Dorchester 2013 – “E Pluribus Unum”

Founder’s Speech – Dorchester 2013

Representative John Davis, HD26

Thank you.  It is an honor and a pleasure to be here.  Thank you to the Dorchester Board for the invitation, and thank you delegates for indulging me for a few minutes while we wait for the real action to begin.

It’s a painful time for the conservative and independent movements. We’ve been talking about it all weekend, and for nearly four months.  Nationally, we lost the Presidency, and have lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 election cycles.  We held the US House but lost the House popular vote.  And we again failed to elect a Republican to statewide office in Oregon despite having qualified candidates with strong endorsements.

We stand today looking back on some lean years:

1982 – the last year a Republican won an election for governor in Oregon.

1984 – the last year a Republican won Oregon in a presidential election.

2002 – the last year a Republican won a statewide election in Oregon.

2004 – the last year that Republicans won control of one of the chambers of the Oregon state legislature.

Questions for our future abound: will conservatives and independents remain sidelined in Oregon indefinitely?  Equally important: will quality candidates from our movements turn away and seek success, relevancy, and service in the fields of business, nonprofit, and education, rather than politics?

Familiar remedies are proposed: change a few policies here, talk in more inclusive ways there, articulate our message more clearly, build a better voter database, get out the vote, increase registration, and wait for a better election year.  There’s a lot of truth in each of these solutions, and many of them have been addressed this weekend already and will be discussed as the conference continues.

But, I want to suggest that the primary challenge of our movement today, as it has been for decades, is to recognize and accept the reality that we encompass numerous varied viewpoints, while at the same time maintaining coherence and commitment to core principles, all within a framework that will keep us from consuming one another.

It is, ultimately, the challenge of finding unity in diversity.

In this room, as evidenced by the many grassroots organization booths down the hall, we have a wide diversity of viewpoints represented: libertarians, business groups, immigration reform advocates, Log Cabin Republicans, social conservatives, religious conservatives, fiscal conservatives, independents, and many more.

I suggest we not pretend we all agree on every issue. But the question is, if we admit that fact: How to do we unify among this diversity of viewpoints?

This is not a new challenge, nor one unique to our country or politics.

Unity in diversity has vexed humankind from its earliest days.

This challenge was identified by the earliest philosophers as one of the central problems in the world. Further, unity in diversity is the great challenge of science, as for example, physicists seek a unifying theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics to reconcile what sometimes appear to be competing theories of how the world actually works. The study of beauty and art also fundamentally involves the interplay of unity in diversity: a painting or a symphony only have real significance when there is both a diversity in their elements, and unity in the final product. If both the diversity of the elements and the unity of the final product do not have real significance, the arts would be reduced to meaningless pursuits. In fact, the very quest for unity in diversity stands at the heart of our greatest educational institutions: universities – the very word itself denotes the seeking of unity – “UNI – VERSITY”

But, foremost, the question of unity in diversity is and always has been a political problem.  Indeed, unity in diversity has been a uniquely American challenge from our earliest days: how to band together 13 unique, diverse, and independent states into a cohesive union without, on the one hand, devolving into centralized tyranny, or on the other hand, wasting away into regional and independent parochialism. Students of history will remember that America’s first experiment in bringing unity among the 13 diverse states was a failure: the Articles of Confederation. Taking effect at the end of the Revolutionary War, each state retained its own and nearly complete sovereignty, independence, and power.  The Articles were purposely written to keep the national government – the unifying element of the United States – as weak as possible, with no executive branch, no court system, requiring rigid unanimity for any of its amendments, and requiring a 9/13ths supermajority to pass any national laws.

What resulted rings eerily familiar with what we face in Oregon among the conservative movement: states competed directly with one another for economic supremacy, taxed each other and refused to pay taxes, minted competing currencies, refused to trade with one another, and were unchecked by the national government which maintained no judiciary, no head of foreign affairs, and no military to protect from outside forces.

The founders soon realized that the discord and disunity created by the Articles could not withstand the test of time.  The Constitutional Convention was convened in 1787, and after months of arduous negotiations, the Constitution of the United States was ratified.  In this context – the debate over the power of states versus the unifying federal government – the preamble the Constitution rings even more loudly: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  The founders were committed to finding unity in diversity.  The challenge remains today, to find unity as a nation, and to find unity as a movement.

E Pluribus Unum

For those of you who have coins in your pockets, please pull them out.  Two phrases appear on almost all US Currency: “In God We Trust” and “E Pluribus Unum.”  E pluribus unum describes an action: “Many, Uniting into One” or “Out of Many, One” – a phrase that captures the symbolism of the constitution of the United States, the symbolism of our union, and needs to be recaptured as the motto of the Republican Party, and our conservative movement.  If we are to have any hope of success in Oregon, the key is in our pocket: E pluribus unum – “Many, Uniting into One.”  Ronald Reagan was an apostle for this type of unity among diversity. He adopted what he called the Eleventh Commandment (“Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican”) and was a proponent of the “Big Tent,” referring to a political party with room for people of many persuasions, a diversity of opinions, who were willing to support their fellow party members in return.

The great challenge of our day, our movement, is unifying amidst diversity. To coalesce around a core set of principles, well articulated, that will promote the common good, support and uphold the structure of our society and government, protect our natural and constitutional freedoms, and ensure the possibility and attainment of the American Dream for those who have, and for those who have not.  In doing so, in unifying together amidst differing opinions, we will honor the tradition of thirteen diverse, independent, and often divided states, who nevertheless made a common declaration to be E pluribus Unum – many, uniting into one.

John Davis, HD26

Seaside, Oregon

March 9, 2013