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TEDxBeaconStreet

Bob Inglis: American bipartisan politics can be saved -- here's how

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Former Republican member of the U.S. Congress Bob Inglis shares an optimistic message about how conservatives can lead on climate change and other pressing problems -- and how free enterprise (and working together across ideologies) hold the solutions. "The United States was not built by those who waited and wished to look behind them," Inglis says. "Lead now ... Tell the American people that we still have moon shots in us."

- Politician, energy optimist
Former United States Congressman Bob Inglis promotes free enterprise action on climate change. Full bio

Imagine that you're a member of Congress.
00:12
You've worked very hard.
00:16
You've knocked on thousands of doors,
00:19
sweating and shivering,
depending on the season.
00:22
You've made hundreds,
00:25
maybe thousands of phone calls
to people you don't even know
00:27
asking for their support,
00:31
begging for their money.
00:33
And now you've got one of these.
00:36
It's hanging on a door in Washington, DC.
00:38
It says you're a member of Congress,
00:41
that you represent
the people of your state.
00:43
Now, imagine you're a conservative
member of Congress.
00:47
For some of you here
in Boston, Massachusetts,
00:53
that's going to take
a powerful imagination, all right?
00:55
(Laughter)
00:58
But imagine with me
00:59
that you're a conservative
member of Congress.
01:02
You grew up on Milton Friedman.
01:05
You love his free markets,
01:08
free enterprise and free trade.
01:09
You've watched Ronald Reagan's
farewell address over and over,
01:12
and you cry every time --
01:18
(Laughter)
01:20
he gets to the part about
the shining city on the hill,
01:21
and how if the city had to have walls,
01:25
the walls had doors --
01:28
doors to let in those yearning
to breathe free.
01:30
You get goosebumps when you think
of him telling Mr. Gorbachev
01:35
to tear down his wall.
01:40
You're a conservative member of Congress,
01:43
and you agree with President
John F. Kennedy
01:46
that America is an exceptional place.
01:49
For inspiration,
01:53
you go to YouTube and you watch
his speech at Rice University,
01:54
September of 1962,
01:59
the "moon shot" speech.
02:01
And you're amazed
that he admits in that speech --
02:03
a speech of 17 minutes of pure
American exceptionalism --
02:08
that some of the materials
needed for the spacecraft
02:13
hadn't been invented yet.
02:17
No matter.
02:19
We're going to the Moon
before the decade is out.
02:21
You agree with him
02:24
that the vows of this nation
can be fulfilled
02:27
only if we in this nation are first
02:30
and therefore we intend to be first.
02:33
You've taken as your own
the affect that he so embodied.
02:37
That when leaders are optimistic,
02:43
they're saying they believe
in the people they represent.
02:46
You're a conservative member of Congress,
02:51
and you believe
in the precautionary principle.
02:54
You believe in data-driven analysis.
02:58
You know that climate change is real
and human-caused,
03:01
and you see in climate change
03:05
a silent and slow-moving Sputnik moment.
03:08
One that calls for
the greatness of your nation
03:14
as much as the original Sputnik moment.
03:17
You are a conservative member of Congress.
03:21
You high-five the memory of Jack Kemp,
03:25
and believe with him
03:28
that the test of conservatism
is that it works for everyone,
03:31
regardless of skin color.
03:34
You're appalled by the alt-right.
03:37
You want them to have nothing to do
with your brand, your party, your legacy.
03:41
You utterly reject them.
03:47
You --
03:50
(Applause)
03:51
You're a conservative member of Congress.
03:56
You rise with compassion
to protect the lives of the unborn,
03:58
but otherwise you think
the bedroom of consenting adults
04:02
is a rather strange place
for the government to be.
04:06
You are a conservative member of Congress.
04:09
With John Adams,
04:15
you fear the mob.
04:18
Because you know, as he knew,
04:20
that a mob is not able to protect liberty,
04:22
not even its own.
04:24
And you're amazed at the wisdom
that he and other framers had
04:26
in establishing a slow,
deliberative governing process --
04:30
an inherently conservative
governing process.
04:35
It would serve a country.
04:38
It would grow far greater
than they could ever imagine.
04:40
You are a conservative member of Congress.
04:45
You fear the fire of populist nationalism,
04:49
because you know
that those who play with fire
04:55
can't control it.
04:58
You see their pitchforks and torches,
05:00
and you know they're not
good building tools.
05:02
The pitchforks and torches can tear down
and burn up but they can't build up.
05:06
They can't build up
the institutions and the communities
05:12
so necessary to a stable
and prosperous country.
05:16
You're a conservative member of Congress,
05:22
and you fear the next
county party convention.
05:25
You so wish for your party
to be the grand opportunity party,
05:31
not the grumpy old party.
05:36
(Laughter)
05:38
You know that they want
to hear from you some old saw
05:40
about how a secret Muslim, non-American
socialist took over in the White House
05:45
and destroyed the country,
