Mrs. Reagan, Mark Burson (Executive Director of the Reagan Foundation), all of the distinguished guests. It's a great pleasure to be here and I'm very, very honored to be invited to discuss Ronald Reagan's considerable legacy, in this very, very magnificent setting and under the auspices of this prestigious Lecture Series. It's a great honor for me in particular for me because I was twice given the opportunity by Ronald Reagan to serve my country. Both times I was very, very honored to do it. And it had a lot to do with my formation as a public official, my formation of my thinking, the ideas that I have and the things that I've put into place.
So I feel a great debt to President Reagan and to Mrs. Reagan for all that he did for me and for the country. So to me this is a labor of love to be here and to give this speech.
But before I begin my comments, I want to pay particular tribute to a remarkable woman . . . the person who-aside from President Reagan himself-is the most responsible for the Reagan legacy that we celebrate tonight-a legacy that was created over a long, long period of time which took a lot of courage, a lot of support, a lot of strength considering very often the difficulties that were imposed and the criticisms that were leveled and everything else. But had Mrs. Reagan not had the strength, I don't know that we would all be here today.
So she's a great lady and a great American. . . and I urge everyone here to support her efforts to maintain this Library and this Foundation as living tributes to their joint legacy of freedom.
In the 20th Century, there have been two critical, realigning elections . . . and in fact I noticed a short while ago, when Mark took me on a tour of the Library, that you have an exhibit that makes the point very, very dramatically. I believe the two elections that were most important in this century were the election in 1932 that elected Franklin Roosevelt to the White House and the election in 1980 that elected Ronald Reagan.
These two presidents have had the most impact on our country, I believe, in this century . . . on its politics, on its policies and most importantly on its people.
Both were the architects of revolutions that redefined the federal government's relationship to individual Americans . . . and both waged successful wars against the worst enemies of freedom the world has ever known.
The parallels are dramatic-the political philosophy very different, but the parallels very, very dramatic. The realignment wrought by Franklin Roosevelt dominated American politics for years after he was out of the White House. Actually, it dominated American politics probably until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. And the realignment wrought by Ronald Reagan dominates us still today.
Remember that in 1980 the Republicans had captured the Senate for no time at all since 1952. And who can forget that in 1994, Republicans won the House for the first time in 42 years-and in 1996 won control of the House again for a second time, which is the first time that's happened since the 1920s. When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 there were only 19 Republican Governors in the entire country. Today, there are 31 Republican Governors. And most telling of all, these days even some of America's big cities have Republican mayors. If that's not evidence of a realignment, I don't know what possibly could be-not just New York but Los Angeles, Indianapolis . . .
There can be no doubt that Ronald Reagan's election and presidency were a driving force behind this realignment of America, of American politics.
And I don't think the success of his own party, the Republican Party, my party, is the full extent of the Reagan Realignment. The impact of the change wrought by President Reagan-much like Franklin Roosevelt-has dominated the politics of even the other political party.
President Clinton is still reacting to what President Reagan accomplished almost 20 years ago. Remember he ran for election in 1992 as a "New Democrat" . . . a moderate Democrat. He ran for reelection in 1996 claiming reforming welfare and moving toward the middle. None of that would have happened without Ronald Reagan and the effect of Ronald Reagan.
In fact, it was Bill Clinton who made the Reagan Realignment official when, in January of 1996, he famously declared to a standing ovation to the joint Houses of Congress that "the era of big government is over." [Laughter.]
Well, he said it. [Laughter.]
And we believe it. Well, when even a Democratic president is forced to say that, you know things have changed.
The Reagan Realignment, in my opinion, was a realignment toward freedom. Because I believe that when the Republican party does its job best, and it doesn't always, but when it makes its unique contribution to American history . . . whether we're talking about President Lincoln, or the first President Roosevelt, or President Eisenhower or President Reagan . . . I believe that what we do is we give people more freedom. We give them more control over their own lives. We say people come first, government comes second-or maybe third, or fourth-but people first. We trust in people. And Ronald Reagan made that change in direction for America.
He began a new era by ending another: the era of just constantly increasing large government. Throughout his political life, he sought to limit not only government's size, but the scope and the influence that it could have on your life.
He realized in a way that no one before him really ever had the dangers of always looking for government-controlled, collective solutions to a problem. And he had a healthy fear of government. He said, "A government that's big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have."
One of the legacies of the Roosevelt Administration and the Depression was the tendency of people to look first and foremost to the government to solve their problems.
