Campaign launch remarks, as prepared for delivery, by Ben Sasse, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.


Good afternoon. It’s wonderful to be with you all. As you know, I am here today to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate.

It is truly humbling to have been encouraged by so many of you in recent months to take up this challenge of this campaign, and to be encouraged to do so for all the right reasons.

There is no better place to formally announce my decision than the place where I have been challenged so many times before, from my early school years here at Trinity Lutheran to Fremont Junior High to the wrestling mat at Fremont High School, to grueling alumni runs at Clemmons, to the challenges we have overcome at Midland University.

These challenges made me who I am, and have given me a deep desire, a commitment to spend my life serving these people, these values, and this place.

When Melissa and I first considered this, we knew that running would be a big adjustment for us, and for our kids. So before answering this call, there were two central questions with which we had to wrestle.

The first was: Is it really possible to make a difference in a place as dysfunctional as the United State Congress – an institution that hasn’t passed a budget in five years, and where people talk to each other, not only like children, but like children fixing to get their mouths washed out with soap.

The second question: Can we get a dog?

The dog question, as you might have guessed, came from the girls, Corrie and Alex. You see, our beloved Rottweiler and family member of 11 years, Husker, died a few years ago, and with a new son we have been wrestling with when was the right time to try to replace him. A tough decision indeed, especially for girls of 9 and 12.

It took thousands of miles of a listening tour, and many protracted negotiations, but I am happy to report that we have resolved the answer of this great question.

Yes, we will get a new dog if we win this campaign.

And thus I’m even happier to report that the girls are now 100% on board with the campaign.

* * *

Now, back to the first question.

Melissa and I knew that this campaign, if we were going to do it, needed to be about big things.

First of all, this isn’t a job for me. The Founders had no vision for politics as a career, for an insider political class that would secure a lifelong political paycheck — and a fat pension.

This campaign is different. This campaign is in support of a cause – and that cause is American renewal, and securing a better American future. This is a community project – and it is happening only because of the generous support that has flowed from this community over the last 9 weeks.

Now more than ever we must recover and renew and re-state what is great about The American Idea. America is a celebration of who we are as a people.

For I fear – as do many of you – that our leaders have set us on a path of national decline. This decline should not be — and is not — inevitable. But our politicians in DC seem content to play games while they squander our national inheritance.

These are hard times for our country, and you know the litany.

Domestically, not only are short term economic prospects ugly, but anxiety is as high as it has ever been for the prosperity and employment opportunities for our children. Our pandering politicians compete to add names to the dependency of entitlement rolls, instead of evaluating the success of these programs by how many people leave the dole and are restored to an independence. And these bulging entitlements are saddling our offspring with unsustainable generational debt.

Despite this dark fiscal picture, we all somehow have the sense that our greatest challenges are not material, but spiritual. Our culture denies the obvious fact that family breakdown is the root cause of both poverty and crime, and we increasingly deny the value of the unborn, at the beginning of life, and the frail and elderly at its end.

Is it any surprise that this spiritual rot at home has led to a loss of shared priorities regarding our foreign policy as well? Our leadership and values in world affairs are sorely missed.

Fundamentally, the very idea of America is in peril. Our culture is failing to transmit our national inheritance to many of our nation’s children, and we are reaping the bitter fruit.

What is this American idea? It is the understanding that we are more than our government and its programs; and it thus begins specifically with a celebration of self-sufficiency and community effort and most precisely the American work ethic.

We are a nation, uniquely among our peers, built by people who determined and risked and ventured to come here and build a better life for themselves and their children. We are a nation of builders. For four centuries we have built enterprises, families, schools, neighborhoods, churches. We have built dreams of great tomorrows for every kid blessed to be born in this land.

Don’t tell me, Mr. President, that we didn’t build this.

And this is the key distinction. When I say “we build,” I do not mean “We the Government.”

It is not “We the Congress” that builds the future, with its powers to tax, imprison, and unleash new regulatory agencies. Despite what the politicians promise or claim, Congress has never created a job or strengthened our economy.

When I say “we build,” I mean Fremont and Arlington and West Point. North Platte, Norfolk, and Beatrice. In these places we partner freely with each other around shared ventures. Families rally to support one another in times of sickness or heartache. Sometimes entrepreneurs gamble their future, with a hope of a better and brighter one.

We are people of goodwill who invest our free time to help the downtrodden and serve the Lord, out of love of neighbor and thanksgiving for God’s many blessings.

