Power and Influence
1987 College Republican
National  Convention
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
June 20, 1987

The rascals who invited me to speak here did not tell me this luncheon was to be done in the nature of a testimonial. But they did not plan well enough. One of those gracious letters assembled here was delivered, by mistake, to me at this hotel yesterday.

The honor you have done to me today is certainly gratifying, particularly because my wife here is with me. But praise will have lasting, beneficial effect if it gives greater weight to what I am about to say.

Surely I was not invited to give another campaign speech. You and I have heard this weekend speeches by some of the best orators in our party. Speeches which we have applauded after every paragraph, in some cases after every line.

No, you don't expect that kind of speech from me today.

Nor should you expect a nostalgic discourse, peppered with war stories about national College Republican battles I fought before many of you were born. Time enough for that around future campfires, late at night.

You are activists. You are leaders. It is time for you to think about governing. This is my topic.

Right now, today, you have influence. That is why so many Republican presidential candidates are courting you. To a degree, you have power. Your efforts may be crucial to the nomination and election of the next president of the United States. Wise politicians understand this.

But you influence and your power will extend beyond the upcoming 1988 presidential election. Many of you, I hope a great many of you, will be governing our country a generation from now. Some will have great influence; some will have great power. The concepts are different.

Power means you can make things happen. Influence means that those with power will return your telephone calls and seriously consider what you suggest. Only those with power govern.

The dramatic election of Ronald Reagan and so many other conservatives in 1980 was a great change for the better in our country. But it would be outrageously false to say that conservative Republicans now govern or have recently governed America.

And, with the great dispersion of conservative Republicans among the campaigns of the several presidential aspirants of our party, it would be preposterous to suggest we have consolidated conservative power in our country.

That achievement may be reserved for your generation.

In fact, many of the key leaders of the movement which nominated President Reagan are frankly despondent today.

They see the victorious team which nominated Ronald Reagan now split among half a dozen presidential candidates. And they are sick at heart because so many non-conservatives were appointed to positions of power in the current presidency.

"We lost our chance to govern," they say.

"If we could not come to power with Reagan, how can we now unite? How can we ever hope to govern?" they ask.

In my judgment, this despondency is not warranted. Just attending this convention, by far the largest College Republican National Committee history, would have given renewed hope to many of those who fear our conservative movement has peaked.

But, more fundamentally, there are reasons to believe our greatest days are yet to come.

Changes are not easy and they take much time in our system of government. That is how the Founding Fathers intended it as they designed our Constitution here in Philadelphia two hundred years ago.

Two generations of overwhelming, liberal Democratic control of our nation were not sufficient to destroy the limited government and economic freedoms set into motion by the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Under the liberal Democrats, government became worse by increments. In our era, conservative strength has grown by increments.

The dawn of the modern, conservative Republican Party came in the efforts to nominate Sen. Robert Taft for president. The last, great effort to nominate Taft came in 1952.

Conservatives failed to nominate Bob Taft. And some dropped out of politics. But others kept active.

Twelve years later, conservatives nominated Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964. I was there in San Francisco's Cow Palace as the youngest Goldwater delegate. It was wonderful. But Goldwater lost. Again many conservatives dropped out of politics and many others of us fought on, building for the future.

Sixteen years later, after our attempts in 1968 and 1976, conservatives nominated Ronald Reagan in 1980. He won. But from the outset his administration contained many in high places who were, to put it gently, unenthusiastic about the principles of limited government, free enterprise, strong national defense and traditional moral values which underlay his campaign.

So this year, when you, the participants in this great gathering of the future leaders of the Republican Party, encounter and older conservative unhappy with imperfections in the Reagan Administration, recount these facts:

Conservatives could not nominate Taft.

Conservatives could not elect Goldwater.

And we can't fairly be said to have governed with Reagan.

But we have grown in influence and power each step of the way. And the next time, the next time we nominate and elect a conservative president we will be prepared to assemble a much more solidly conservative administration.

Here's why. The great, long term achievement of the Reagan Administration is the credentialling of hundreds of solid conservatives for future government service.

When we won the 1980 elections, hardly any of us on his nominating team, except some Californians, had previous executive branch experience. It was not realistic to expect to fill all the top slots in the Reagan Administration with men and women who had never supervised big bureaucracies or managed huge budgets. But some good conservatives have now served in virtually every Federal department and agency.

In the next conservative administration there will be credible, experienced, conservative candidates available for every position of importance.

Then these newly appointed conservatives, some just a few years older than you, will assuredly fill the slots under them with many of you now in this room.

