Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged Stanford students to be "the freedom generation" at an event hosted by the Stanford College Republicans on the Stanford campus Feb. 17.
"In a word, you need to be the freedom generation and I know you will. But to do that you need to prepare your minds for action," said Pence at an event held at Dinkelspiel Auditorium, titled "How to Save America from the Woke Left."
Pence, who served as the 48th vice president of the United States from 2017 to 2021, called on students to read closely and ruminate on the country's founding documents.
"I think every American should reflect on the words of the preamble of the Constitution. It's kind of our to-do list," he said. "Our government was created to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity."
In his roughly 30-minute remarks, Pence reflected on the influence of more contemporary national leaders as well, particularly that of Ronald Reagan, who served as U.S. president from 1981 to 1989. "I signed up for the Reagan Revolution and have never looked back," he said. Pence described Reagan as a "great disrupter," and said he saw parallels between the backgrounds of Reagan – "a conservative outsider who vigorously opposed a moderate Republican establishment of his day" – and former President Donald Trump.
Introducing Pence was Sarah Olmstead, '23, president of the Stanford College Republicans. "I had the pleasure of meeting the vice president my freshman year at Stanford. As a small-town girl from rural New Mexico, speaking with Vice President Pence led me to realize that we must fight for the values of faith, freedom and family as adamantly as he does, even in unpopular settings," Olmstead said.
Pence's visit was met with some resistance among members of the Stanford community.
Outside Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford students gathered in nearby White Plaza before the event to write protest phrases such as "Teach Ideas Not Hate" and "Stand Up 4 Love, Pence = Hate" in chalk on the ground and on cardboard signs. Leaders of the peaceful demonstration took up megaphones to lead the chanting crowd to barricades set up outside the auditorium.
Nelia Lechuga, '25, said she protested the event "because Pence and the Pence-Trump administration have values that are against my family, that are against the reason we're here. I do not agree with what he did with the country and the values that he so prominently displays. I'm here to speak out against that."
Protesting is an important reminder for people to support and protect others, value each other's identities, spread love and recognize the harm Pence and his administration has caused, she said.
Meanwhile, Rahsaan McFarland, '25 said he attended tonight's event for "perspective. Coming to an event like this, even if you may not agree with what Pence has to say, I feel like it's an extremely unique opportunity for it to be held here at Stanford."
McFarland said he hoped to learn more about "the inner workings of Pence, particularly removed from Trump – what he has to say versus more of what Trump has to say and the intersections between the two."
"It's an evening full of duality," McFarland reflected. "We have this event here and we also have people protesting, which I fully support … I feel Pence has some provocative standpoints politically and socially, so I feel like protest is warranted for an event like this given many of the comments Pence has made."
As someone from England and Iran, with experience working in politics, Romy McCarthy, '25 said she thought it would be politically interesting to hear Pence speak.
"I get why people are angry, but I've come from a foreign perspective where I just think I'm gonna learn more listening to him, even if I don't agree with him, than sitting in my bed watching Netflix," McCarthy said.
"You come to university to listen to other people's perspectives," she said, "and part of getting an education is being able to listen to someone you don't agree with and still come out and be able to hold your own and not be swayed by that kind of thing."
During his speech, which was followed by a Q&A session with several students, Pence defended his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, not to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election by rejecting certified electoral college votes in the states that Trump lost.
"Let me just say, plainly, that January 6 was a tragic day," he said, referring to the riots that took place on Capitol Hill, which disrupted the certification of the electoral vote count for President Joe Biden and forced members of the Senate and House to evacuate their chambers. "I know in my heart that we did our duty that day," Pence said. "I knew what my duty was and I kept my oath even though it hurt. And it moved the nation forward."
He said he and Trump may never see eye to eye on this matter.
Pence also spoke out against Biden's decision to fully withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, linking it to other crises around the world. "You know, history teaches that weakness arouses evil," he said. "President Biden's disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has only emboldened our adversaries. As we stand here tonight, the world awaits. Russian tanks and 130,000 soldiers are arrayed on the border of Ukraine. Iran is accelerating its nuclear program. China continues to tie international cooperation to demands that the world look the other way on human rights on Taiwan, Hong Kong and their aggressive military maneuvers."
On the topic of the pandemic, Pence touted his leading role in "Operation Warp Speed," the federal effort aimed at accelerating the development of the first vaccines against COVID-19. But he criticized the Biden Administration's decision to mandate vaccines for millions of Americans through their employers, a move that was later blocked by the Supreme Court.
"I believe Operation Warp Speed was a medical miracle. We developed three safe and effective vaccines in nine months when experts usually take years to develop those medicines. And I've gotten the vaccine myself, got the booster myself," Pence said. "But I gotta tell you, in a free society, that's a choice every American should be able to make for themselves and their family."
Pence said he views the idea of being "woke" – a term used to describe awareness of injustice in society, particularly racism – as a "troubling development" and sees its embrace as an assault on free speech.
"Every single day, you see new efforts to silence or cancel those who disagree with a progressive agenda," said Pence. "So my challenge to each one of you is let the Constitution and the Declaration be your guide."
Pence also took issue with critical race theory, a research methodology that emerged from legal scholarship more than four decades ago to better understand how race is embedded in American legal systems, and also "cancel culture," which he views as shutting people out of public debate.
To counter these trends, Pence said the "antidote is freedom." "To promote the general welfare doesn't require growing government – it also means understanding where the general welfare arrives from in a free society," Pence said. "Promoting freedom and free enterprise is also about promoting the general welfare."
Freedom is also about holding free and fair elections, Pence said, a point he emphasized during the question and answer session with the audience.
"I really believe in a free and open and vigorous public debate. And I believe in elections, and having elections with integrity that can move forward, let people decide and then people will decide – whether it's in the primary or the general election – the direction of the party."
Pence closed by urging students to consider serving their country, if not in uniform then in public office at a local, state or federal level. "Use this time in your life to develop the qualities of the inner man and the inner woman that will make you into the leaders our nation will need and rely on in the days ahead," he said. "People follow people that they trust. So develop a vision. Draw that vision from the American founding, and learn how to put it in your own words for your neighbors and your friends."