It’s called charity, not taxation — and the IRS knows nothing about it.

This conservative understanding of the meaning of America and of opportunity is, of course, not new. It has been the core American idea for 240 years.

But make no mistake: This glorious idea of freedom and of the creative self-sufficiency of local communities and extended families is under attack – both by intentional opponents and from our lazy national neglect in recent decades.

Our current President was re-elected in a campaign that had as its centerpiece a vision of cradle-to-grave dependency. He has been selling a fundamentally different vision of America's history, and a redefined relationship between government and the people. As Obama’s vision of government wraps its tentacles around more and more aspects of American life, initiative is discouraged, achievement is disparaged, and we grow closer to a permanent dependency class.

Nowhere has this been stated this more clearly than in President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” speech. This speech angered us, but even more, it should sadden us. And more importantly, it should inspire us to engage and persuade our neighbors even more of the glories of their American inheritance… before it is lost.

* * *

And the greatest single insinuation of government into every aspect of our life is his signature initiative, Obamacare. If it lives, America as we know it will die. If the idea of America is to live, it must be stopped.

Obamacare is a microcosm of the belief that government is the engine for meaning, and growth, for opportunity and vitality. It is a program founded from beginning to end on fake math and false promises.

It's been said that I am the national anti-Obamacare candidate, and in a sense, that's right. I am fundamentally opposed to Obamacare. I’ve spent much of the last decade in the health care sector.

I’ve read the 2300 page bill. It’s not just bad… it’s worse than you think. I’ve made scores of cross-country trips and hundreds of speeches proposing free-market alternatives and crusading against it, both during its debate and after its signing into law.

I am opposed to Obamacare not just because it was passed by a dishonest legislative gimmick. Not just because it puts bureaucrats between patients and doctors. Not just because it infringes on religious liberty and forces people of conscience to pay for abortion. Not just because its information technology systems won’t work, and will likely lead to massive data leaks of Americans’ confidential financial and health data. And not just because its budget projections were built on ponzi schemes, and because its actual costs will dwarf all estimates from the time of its legislative debate.

Though all those things are true.

I am also against it for a much more basic reason: I oppose Obamacare because I reject the worldview underlying it.

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I oppose Obamacare because most of its stated goals can be achieved through patient-centered health policy solutions, without wrecking the idea of America. Yes, we want to wreck Obamacare… but then also replace it with something actually workable.

The Obamacare worldview holds that Government can successfully take over the largest sector of the economy and orchestrating it better with its allegedly “all-knowing” central planners.

This worldview says that false promises can somehow become true if only we had even more government; or that they aren’t simply lies because they are founded on good intentions.

This is the worldview that believes that happiness can be secured from Washington.

Americans know that a government that claims to be the source of hope and meaning — and the omniscient allocator of resources — will actually end up hurting our neighbors.

The dependency culture of Obamacare robs America of its true meaning.

The dependency culture tells people that they didn’t build that; because they are not actually capable of building that; and they shouldn’t aspire to.

The dependency culture calls job creators, “villains”… and then takes credit for the jobs.

The dependency culture is based on the premise that America’s greatest days are behind us — and weren’t all that great in the first place. The dependency culture therefore wants to unwind that greatness, and empowers Washington insiders to manage the decline.

The dependency culture wants America to look less like America and more like Europe.

There are, of course, many great things about Europe. It’s food, its buildings, its history are a great testament to the accomplishments of the past, a living museum of what many of our forebears accomplished.

But whatever it is, it is not the “Innovation Capital” of the world, and the reason why is because government runs the economy and the culture.

That’s not who WE are. That’s never been who we are. America has always meant something bigger and more exciting, America has always been about opportunity and progress.

* * *

And thus, despite all the challenges we currently face, around the Sasse dinner table we are still fundamentally optimistic about the future of this country.


I am optimistic because America is still the greatest nation on the face of the earth, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

We are the greatest nation NOT because of the greatness of our bureaucracies, but because of the greatness of our people. We are the greatest nation, because we believe in liberty – and we believe in what the American people can accomplish when women and men set out to build great things.

And that is because in many places across this land, but in Nebraska especially, people still believe in hard work.

Growing up, everyone I knew worked.

My grandpa literally tried to persuade me that every hour of sleep before midnight was worth two hours of sleep after midnight, because he wanted me to believe that getting up and getting to work early was our duty and our destiny. I think he might have been right.