And President Reagan changed the mind of America about this. He warned against the passing of problems along to the federal government, about "abdicating personal and local responsibility" for solving a problem.
He was relentless in pointing out that the government closest to the people is the best government-the government that can work the best, that can preserve their freedoms and give them the opportunity to make choices.
President Reagan's philosophy is traceable directly to the Framers of the Constitution. When one of his foes accused him of having a "19th century attitude" about politics, President responded: "That is a totally false charge. I have an 18th Century attitude." [Laughter.] And he continued with a long discourse on the wisdom of the Framers of the Constitution, our Founding Fathers.
After all, it was the Framers of our Constitution, our Founding Fathers, who designed a system of checks and balances between and among the three branches of the Federal government-and between the federal government and the states. And they did that to preserve our freedom, because they understood, as Ronald Reagan reminded us, that the power of government, can be for the good or it can be for the bad.
President Reagan did more than any President since Lincoln to restore the checks and balances instituted by the Framers. He appointed judges faithful to the Constitution and the rule of law-many of them-and that's one of his great legacies. And he almost single-handedly resurrected the 10th Amendment to the Constitution-that had been ignored for many, many years. That clause says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Because Ronald Reagan put people before government.
It's fortunate that Ronald Reagan had been a governor before being elected President. The experience gave him a very, very keen, sharp understanding of state and local powers, and the federal government's sometimes abrogating both . . . and it gave him first-hand experience with the kind of frustration that a local official can feel-whether it's a governor, a mayor, a county executive-in dealing with the federal government. And the amazing thing about him is he didn't lose that sense of frustration when he was President of the United States. And he did something about it.
"State sovereignty," he argued, "is an integral part of the checks and balances designed to restrain one group from destroying the freedom of another."
He pledged that he would "return authority to the local communities-and he kept that pledge. He once said that "the people of San Francisco know better than anyone in Sacramento where a freeway in San Francisco should go." He said that when he was governor. The same thing is true of New York City and Albany, I should say . . . and of New York State and Washington.
As President, President Reagan returned to governors, to mayors, to local officials, the powers that had been denied to him as the governor of California, and I believe that's how the great American comeback of states and cities began.
For example, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson and Michigan Governor John Engler have completely reformed their state's welfare systems and turned them in an entirely different direction from dependency to self-sufficiency. In my state, Governor George Pataki has cut taxes more than any other governor in our history. And when you cut taxes in New York, that is a total change in direction.
These activist governors might well not have been elected and certainly would not have been able to prevail with that kind of philosophy if that agenda had not first been articulated by Ronald Reagan.
And what began in the state houses eventually reached city halls.
I've lived in New York City all of my life. I was born there . . . [Applause] . . . I've gone to school there, I've been elected.
But I can vividly remember what Mark was talking about, the terrible years of the '70s and '80s-when crime and fiscal crises and misguided policies combined to produce a crisis of confidence in the city that seemed destined to lock it in permanent decline. You have among the exhibits a Time magazine cover and picture, right out here in the museum, that depicts New York City in 1990 as a city beset by crime-as a crime capital and a welfare capital.
And in those days, in the '60s and the '70s and going into the '80s, mayors throughout the country-maybe not all but most-had only one real response to the problem. They would go to Washington and want more money. They would go to Washington and want more money directed toward programs that sometimes had value, sometimes had none, but with very little accountability for themselves.
Ronald Reagan didn't accede to those requests in looking for a federal handout. Instead he gave them something infinitely more valuable: the means to tackle their own problems, and to take charge of their cities' destinies by handing power and accountability back to them by reducing the role of the federal government.
It would take a new generation of mayors assuming office before the potential of that gift was realized, but that new generation came. And now cities like New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and Philadelphia and Indianapolis are enjoying a reawakening. And it's a reawakening that was made possible by the power that Ronald Reagan helped to devolve to governments-to state governments and local governments, the mayors and the county executives, and the council members . . . a reawakening made possible by a great deal of confidence in people and in local government.
When I came into office in New York City there were 1.1 million people on welfare, and I felt one of the most important things I had to do was to reestablish the work ethic in the City of New York . . . to say to those 1.1 million people that we'll help you, we'll take care of you, we'll do the things that are necessary to get you through your problems, but you're going to have to work in return for that. Because we want to do that for your good . . . we want to keep you in the workforce. And I wish you could take you to New York City right now with me. You can all come back on the plane . . . [Laughter] and take you to a welfare office and have you see the sign on the door.
