, hope.  Hope for what?  Change.  Change to what?  Change to what?  Driving along the freeway and then going off a cliff is a change.  Well change to what?  Hope from what?  But if you think about their message, this is the point I'm trying to make today.

Hope and change, when you get right down to it, are extremely passive qualities.  They're the qualities of herd animals.  They hope for change.  They hope for change.  There's nothing, no ownership in it.  There's no motion.  There's no ability to control your destiny.  You hope for change.  You sit back and wait for something to happen.  You sit and wait for something to happen.  And that's entirely their philosophy and that's what they want.  They want a nation of people who sit and wait for them and the rest of the elitists to make something happen for them.  And the American people are getting a little tired of hoping for change.  They're done with it.  We have to give them a better message.  So what's better than hope and change?

Well, many of you may have heard of an author named Viktor Frankl.  He was a philosopher who survived the concentration camps and he did a lot of thinking about this in the camp and then in a series of years of clinical research afterwards.  And Frankl wrote a book called Man's Search for Meaning.  And Frankl realized that it's not money that people want.  Freud thought that mankind's main motivation was the pursuit of pleasure.  But Frankl found out that wasn't the case at all in the camps.  He found that the people that survived in the camps survived because they had some sense of meaning.  Something mattered to them.  It was never the same for any two people.  Some cases it might be a missing wife, maybe it's a book that wasn't finished, maybe it's a desire to see Venice.  But the people that held on to some sense of meaning survived those awful conditions and Frankl wrote that in the concentration camps you could tell when a man was about to die because when he gave up his quest for meaning, he was gone in three days.  They just knew he was on his way out.  It's meaning.  It's not power.  It's not money.  It's meaning.

So, if we take that as granted -- and I know that's certainly true in my life and I'm sure it's true in your life.  Successful people, you know, the left thinks that successful people -- rich people, business people -- go into business to make money.  That's not why anybody starts a business.  People start a business because they have something they want to achieve.  They have a vision of something.  They've got a dream.  They can make a lot of money doing that but never say, "I'm going to go out and make a lot of money."  No.  I want to start a dry-cleaning business.  I think we can do a better job with mortgages.  Whatever the case may be.  So I think Frankl's right.  I think meaning is what people want.  And if we're going to be a party that has a future and as a party that has a message, we need to incorporate this.  So if I was going to write the message for the conservatives going into the future, I would say no, forget hope and change.  Those are passive, weak, probably-never-gonna-happen, lottery-ticket philosophies for herd animals.

If I was leading the GOP I would say our message on every single program that we put out is "What is your individual plan for meaning in your life?" What's your plan for meaning in your life?  If you raise that question, you start people thinking along the kind of lines that they should be thinking about in this country.  What's your plan for meaning in your life?  That's a specific question and it requires a specific kind of answer.  A very specific kind of answer.

What's your plan for meaning?  Well, what's required in the plan?  If you're going to plan for something, what's required in a plan?  You know, the difference between hope and plan is that a plan is hope on a timetable.  And I don't mean to be particularly vulgar about this but the difference between hoping and planning is the difference between sitting in your parents' basement at 39 years old playing video games and watching online porn versus working your butt off with two jobs and taking out the high school homecoming queen on prom night.  That's the difference between hoping and planning.  And I know which one I'd rather do 'cause I've done them both.

So, you want to get people to be thinking along the lines of planning.  What does planning entail?  What does it take to make a plan for your individual meaning?  What do you have to do?  Well, if you're going to plan something, you need probably five qualities.  Right?  You need ambition.  You need vision.  You need confidence, persistence and hard work.  You need those things.  And you can tell people that if you're willing to do those things, you don't have to hope anymore because it's not something that may happen someday.  If you have a plan and you're willing to execute the plan, you will get to whatever you define is the meaning in your life.  You will get there.  And then all of a sudden the American people realize what they used to realize a long time ago before these progressives came in here with their control over everything.  That their destinies are in their hands, not the government's hands.  That their destinies are not dependent on somebody else's welfare, nobody else's opinion of you, not your personal influence.  It's in your hands.  You own your own future.  It's your future to do with what you want to.

Why do you think Thomas Jefferson shocked the world by saying, "Life, liberty and" -- instead of property because that's what everybody referred to, "life, liberty and property" -- "the pursuit of happiness."  What an astonishing idea that was.  What an astonishing insight into the human condition to understand that the three things that make this country work are life, the ability to be alive and to have your own soul and your own desires, liberty, the freedom to do whatever you damn well want to so long as you don't interfere with somebody else's liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That's built into a government?  That's astonishing.  And that is the astonishing idea that we need to revive with the American people.  That you have the ability to pursue your own individual happiness and no one can stop you.  No one can stop you.  If you know what you want, you will get there if you follow these steps.  So what are the steps?

Well, the first step is ambition.  And the beautiful thing about ambition is ambition can be as big or as small as the individual person.  Some people may have an ambition to be a brain surgeon and that's going to require a lot of hard work over a long period of time.  Some person's ambition may be to go to every single home game of the Green Bay Packers.  And that person's ambition and that person's meaning is no more and no less meaningful than a brain surgeon because if going to every single home game of the Green Bay Packers makes that person happy and is what they care about, then they have a right to find a way to make that happen in their lives.  It's no better and no worse.  It is an individual search for meaning.  So you have to have first of all the ambition to understand that there's things out there that you want.