05:49
and you know that none of that's true.
05:51
(Applause)
05:54
You know that they want to hear your say
that you're OK with insults,
05:59
OK with "lock her up" chants
06:06
and OK with policy pronouncements
06:10
with all the sincerity and thoughtfulness
that 140 characters can muster.
06:13
You are a conservative member of Congress.
06:18
You realize that many in your party
look to some good old days
06:22
that you know never existed.
06:28
They hold on, for example,
06:31
to the fossils that fueled
the last century of growth,
06:33
but you know that better, cleaner
more abundant fuels await us,
06:37
and you know that that abundance
can lead the world to more energy,
06:42
more mobility
06:48
and more freedom.
06:49
You're a conservative member of Congress.
06:51
You realize that many in your party
pine for the '50s and the '60s
06:55
because those were, after all,
the good old days.
07:00
But you know that the Cuyahoga River
was on fire back then.
07:04
You know that in Pittsburgh,
07:09
street lights came on at noon
because of the soot in the air.
07:11
The schools were segregated,
07:16
neighborhoods redlined,
07:17
that communism threatened freedom,
07:19
and if you got cancer,
you weren't likely to fight for long.
07:21
You're a conservative member of Congress
07:25
and you want to sound like JFK at Rice,
07:28
where JFK said, "It's understandable
07:33
why some would have us stay where we are
07:38
a little bit longer,
07:40
to wait and to rest."
07:42
But everything within you says with him,
07:45
this city of Houston,
07:48
this state of Texas,
07:50
this country of the United States
was not built by those who waited
07:52
and rested and wished to look behind them.
07:57
You are ready to lead.
08:00
You are ready to prove
the power of free enterprise
08:03
to solve challenges like climate change.
08:07
You are ready to lead.
08:10
So I've got a suggestion for you then:
08:13
lead ...
08:17
now.
08:18
Step out,
08:19
step up.
08:21
You know, we ask America's best
08:23
to die on literal hills
08:28
in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
08:31
Is it too much to ask you
to die a figurative death
08:34
on a political hill in Washington, DC?
08:40
You know, at the end
of your time in Washington,
08:44
they're going to take
this plaque off the door.
08:47
They're going to hand it to you;
08:50
you're going to go home with it.
08:52
Can you imagine the emptiness
of knowing that you stood for nothing,
08:54
that you risk nothing,
09:00
that all you did was follow fearful people
to where they were already going
09:03
rather than trying to lead
them to a better place?
09:07
If you're not willing
to lose your seat in Congress,
09:11
there's really very little
reason to be there.
09:15
(Applause)
09:18
So here's the thing:
09:28
it's not too late.
09:30
There's still time to lead.
09:33
Speak out,
09:36
speak up,
09:38
call lunacy what it is:
09:39
lunacy.
09:42
Tell the American people
that we still have moon shots in us.
09:44
Tell the folks at the county
party convention,
09:50
"You bet free enterprise
can solve climate change."
09:52
Tell them that Milton Friedman
would say to tax pollution
09:55
rather than profits.
10:01
Tell them that it's OK --
10:03
no, it's a good thing
10:06
that progressives would agree.
10:09
Tell them the very good news
that we can bring America together
10:11
to solve these challenges
and to lead the world.
10:17
Tell them that free enterprise
can do these things.
10:22
Tell them that America
must stop the dividing,
10:26
and must start the uniting.
10:31
Tell them.
10:34
Play your part before it's too late.
10:36
(Applause)
10:40
Thank you very much.
10:42
(Applause)
10:43

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About the speaker:

Bob Inglis - Politician, energy optimist
Former United States Congressman Bob Inglis promotes free enterprise action on climate change.

Why you should listen

Bob Inglis launched the Energy and Enterprise Initiative (E&EI) at George Mason University in July 2012 and serves as executive director. For his work on climate change, Inglis was given the 2015 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. He appears in the film Merchants of Doubt and in the Showtime series "Years of Living Dangerously."

Inglis was a Resident Fellow at Harvard University's Institute of Politics in 2011, a Visiting Energy Fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in 2012 and a Resident Fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics in 2014.

Inglis was elected to the United States Congress in 1992, having never run for office before. He represented Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, from 1993-1998. In 2004, he was re-elected to Congress and served until losing re-election in the South Carolina Republican primary of 2010.

Inglis grew up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, went to Duke University for college, met and married his college sweetheart, graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law and practiced commercial real estate law in Greenville, South Carolina, before and between his years in Congress. Bob and Mary Anne Inglis have five adult children and live on a small farm in northern Greenville County, South Carolina.

More profile about the speaker
Bob Inglis | Speaker | TED.com