The sign on the door doesn't say "Welfare Office" anymore. It says "Job Center"-each sign. [Applause] And when you walk in and you talk to what used to be the welfare worker you would believe that you are actually talking to what I think you would regard as an employment agent. Because the first discussion that we have now, when a person comes in and says "I would like welfare," the first discussion that we have is, "What kind of work have you done? What kind of work history do you have? Have you had a job?" And the person might say, "Well, two years ago or three years ago I worked in a store," or "Three months ago I worked in a restaurant." And then the welfare worker-the employment agent-will have jobs available for you. And there's a job a block away or three blocks away or downtown or wherever. But the whole purpose of this is for your good. It's to fight to keep you in the work force, to make sure that you retain the work ethic, to make sure that you retain the self-respect that comes from being able to take care of yourself. And then maybe if you take care of yourself, you can do a better job of taking care of your children. Conversely, if you're dependent on someone else to support you, it can really effect your ability to take care of your children, and maybe even in a deeper sense.
Now, who brought that revolution about? Who brought about that change in thinking in America? Because I don't believe that New York City would have 510,000 fewer people on welfare today if Ronald Reagan had not been elected President of the United States in 1980, and had changed the thinking of America about what truly compassion is all about, and caring for people.
Ronald Reagan is most famous for expanding the freedom of individuals-both at home and abroad.
I think the former-the expansion of freedom at home-is probably best reflected in the amount of money he returned to people in tax reductions. Wherever possible and reasonable, he always preferred to reserve to individuals the choice of when, where and how to spend their money, rather than have the government make that choice for them. You all remember, I'm sure, the first year that he was in office, the tremendous battle over the major tax reductions that were necessary. And I think you all remember the tremendous ridicule that took place in some parts of the media and elsewhere of "supply-side economics" and "trickle-down economics."
The reality is that what Ronald Reagan was doing was expanding freedom for people. What he believed is that you will make a better choice about the spending of your money than government will make, and that when we give some of that money back to you, we're trusting you more. We're saying that you will make a better choice than government will make. And if you can release that kind of creative energy in society, there's no telling what it can accomplish.
What it's accomplished is a major revision of our economy, including the budget surpluses that we see today.
It's even convinced a city like my city that we should reduced taxes. When I came into office, we had the highest Hotel Occupancy Tax in the country. We were driving people out of the city by charging them 21-and-1/4% over and above . . . no, we don't charge it anymore, don't get upset. [Laughter] I don't want you to be driven away. So don't get upset.
I fought very hard the first year that I was in office to reduce the tax. And we've reduced it by 30%. And now we collect $90 million more from the lower tax than we did from the higher tax. So who says that "supply-side" economics doesn't work? Of course it works. And now we employ 10,000 . . . 12,000 . . . 15,000 more people in the restaurant businesses and in the hotel businesses of the City of New York. And many of the people we employ are entry-level employees who are people that we've moved off welfare. The very, very best jobs program you can provide for people-poor people, middle-class people, rich people-is a sensible, targeted tax cut like Ronald Reagan did . . . not government jobs programs that try to take over their lives, but reduce the burdens on business so business can hire more people and give people to have a real future and a real career. [Some applause] You can applaud for that. That's alright. [Applause]
I believe that's what Ronald Reagan meant when he said, "Trust the people." Because I believe that his philosophy was a philosophy that said, people first-government someplace else down the list.
I wish that we followed that in dealing with American education, which is going to be a major challenge of the next century . . . that we follow the notion and the idea of giving people more freedom: giving them more freedom of choice about the education of their children rather than having the government dominate that decision; giving them the freedom to have more alternatives for an education; putting the performance of children ahead of the job protection of the people in the system. [Applause] These are all ideas and thoughts that have been introduced into the agenda of American politics by Ronald Reagan.
But his greatest achievement, and the one that will surely make him one of the great presidents of this century and one of our great presidents is the way in which he liberated-literally from slavery-millions and millions of people outside of the United States, and therefore helped to produce a world that is safer for us Americans and for everyone else.
Ronald Reagan always understood the basic fact of the Cold War-that when two victorious armies met in Germany in 1945, one, the Allied army, was willing to go home and leave the people it had liberated in freedom. But the other army wasn't willing to go home and occupied half of Europe. So the first army, ours, was obliged to stay.