I think the second thing you need in order to execute a plan is you need a vision.  You need to see it.  You need to see it.  This where it comes closest to these progressives' ideas of hope.  I have a dream.  What's your dream?  I have a dream that someday maybe I'll own a really big boat.  Okay.  How you gonna get there?  I buy a lottery ticket once a week; I spend a dollar …  We know that's not going to get you the boat and on some level you know it, too.  On some level that dollar is a narcotic that you're injecting into your arm that allows you to think about having a boat, but you know you're not going to get that boat with that lottery ticket and everybody in the American public knows it.  And that's exactly what these people are selling the American people.  No.  That's what these progressives are selling.  A shot in the arm with a narcotic saying don't worry we'll give you barely enough food, barely enough housing.  We'll give you crappy phones, all this other stuff.  It's a narcotic.  That hope is a narcotic in that sense.  If you go to the American people and say you want a boat?  You say, good, I can relate to that.  I'd like to have a boat, too.  How do you get to your boat?  What's your plan?  Then you start to realize no one is in your way, but you've got to see it.  Everybody out here who's run a business has had in their heads a vision of what that business could look like.  They have a vision of what their career would look like.  They have a vision of what their house lots would look like.  They may know what kind of car they want to drive.  Sometimes you're touching these things.  Sometimes your touching them with your own hands.  That's all it takes.  You want to drive a nice Mercedes convertible?  Rent one.  Feel it.  Touch it.  Now you know what you want.  It's there.  It's real.  See, you need the vision of it.

I think probably the most important part of this five-step plan is confidence.  You gotta believe it.  You gotta believe you can do it.  I think Henry Ford's statement is as true a thing as I've ever heard: Whether you believe you're going to succeed or believe you're going to fail, you're right.  Right?  It's that simple.  Do you think you can do it?  Do you have the confidence to think that you can do it?  And of all the things that these progressives have done to this country, the thing that distressed me the most is how they have so insidiously destroyed each individual person's sense of confidence in his own ability to lead his own life.  That is appalling.  It's appalling.  Confidence is everything.  Confidence is everything and I'm a very confident person by and large.  But confidence isn't a little fortress that we live in you know. There are days that I wake up and I'm just completely out of juice.  I just don't have any confidence left; it's gone.  I'm done. I don't have any confidence left.  I don't believe any of this stuff's going to work.  I sit there.  I do awful things. I say awful things. I say things I regret. I hurt the people I like.  I'm miserable.  I'm embittered.  I'm jealous.  I'm petty.  I'm a Democrat for a couple of days.  I'm just a progressive for a couple of days wishing and hoping that things were different and angry that things didn't turn out the way I wanted and thinking, ah, well, this person's got the stuff that I want, and I'm a progressive for a day or two and then I slowly put the confidence back together and it takes a day or two or a week or whatever and then I'll just kind of pick myself up and go back and try again.

Which leads us to our fourth point in this giant idea of a plan: persistence.  Persistence.  Are you going to do this until you fail, Bill?  No.  No, I'm not going to do this until I fail.  I have -- the first time I stood on this podium I'd been failing for 40 years before I got up here.  I had been a failure for easily 35 years before anybody ever heard of me.  And I don't mean like a one-time failure.  I mean, I've been a security guard, I've been a waiter, I've been a limousine driver.  I've done everything and I've probably ruined six businesses trying to get up here.  But the seventh one's working out pretty well.  And so I'm going to continue to fail until I succeed.  And I'm not afraid of failure anymore.  Failure is my friend.  Failure teaches me lessons.  I was; the next video we're doing for Firewall is about the crash in the Mojave.  Spaceship Two.  I got to be good friends with Burt Rutan.  We made; it looked like that spacecraft crash happened because the copilot reached out too early and pulled the knob to release the feather mechanism in the back of the spacecraft.  Why did he do that?  Well, as pilots we're trained to touch the things that we're supposed to see in a preflight and I think he just made a simple honest mistake that probably could be fixed by one line on a checklist.  I think it's going to be just that simple.  One line on a checklist would have saved that mission.  Does that mean that we shouldn't have flown the mission?  No.  We didn't know that before.  Now we know.  We're going to go; we're going to make new mistakes now and we're going to kill more people so we can find out what else we don't know.  And we'll keep going up there until we find out what we don't know, and then when we find out what we don't know, we'll know what we know and then we'll move on.  And then that vehicle will be safe.  And then we'll go make some new failures and kill some more new people.  Courageous people who risk their lives to find out what we don't know.  That's persistence.  That's what makes America.  It's good to fail.  It should be easy to fail here.  I've failed here more times than I can count.  Failure's your friend as long as it doesn't get you down.  Persistence.  Persistence.  You just keep trying.  Keep trying until you get there.  And nothing in a plan should ever be single-pointed failure.  If you have a plan that depends on one individual sending money in to you or one thing happening; it's not a plan.  That's still hope.  It's got to have pathways to get there.