I believe conservative unity may be achieved after what I expect to be a multi-ballot convention in New Orleans next summer. If we do unite then, the following, inevitable disasters will force us together in future election cycles. Unity is always more difficult in prosperity than in adversity, when survival is at risk.

And when will we elect the next conservative Republican president?

You and I surely hope it will be next year. But despite our best efforts it may not be until later.

It is ironic that the young, who have most of the time, are often the most impatient. Please remember how the persistence of the liberal Democrats paid off for them for two generations. I believe you can be as patient and as hard working as the liberals of that past era.

As we move into the contest for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination, each of us has many options. I am not yet committed to any candidate, but I'm favorably disposed to most of them.

Let me suggest to you a requirement, a prerequisite to support for any candidate. If a candidate's record indicates he will determinedly appoint conservatives, he is eligible for your consideration. If not, pick someone else.

Personnel is policy. It does not matter much what a candidate says now about public issues, if the people he would appoint to govern power have other views.

A candidate's people reveal more about him than his words.

If the staff he has appointed in the past, if many of his current campaign leadership do not share your philosophy, you would not be pleased with the policies of his administration.

With all the current excitement about presidential politics, it may be hard to focus on other aspects of political power. But the truth is that the executive branch does not really govern.

Give me the choice between a conservative Republican administration and a conservative Republican Congress. I'll pick the Congress every time.

It is true that a president usually can get any one thing he wants through the Congress. But to do so he may have to give up fifty different things key members of the Congress demand. Despite the prestige of the White House, the presidency is clearly the junior partner to the Congress under our system.

Therefore, if you are serious about governing, you must have power in the Congress. Career opportunities abound there. Staff as well as elected members have real power.

Career bureaucrats have power as well. Conservative Republicans are rare as diamonds in the Foreign Service and the Civil Service. Yet there is no reason why we should grant the liberals any monopoly in these areas. The pay is good, and the job security is about perfect.

The judicial branch of our Federal government offers its own range of opportunities for you. It is in this area that the Reagan administration has most consistently used its power for conservatives.

At the state and local government levels as well, there are many satisfying opportunities open to you. These are often the best places to launch yourself in the process.

At all levels and in all branches, power is divided and shared, as it should be. But only those inside government have power. All others can have, at most, influence.

Parties are vehicles to power. Grassroots political groups can propel people to power. But only people in government wield legal power and make public policy.

It is not enough for conservative Republicans to have influence. If you or others like you do not devote all or at least some of your lives to service in government, the power of government will be in other hands. People who do not share your principles will rule. You will be governed by their policies.

Not enough good people are willing to work in government. Many seek power for unworthy reasons.

Some seek power for prestige.

Some seek power for the pleasure of ordering others around.

Some seek power because they are socialists at heart.

Some seek power so they can get rich on graft.

Government power is too dangerous to be given to those who most relish its use.

Our system needs now and will continue to need an influx of people to government who are firmly committed to the domestic and foreign policy views of the great majority coalition which twice gave Ronald Reagan landslide national victories.

You qualify. You and the scores of thousands you represent here today. You and the hundreds of thousands of your fellow students whom you have the ability to recruit, train and activate.

Despite the ongoing effort of liberals to restrict, through so-called "campaign reform" the rights of all citizens to organize and participate in political activity, Americans still enjoy the freest political system in the world.

Most Americans, however, are not politically active. Almost half don't vote. Relatively few exercise our rights of all citizens to contribute or work in politics.

So the ones of us who are active determine who is given the right to govern.

In your lifetime the once dominant liberal infrastructure has been greatly weakened, largely through the failures of its policies. And a mighty new coalition has gained strength through the vehicle of our Republican Party.

It is not necessary for us to invent a new coalition for 1988. The materials are at hand for a new, normal governing majority. Our infrastructure is already in place and ready to grow.

The old policies of our opponents are discredited. Americans have seen for themselves what works for our country.

Unless we fail to remind voters of the chaos of the Carter Administration, unless we abandon the principles which have given us our recent political success, unless we fail to stress the differences which separate us from liberal opposition, unless we settle for influence rather than power, our greatest days are still ahead.

Philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who do not remember the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."

Let us all be students, students of politics and of governing.

Let us learn and remember how we got to where we are today.

Let us not forget where it is we want to go.

Morton Blackwell was co-founder of the Louisiana State University College Republican Club in 1962, College Republican State Chairman of Louisiana (1962-64), and executive director of the national College Republicans off and on for 5 ½ years (1965-70) under four consecutive College Republican national chairmen.