There was a reasonable amount of clarity about that at the beginning, in the 1940s and in the 1950s. But by the time Reagan became a serious presidential contender, confusion certainly reigned, and that's to put it mildly. Opinion-makers saw the Cold War-some of them did-as at best a misunderstanding, or some of them saw it as an attempt by America to rule the world.
Much too sophisticated to fall for this, Ronald Reagan understood the truth and was determined to tell it to the American people in ways that totally turned the agenda around.
Remember when he called the Soviet Union an "evil empire." Remember the consternation and the criticism.
But in fact, Ronald Reagan was saying, "What else do you call a regime that holds almost two dozen nations in captivity, imposing its will by military force; maintaining a concentration camp system for its own citizens that treats its citizens as slaves; and that seeks to conquer the world so as to make that nightmare perpetual and universal?"
Ronald Reagan knew that for the West to win the Cold War, it would have to rediscover its confidence; it had to be galvanized around the principle of freedom, the expansion of freedom for people-whether you've met them or know them or whether you don't. He once said, "No weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women."
And he knew that a strong national defense was essential to deterring Soviet ambitions and to turning around the Cold War. "History teaches," President Reagan told the nation, "that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap." Our military had to be upgraded and it had to be rebuilt. Ronald Reagan took over a military that had been weakened, took over a military of very, very low morale, and he had to rebuild it. And he did.
He used his powerful rhetorical skills to convince people, both at home and abroad, of the necessity for rearming, and to remind them what was at stake.
But also, let's not forget that his rhetoric served another brilliant purpose. He put the Soviets on notice that they were dealing with a different kind of president. This wasn't a president who accepted the Soviet Union as an equal. He understood the pernicious philosophy that was destroying so many people in the Soviet Union. This was not a president who, for the sake of diplomatic harmony, was going to refrain from telling the truth about what was a criminal regime. This was a president willing to shake things up. This was a president that you could not just brush aside.
It's hard to remember how bad things were back then. Remember that when President Reagan took office, the Soviet Union was on the march. Its leaders were flush with all the confidence that the West seemed to lack. President Reagan realized that it was crucial that we deploy intermediate missiles in Europe in order to reduce the threat of the Soviet Union.
He was met by tremendous criticism at home. I remember, the week before that was done, ABC had a mini-series called The Day After that was so bad that teachers had to ask that their children not watch the mini-series. It was about the destruction of the world, creating the fear that if we deployed the intermediate range missiles toward the Soviet Union, that the world would be destroyed.
A lesser man, a lesser president would have stepped back in the face of the criticism. But Ronald Reagan didn't budge. He went ahead with the deployment. And the Soviets learned that it wasn't just his rhetoric that was strong. So was his will. So were his convictions. So was his ability to convince others that he was right.
Still, Ronald Reagan didn't want to leave a world forever poised on the brink of nuclear annihilation. He hated the doctrine of "mutual assured destruction" (MAD) that, since the early 1970s, had assured the survival of the world-that we could destroy the Soviet Union, they in return could destroy us, and therefore we were both protected. He said about that, it's "like two cowboys in a frontier saloon aiming their guns at each other's head-permanently." And he was determined to change it.
So he proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative-and he was laughed at for it by some. But he stuck to it. And he stuck to it when Congress tried to oppose it, and he stuck to it in negotiations with the Soviets.
Attorney General William French Smith-who I had the great honor to serve in the Justice Department-once told me that one of the secrets of Ronald Reagan's success was that he was always underestimated. To a certain extent, I think that's still true today-that he's underestimated. But that's changing . . . and in the fullness of time, I believe it will change completely.
And we all know that the Soviets learned not to underestimate him. And I believe that happened in Reykjavik, Iceland, when he met Gorbachev in 1986. They had hours of what seemed to be very, very fruitful talks. There was a tremendous amount of political pressure on President Reagan to accept the terms that were offered by Gorbachev, and in fact the terms that he had offered. But at the very, very end of the meeting, Gorbachev surprisingly said that he would not agree to any of the terms unless President Reagan were willing to abandon SDI, willing to abandon a strategic defense for the United States. I have no doubt that a lesser president or a lesser man would have accepted Gorbachev's terms.
Ronald Reagan got up and walked out-to tremendous criticism. Six, seven months later, Gorbachev came back, agreed to every one of the terms that Ronald Reagan had imposed on him and left out the condition on SDI. And I believe in that act alone the Cold War was won. It took us a few years to realize it was won, but it was won. The whole history of the world was changed by Ronald Reagan's being willing to stick to his principles and not do what a lesser president or a lesser man might do.