My grandma was a child of the Depression, and knew the tragedy of having her home outside Diller was destroyed by a tornado. When grandpa was away in World War II, she found a way to rig a basket to the side of her tractor… so she could care for my uncle, then a baby, while still getting the crop in and out of the field on time.

On a much smaller personal scale, my mom and dad made me keep going back to the detassling bus that first summer even when I wanted to quit. And when I was 11 and wanted to go to Husker games, my other grandma took me down to the Coke bottler in Lincoln, to ask how I might get a job selling pop at the games… which of course came with free admission every Saturday.

This was my family upbringing, but I know it was yours as well… because this is Nebraska, because this is America.

Across our state every day you find farmers getting out of bed before sunup, and heading out to the fields for another day. 96 degrees? No matter. The work has to be done. 6 degrees? No matter. The work has to be done.

You see Moms and Dads getting their kids off to school and then going to work two jobs to make ends meet. But it's got to be done, so they do it without complaining. And it defines who we are as a people.

I remember as a kid rural pastors who served multiple Nebraska congregations, or ran Meals-on-Wheels, or just visited shut-ins who couldn’t get to the church on Sunday anymore. They would drive 30-, 40-, and 50-miles one-way to minister to folks on icy January days. Maybe they get reimbursed for their gas, maybe not. No matter.

Sometimes work just has to be done. And we do it without complaint.

The last few months we’ve been driving across our state. There is hope in seeing something as simple as kids getting up in the early dark to do their paper route before school. Then they head to practice in twilight, and homework at night. There is hope. And they do it because that’s what Mom and Dad did, its what Grandma and Grandpa did. There is hope in kids doing what we’ve always been taught to do in this state.

The American work ethic is, thankfully, still deeply engraved in rural Nebraska souls. This is who we are, and we here in Nebraska have far more to teach Washington, D.C. than Washington, D.C. has to teach us. This is nothing new. The Framers of our Constitution understood that wisdom flowed from the governed to the government, and not the other way around. This is was built into the structure of our Constitutional order in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, retaining all powers not specifically granted to the federal government at the state and local level.

* * *

The first time I began to really think about politics was in fifth grade, during President Reagan’s first term. Mr. Bauer was my teacher in that corner classroom right there.

Although Reagan never had occasion to say it exactly this way, I think he would exhort us today to recognize that it isn’t enough merely to scream on cable TV anymore. The conservative movement – and all who reject the idea of American decline and yearn for American renewal – must labor now to persuade our neighbors to join with us in recovering a true vision of American greatness.

Reagan knew that the government has important duties to protect us – for ours is and must be the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. But he also knew that government doesn’t build our dreams or secure our happiness. He had seen that vision go horribly awry in the experiment of communism, which is why he fought so fiercely to oppose it. Reagan knew that “We the people” build these futures and our enterprises. The government does not orchestrate happy lives for us– because ultimately it cannot.

There are conservative, small-government policy solutions which advance freedom and empower families and local communities. And over the course of this campaign, we plan to talk a great deal about patient-centered health policy solutions – for we want both to wreck Obamacare but then also to replace it with something actually workable. And we will talk about the emerging golden age of American energy, about rolling back the regulatory state, about an economic agenda of growth, about a prioritized foreign policy, and more.

But even more than specific policies – of which we will outline many – the heart of this campaign will be about recovering our government from the insider, permanent political class, and about again affirming a great America that empowers and encourages our kids and grandkids that they can indeed go out and build that. For that is real hope and change.

We must repeal Obamacare, but even more, we must replace the worldview that underlies and enabled it.

This is why Nebraska needs more than a reliable vote against Obamacare in the U.S. Senate… we need a voice against the Obamacare worldview, and a voice advocating for a better American future.

As President Reagan taught us: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We [don’t] pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be…handed on [to] them.”

I could not agree more. We have work to do. We can do better.

I’ve never been a politician, and I desire now to become one only somewhat begrudgingly.

I'm just a father who cares deeply about this country and believes that if we return to and reaffirm our Constitutional principles, we can stop this slide into decline. And we can pass on to our descendants the same glorious inheritance of freedom and opportunity that we were blessed to receive from our ancestors.

If you agree, we need you to join us in this cause – to volunteer, to pray, to contribute, and to persuade.

Thank you for coming today. Melissa and I thank you. And may God bless America.

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