Senator Bill Frist (R-TN)
5th Annual Ronald Reagan Dinner
Des Moines, Iowa
October 22nd, 2005

Ronald Reagan, the man we’re here to honor tonight, used to say, “All great change begins at the dinner table.”

Meaning that great change doesn’t begin in the halls of Congress. It begins in rooms like this.

It begins here, with conversations like the one we’ll have tonight.


I know that a lot of folks here in Iowa – and across America – are a little down right now.

Somewhere in Webster City, an Electrolux employee is going to bed worried that his company—and his job—will be shipped over to China.

Somewhere here in Des Moines, a small-business owner is balancing the books, wondering if the soaring cost of health insurance will send the company into the red.

Somewhere in Iowa City, a young wife of one the 500 troops from the 1st Battalion / 133rd Infantry that was deployed overseas a few weeks ago is wondering, “Is my husband’s sacrifice worth it?”

To all those Iowans tonight let me say, I hear you. I understand your concerns.

We face great challenges as a country.

I hear it here in Iowa. I hear it in Tennessee. I hear it in Texas. From farmers, from families, from small business owners.

Times are tough. But we’re going to get through it:

American history is a story with many chapters and many challenges.

But every chapter – every challenge overcome – is marked by a display of unrivaled determination, innovation, and that "can do" spirit.


I’ve seen it time and time again in my own life. It’s what got me to where I stand today.

I transplant hearts. And it’s routine.

But it’s a field that – just 30 years ago – didn’t exist.

Back in the early 1980s – when I was in surgical training at Mass General in Boston – an unhealthy heart was like a terminal disease without a cure.

The idea that maybe we could save lives by literally cutting out a diseased human heart and replacing it with a healthy one – was believed by all to be impossible.

And this was Boston, home to the best of the best in medicine.

The tradition, the prestige, the establishment.

But they were adamant: “it can't be done."

I couldn’t accept that. I’d been brought up to believe there’s always a way.

And so I left Boston.

Karyn and I packed up our young family and left the security and tradition of Boston medicine and headed West to California - a state I’d seen only on a map.

I left to join a doctor - a Dr. Norman Shumway.

A doctor with a “can do” spirit, a doctor who had a vision, a dream. A single doctor who said “Yes,” when everyone else in the world said “No.”

And believe me - he struggled mightily.

Everyone else had given up on transplanting hearts. He pressed on.

The 'old man,' as we affectionately called him, had a vision.

I left Boston and headed west because I shared that vision.

I believe, through innovation, we can always find new ways to solve seemingly insurmountable problems.

I believe in looking to the future. I believe in the ‘can do’ spirit that America – and Iowa – so embodies.


The old man had a simple formula:

“Conceive it, believe it, do it.”

Because of that one doctor – that one man with a vision, who had the courage to explore new ways of solving seemingly unsolvable problems – heart transplantation … thought to be impossible … is now routine.

And it became my routine day-in, day-out for the next 10 years.


Looking at the challenges we face as Americans, we need to adopt that same formula.

“Conceive it, believe it, do it.”

We need to find new ways. We need to innovate, we need to look to the future, we need to be bold.

We need to say "Yes" when others are saying “No.”


You know, I’m often asked what I see to be the difference between Republicans and Democrats today. I get it all the time.

I answer that question by telling folks about a heart transplant patient of mine, Owen Barber - a die-hard Tennessee Democrat.

Owen called me at home about a month after his surgery, said he was experiencing all sorts of new feelings.

He said: "Doc, my whole outlook on life has changed. I'm more optimistic; I'm more hopeful about the future."

"For the first time in my life I feel like I can actually fix my problems, not just complain about them."

"What's the reason, could it be a side effect of all those immunosuppressive medicines you've got me on?"

"No," I said. "Owen, you know that heart I put in you, it was the heart of a Republican.”


But it’s true, you know, the Democrats are great at going on the Sunday shows and telling everyone what’s wrong in America.

But where are they on Monday? Where are they when Republicans come to the table to do something about it?!

Republicans know what they stand for; Democrats know what they stand against.