Now, what I'm waiting for is for all the people that criticized him to say, they were wrong and he was right. [Applause]
All of the things that Ronald Reagan fought for and all of the things that he made part of the American political agenda are just as important today: a missile defense system is as vital now as it was when President Reagan first proposed it fifteen years ago-maybe more so given the proliferation of nuclear weapons under President Clinton, many more nuclear weapons and nuclear capacity for China, India, Pakistan. So the concept of defense against nuclear weapons that Ronald Reagan first announced to the American people is just as important today as it was then.
And Congress needs now to look at revitalizing our armed forces. I truly believes that when President Clinton leaves office, he'll be one of the few presidents in this century-not the only one, but one of the few-who will hand off the American military to the next president less developed, less funded, and with much lower morale than it was handed to him by President Bush. And the next president is going to have to rebuild much of what is needed for our military in the same way that President Reagan had to do that in 1980. It's a shame that we forgot that lesson. And it's a shame that the Clinton Administration took a peace dividend so soon and at such great a price. But the problem has to be addressed, and it's important that we remember the principles of Ronald Reagan in doing that.
President Reagan had a clear vision of America's place in the world. He knew that we are truly the "indispensable nation"-and he wasn't afraid to say it, and he wasn't afraid to articulate it. His foreign policy had a sense of precision and principle, and even for those who disagreed with him, they knew the direction America would take. The next president is going to have to rebuild a foreign policy similar to that, because he's going to inherit a sense of confusion and a lack of purpose about America. And like President Reagan, he's going to have to rebuild that. But at least the next president will have the example of Ronald Reagan to follow.
And we could use a lot of that clarity and a lot of that realism for the future.
I know that some say, that it was easier for Reagan, that the Cold War presented a very simple situation to understand. But they forget how much the Cold War used to confuse a great many people until Ronald Reagan re-explained to the world.
The principles which guided Ronald Reagan through the final years of the Cold War are just as valid today-support for freedom, opposition to tyrants, and prudence in the exercise of the power of the United States. [Applause]
So I'd like to conclude by assessing, if I can, my own opinion of Ronald Reagan's legacy. And I believe the best way to do it is to just say to yourself, "What if there had been no Ronald Reagan?"
That, of course, is the premise of the classic movie It's a Wonderful Life. George Bailey-played, as it happens, by a very close friend of the Reagans, the late Jimmy Stewart-learns what the fate would have been of Bedford Falls if he hadn't lived . . . what would have happened to his town and to all of his friends and relatives. And the picture is not a very pretty one.
But it's nothing compared to what our country-and the world-would look like had Ronald Reagan never been born. We can't know for sure, but consider some of the possibilities.
The American economy might well still be mired in "stagflation." Taxes might still be stuck at the 70% rate-or higher. And unemployment might be still high, and growth anemic. And millions and millions of people would be on welfare and dependent on the government and not a sense and ability to take care of themselves.
There might have been no "devolution revolution" in giving power back to state and local governments. Maybe there'd be no Republican Mayor of New York City. [Laughter]
And what would the map of the world look like? Would globes from the 1980s, depicting a huge Soviet empire and a divided Europe, still be current? And for how many more years would be people have been enslaved if Ronald Reagan hadn't been born, and if Ronald Reagan hadn't had the strength and the courage of his principles in the way that he did? We really can't know . . . but there's no reason for thinking that we would be in the position of freedom and opportunity that we're in today if it weren't for him.
And, last but not least, let's not forget how Ronald Reagan restored our nation's spirits . . . how, at a critical time when America needed confidence and faith to weather the fears of inflation and insecurity and nuclear annihilation, Ronald Reagan was there . . . standing by our side . . . standing tall, rallying us to build again and invent again and believe again in this most incredible nation that we're all very, very privileged to be part of.
In history, nothing is inevitable. Great events-both good and bad, noble and tragic-are caused by men and women . . . individuals who exert every ounce of their strength to change the world.
Ronald Reagan is one such person . . . one of history's causes . . . and a force for good in the world. Had he never been born, the great good that he wrought might never have happened. And the world would be a sadder, poorer place.
Let's then be thankful that he was born . . . and that the human family can reap the countless benefits that his life has brought us. And thank you, Mrs. Reagan, for continuing that legacy for my children and all the children yet to come.
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