And I think the final thing I'll say after persistence of course -- and this is the deal killer for the left.  Ultimately when it's all said and done my friends, what it really comes down to for your individual plan for meaning is hard work.  And the left wants nothing to do with that.  It's so much easier to tax a business than it is to run a business.  It's so much easier to legislate other people's money into your wallet than it is to go out and actually make your own.  It's so much easier to just convince people to give you all the power than it is to go out and earn your own power. If anybody thinks that Barack Obama in the private sector could afford the smallest private jet, a Citation maybe, through the kind of brain and intellect that he has ...  He condemns people to travel in private jets; he's got the biggest private jet in the world.  He's got a four-engine 747 and he's got another one waiting right behind him.  Does anybody think that Barack Obama could earn that jet if he didn't go around telling other people that they're hopeless sheep hoping for change?  Of course not.  Joe Biden. It's not that Joe Biden couldn't run WalMart.  Joe Biden couldn't run a Wal-Mart.  He couldn't manage a Wal-Mart.  He travels in limousines by making people dependent on hope and change.  So it's hard work.  It's a lot of hard work.

And to close I want to tell you what that hard work means to me.  There's two people especially in this crowd today who've been a big part of me doing this extra work for these Firewalls that have been so much fun and so rewarding for me.  One of them is Ben Shapiro.  You here Ben?  Here he is.  My friend Jeremy Boreing was telling me, I was trying to decide can I do this extra work -- 'cause I already was working pretty hard and this is going to be a lot of extra work, these Firewalls -- can I do it?  Can I do it?  And Jeremy, said well Ben works like a rented mule and anytime more work comes along for Ben, he takes it.  And I thought this 12-year-old guy is making all this money?  He's making this money because he works like an animal.  Like an animal.  He works all the time.  He writes so much and I remember thinking, well, jeez, if this cute little thing can do it ... and then I figure I might be able to do a little more work myself, and if I have to get up earlier and stay up later then that's what I'm going to do.  And the other person who had a big effect on me in the same way is Andrew Klavan.  You in here Andrew?  I know I saw him earlier.  He left when he saw me speaking.  He normally just leaves the room when I'm present because it's too much for him to bear.  But Andrew Klavan said the same thing.  He said, "Take it, do it.  You can sleep when you're dead, Bill."  And Andrew was telling me he had some advice when he was going to start on his own and his psychologist or somebody  -- because he's in a massive amount of therapy needless to say if you're Andrew Klavan.  And he basically said his therapist said to him, Klavan said I don't work on weekends.  This guy said to him well then you're going to fail.  Any questions?  No, I don't want to work on the weekends.  Then you're going to fail.  So I work on weekends and I stay up late and I get up early.  And I work really hard and I earn the things that I earn because I have a vision in my plan for meaning.

I don't just have a dream.  When I was a kid I had a dream.  I wanted to walk on the moon.  I wanted to walk on the moon because that's what people my age did.  We commanded space shuttle missions and then we commanded Mars missions and we planted the flag and we went out there a bunch of  steely-eye mission men and we broke new horizons because that's what Americans do.  And for the middle part of my life I said well that's not going to happen.  NASA's a failure.  The space program's a failure.  All they do is go around in circles.  The moon is further away now than it was in 1969.  The moon's further away now than it was in 1959 when I was born.  Suddenly I realized it doesn't matter, I want to walk on the moon.  I want to walk on the moon, and I have plan to walk on the moon, and I'm going to do it.  I'm going to do it.  I'm going to take a space program to the American people.  I'm going to sell them on it -- $9.95 a month on their credit card.  It's going to generate a couple of billion dollars a year, more than we can spend.  I'm going to sell it to them because I know how to do that and one of the prices of me coordinating this thing -- I thought you're all going to use a space engineer, no.  It needs a guy with vision, who can convince people that this is a good idea.  So I'm going to start a private space program two or three years from now. I've got it all laid out step by step.  No step is a cavern that's a unjumpable,  It's a routine, regular business plan and when I'm done 12 years from now, I'm walking on the moon. Or I'm going to die trying because that's what I want to do.  I want to walk on the moon.  And I'm gonna.  I'm gonna.  Because I have a plan.  I have a plan.  And I'm going to do it 'cause I'm going to do it.

And if you take that idea to the American people and say to them listen, it doesn't have to be walking on the moon, it doesn't have to be brain surgeon.  It really, truly can be -- if what you want in life is a little boat to cruise the intercoastal waterway on, we can help you.  And by helping you what we really mean is we can get out of your way and show you how you can get that boat without depending on me or the lottery or any other thing that is some kind of cosmic ray that has to happen.  You want a boat?  Here's how you get a boat.  What's your plan for meaning in your life?  It changes people's thinking and it gets them out of the herd mentality and takes us away from being a nation of sheep back to what we are, which is a pack of sheepdogs who protect the innocent, and when we run into villains and wolves and other creatures that go bump in the night, we tear their throats out.  We tear their throats out.

Thank you very much for having me.  It's great to be here.

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