Republicans have bold ideas; Democrats have tired old scare tactics.

Republicans have principles. Republicans have convictions. Republicans don’t need focus groups to tell us what we believe.

The American people elected us to move America forward. The Democrats? They’re content just standing in our way.

Let me give you a good example …

Presidential responsibility for filling vacancies on our federal courts is spelled out in the Constitution, and it’s spelled out clearly.

The President names a qualified nominee; our job in the Senate is to provide “advice and consent.”

Fair hearing. Fair vote. Vote them up. Vote them down. Just give them a fair vote.

For over 200 years, that’s how it was done.

Until the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2002.

Their strategy was simple: Obstruct.

So, in 2002, we decided we’d take the Daschle Democrats and their agenda of obstruction directly to the American people, see what they had to say about it.

And, boy, did they have something to say.

For the first time in the history of our country, the party of the President took back majority control of the Senate in a first midterm election.

Believe me, elections matter. Folks here in Iowa and folks across America came to the polls and said, “America deserves better than the party of no."

The Democrats didn’t get that message. The democratic leader once again said: “We will obstruct.”

They filibustered one nominee, then another, then another.

A total of 10.


Remember Miguel Estrada?

He was the best of the best. A Honduran immigrant, Harvard Law Review, had tried 15 cases before the Supreme Court.

And what did they do?

They subjected him to a brutal – inexcusable – public campaign of character assassination.

He was filibustered 7 times.

I’d never seen anything like it.

It was unprecedented. It was wrong.

So – in the face of that unprecedented obstruction – I decided that I – as Majority Leader – would do something unprecedented. I went out to South Dakota in 2004.

I went out to campaign for John Thune and to unseat the Democrats’ chief obstructionist.

Believe me, I was criticized. The Washington pundits said it was something that had never been done before by a Majority Leader.

Well, neither was denying a qualified nominee a fair up or down vote … Neither was subjecting these gifted jurists – and their families – to character assassination.

The democratic leader lost. We won.

I made it clear – abundantly clear – that obstruction would not be tolerated.

We were going to stand on principle, the principle of fair up-or-down votes.

And I made it clear that I’d use the Nuclear Option to do it.

The result: 6 of the President’s nominees – each filibustered in the last Congress – all of them mainstream conservatives—are now proudly serving this nation as federal judges.


Think about it, by the end of his Presidency, George W. Bush will have appointed 1 out of every 3 of the 871 Federal judges serving this nation. Conservative judges.
Judges who will interpret the law, not legislate from the bench.


Leading on principle, a “can do” approach, knowing what we stand for.

That's what it means to be Republican. That’s what separates US from them.

We are the party of principle, the party of conviction; the party of ideas.


And as a matter of principle, we believe that the American people elected us to govern with meaningful solutions.

At a time when the American people were overtaxed, we gave Americans the 3rd largest tax cut ever.

At a time when seniors were choosing between food on the table or prescription drugs We fixed Medicare, and gave seniors the drug coverage they need at a cost they could afford.

At a time when runaway lawsuits were driving up the cost of everything from jeans to toothpaste, we passed Class Action reform, to reel in those greedy predatory trial lawyers.

And at a time when a brutal dictator threatened the security of all Americans, a dictator who provided safe haven for terrorists, a dictator who used Weapons of Mass
Destruction against his own people, a dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands - we put Saddam Hussein in an 8 by 10 cell.

But we’ve got more work to do.


A week ago today I was down on the Texas border in the Rio Grande Valley. That night, over 400 illegal immigrants and 200 pounds of marijuana were seized crossing the border.

But you had to wonder, how many more slipped through unseen?

Last Tuesday, President Bush signed a law to increase the number of border patrol agents.

Make no mistake, we’re a nation founded by immigrants. But we’re also a nation founded on the rule of law.

And when people don’t respect the law, it’s our job to enforce them.

America has always opened her arms to those who long for a better life. But a country that can’t control its own borders can’t control its own destiny.


When farmers here in Iowa can barely afford to pull the tractor out of the barn – because diesel gas has soared to $2.60 a gallon, we need to act.

