Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse spoke to a crowd of about 500 Christian conservatives at the "Celebrate the Family Banquet" in Des Moines during the weekend, telling them he was not there to talk about politics or elections and criticizing both liberals and conservatives for rejecting religious liberty and not believing in the freedom of the press, respectively.
Speaking at The Family Leader's fundraiser Saturday night, Sasse, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, quoted from Democracy in America, a classic French text written by Alexis de Tocqueville, who travelled to America in the mid-19th century to explore reasons why this country was so dynamic. Tocqueville, Sasse said, attributed it to the First Amendment.
Tocqueville found that Americans have "religious liberty, freedom of speech, press, assembly, protest or the redress of grievances – the five great freedoms of the First Amendment," he said. All those freedoms, Sasse continued, "that are one big nexus that flow from the idea that God and rights are first, and government is just a shared project to protect them."
But, Sasse added, "here's the problem: we don't teach any of that anymore. And so it turns out, for two generations, basically since the late 60s and early 70s, we've stopped teaching our kids this, and they don't know it."
Referring to liberals, Sasse charged they have "completely rejected" religious liberty.
"Forty-one percent of Americans under the age of 35 … tell pollsters they think the First Amendment is dangerous because you would use your freedom of speech to say something that might hurt someone's feelings," Sasse said. "Actually, that's the whole point of America. Not to be intentionally rude and offensive, but to say that humans created with dignity by God, humans who are descended from fallen parents and grandparents and great-grandparents all the way back to the endemic fall … we are not going to agree about everything. So what you want to do is create a framework where we are protected from violence so we can try to love each other and persuade each other."
Sasse then also criticised conservatives.
"There is a huge movement on the right to not believe in the freedom of the press," he said. "It turns out, if you don't have freedom of the press, you don't have freedom of speech because what the press really is is not some particular journalist you may be mad at today that you think is biased, but the freedom to write down the stuff that happened when you assembled and when you spoke."
Sasse said the Republican Party is divided between elitism and "populist majoritarianism."
"Those two sides of the Republican Party — you can call it a Wall Street-K Street continuum and a Bannonite populism — both of them are unpersuasive to moms and dads in Iowa and Nebraska who are thinking about what kind of country they want to give their kids in 10 and 20 years," he said.
Sasse told the Iowa Republicans he was speaking to them not as a "temporary public official affiliated with the Republican party," but as a Christian. And he asked them, "Do we seem to be people who love our neighborhoods more than we want to scream about politics on Facebook?"
"Friends, there is no politician that is going to save America. Friends, there is no election that is going to transform your life to become so much better than it is right now, and into all that you want it to be," he said before concluding his address. "There are definitely reasons to walk precincts and to sign people up to register them to vote, but elections can make things worse and elections can make things incrementally better. But let us be sure we live among our neighbors as people who know that we actually believe, that we put not our hope on princes except we believe there is a Prince who is yet to come and we get the chance to live a life of gratitude that even if our politics are despoiled, there are still all sorts of callings I have in my neighborhood."
This was the senator's second visit to Iowa since July, which, some could suspect, reflects his presidential ambitions. However, he told the conservatives, "I have no intention of talking about 2016 at all tonight, or, frankly, 2012 or 2020 or 2024."