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Tell us a little about your upbringing and the life lessons that
had the most impact on you.
I was raised with my two brothers and a sister by a single
mother in Greenville, South Carolina, a small textile town. My mom was
the toughest person I ever knew. If we were in trouble, she would protect
us, but at home she was like a drill sergeant.
To support us financially, Mom started a ballroom dancing business
in our home. We got up every morning at 6. She gave us a typed list of
duties every day. I grew up with this idea that you worked all the time.
We struggled, but I learned not only about just how hard life can be but
also what a blessing work is.
You learn as youwork that you can domore. You becomemore confident
in yourself. You realize, “I think I can do anything that I want to do if I just
work at it.”
That circumstance shapedme into what I am today. I went on to get my
bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Tennessee
and later my MBA from Clemson University.
Greenville was a good place to grow up. I went to school there and
met and married my high school sweetheart there. Greenville was small
enough that as I started my family and started my research and marketing
business, I could make a difference.
How has your faith impacted your politics?
As a Christian, I believe that God creates each human being
as unique and of immeasurable worth. Though human beings are fallible
and sinful, they have a great capacity for good when disciplined and re-
strained by religious and societal conventions.
The guiding text of the Judeo-Christian worldview, of course, is the
Bible. That’s where we got such precepts as the Golden Rule: “Do unto
others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12) The Bible
also is behind great American cultural expressions such as the “Decla-
ration of Independence,” Washington’s “Farewell Address,” Lincoln’s
“Gettysburg Address,” and King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Our political system is distinctive because it is based on the belief
that our rights come from God, not from government. So our rights can-
not be taken away by government.
Traditionalists, and I am one, are committed to separation of church
and state in the sense that the government should not promote the
specific doctrine of any particular religious denomination or philosophy.
We also do not agree that policies made to promote the common good
should be eliminated from public debate simply because they are con-
nected to traditional religious precepts.
Values that encourage abstinence until marriage,
strong traditional marriages and families, respect
for God and country, a strong work ethic and
personal responsibility, integrity, and character
are not merely religious tradition. They work for
everyone and result in better citizens, a stronger
economy, and a higher quality of life.
What was your biggest challenge in the
There is a tremendous bias in Wash-
ington toward growing government by creating a
new program to solve every problem. The trouble
is, Washington does not domany things well, and that is why our founders
defined a very limited role for the federal government and left the rest
to the states, local governments, and civil society. When Washington
tries to do too much, it erodes our freedoms and crowds out private
citizens, who are often better equipped to solve problems through
charitable organizations and faith groups. It is our responsibility as cit-
izens and people of faith to love our fellow man, feed the hungry, and
help the downtrodden move ahead in life.
My biggest challenge in the Senate, though, turned into my biggest
accomplishment: the people I helped elect. I think we changed the cul-
ture of the Senate. When I first got there in 2004, I was really frustrated
with the “go-along, get-along” culture of many Republicans. It seemed
that all we were doing was spending money and handing out earmarks,
instead of fighting to save our country. When these new people came
in—people like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, Ron
Johnson—they helped us get rid of those parochial earmarks, which
were a real distraction.
We have to focus on the national good and certainly the national
budget. Ted Cruz—quite possibly my favorite Texan—is already helping
Congress regain a proper focus.
What is your vision for conservatism?
Becoming president of The Heritage Foundation is like
coming home for me. Heritage policy research inspired my first run
for office in 1998, and Heritage’s conservative policy solutions guided
my priorities in the House and the Senate. For forty years Heritage has
believed that those values that made America great—honesty, industri-
ousness, courage, determination—should inform our policies and our
Heritage, which is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy
research institute, will continue to develop and promote policy solutions
that advance free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom,
traditional values, and a strong national defense.
America remains a conservative nation, but people crave leader-
ship—champions who will stand up to the progressives, take on the liberal
media, and push back against party leaders when they go wobbly.
Our sister organization, Heritage Action for America, is leading the
effort to organize grassroots activists to educate, support, and pressure
Congress on conservative policy solutions. As Ronald Reagan said, “If
you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.” That is
what Heritage Action has been doing in holding members of Congress
accountable for their voting records.
What specific ideas are you focused on revamping?
At Heritagewe intend to convince Americans that conservative
ideas are the ideas that will make America better. Conservatives do not
need new principles; our values have stood the test of time. It is important
that we draw a distinction between timeless values
and innovative policy ideas that we will need in
the twenty-first century. Heritage’s researchers
and other experts are busy working out solutions
to today’s challenges.
We do not need bells and whistles, because
conservative ideas work. They have been proved
in states such as Tennessee, where the income
tax was eliminated and the economy boomed. We
have seen states such as North Dakota open their
energy resources to development and create tens
of thousands of good-paying jobs. We have seen
states such as Texas pass tort reforms that en-
couraged medical doctors to move in, improving
health care and lowering costs for everyone.
We also know that liberal policies fail. You do
not have to look as far as Greece and Cyprus. Just look at California and
Illinois. Look at Detroit. Controlled by liberals for more than fifty years,
Detroit is bankrupt. Its population has shrunk by more than half. Only
seven percent of eighth graders there read at grade level. Unemploy-
ment for Hispanics and blacks is near forty percent.
“The strength and power of a
country depends absolutely on
the quantity of good men and
women in it.”