We are dangerously dependent on foreign sources of oil.

Today 60% of the oil we use comes from foreign countries many of which produce not just oil—but terrorists. That’s a national security threat. We’re funding the very enemy we’re fighting.

After 10 years of gridlock, we passed a comprehensive energy bill this summer. It encourages conservation, increases production, enhances energy efficiency, and invests in new innovative technologies.

And by 2012, it will double the use of clean home-grown renewable fuels like ethanol and bio-diesel.

That’s the future of energy, and that future starts right here in Iowa.


When somewhere in the world tonight, a teenager is strapping on a backpack loaded with explosives, plotting to walk into a pizza shop or a marketplace and kill 20 people.

We need to do more than just finish the war in Iraq.

We need to win the War on Terror. We need to take the fight to the terrorists before the terrorists bring the fight to us!


I mentioned Ronald Reagan earlier.

Ronald Reagan, more than anything, was a man of infinite hope, of eternal optimism.

He stepped up to the podium at a time when America was down on America.

And he reminded us that it’s our birthright to dream great dreams in this, the greatest, freest, strongest nation on earth.

That’s what solving these challenges we face is all about. Protecting that birthright to dream great dreams.


Let me leave you tonight with a final story about that great American dream.

Travel with me to Meridian, Mississippi, to meet a young boy named Tommy.

Tommy’s father was the local Station Master at the Train Terminal.

One day, Tommy’s dad saw an elderly woman crossing the tracks, her grandson in her arms. And he saw a train barreling toward them.

Without hesitation, he jumped down from his post, raced across the tracks, and pushed them both to safety.

In so doing, he was struck by the train and later died.


Tommy, his brother, two sisters and mom were left to fend for themselves. They fell on hard times.

To pay the bills they converted their home into a boarding house. One boarder was a doctor – a Dr. Hairston – who took a liking to Tommy.

He took him under his wing and taught him the gentle, humble aspects of the healing profession, the bedside manner, the trust between doctor and patient.

Tommy dreamed of being a doctor, just like Dr. Hairston.

He got into Ole Miss, worked his way through with odd jobs, doing everything from stocking vending machines on campus to lugging suitcases from the train station.

He sent his mom every extra dime he had.

His dream came true. He got into medical school.

And, believe it or not, he did his internship right here in Iowa.

He’d later open his own medical practice, a practice that grew to become the largest in Tennessee.

When local needs in Nashville weren’t being met by the existing hospitals, he started his own community hospital – just like Dr. Hairston had done in Meridian.

He expanded from that single hospital to hospitals throughout the state, building in rural communities where health care was unavailable.

His healing – one-on-one – grew to eventually healing millions in hospitals throughout America.

And he did so grounded in his mentor Dr. Hairston’s philosophy of “serving others for a greater good.”


Tommy died 7 years ago, but his legacy of dreaming big – of determination in the face of adversity – lives on in my heart.

You see, Tommy was my dad.

He was the embodiment of the American Dream.

He seized opportunity to work his way up. He did it the hard way - the right way. The American way.

Conceive it. Believe it. Do it.


Some say that the American Dream is slowly slipping away. I say they’re wrong.

With a “can do” approach, I see—like Dad saw—the infinite promise of a better tomorrow.


A few months before Dad died, he wrote a letter to his grandchildren, and to the great-grandchildren he would never meet.

In it, he wrote: “Life is made up of peaks and valleys. But the thing to remember is that the curve is always going up. The next peak is a little higher than the previous peak, the next valley isn’t so low. The work gets better all the time.”

“The curve is always going up.”


We’re a land of innovation, and we’ll build on that American spirit to ensure that ours is always the land of opportunity.

We’re a “can do” people. And from where I stand, let me tell you…America is on her way up.

We’ll come together—as we always have—around a common purpose. We’ll move this great nation forward.

On the wings of determination and innovation, America will rise. And we, the GOP—right here in Iowa—will lead the way.

We’ll conceive it
We’ll believe it
We’ll do it.