The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Ronald Reagan
Remarks at a Fund-raising Luncheon for Senator Jeremiah Denton in Birmingham, Alabama
June 6, 1985

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Mayor, Senator Denton, Mrs. Denton, all of you, thank you all very much. You know, listening to Jerry, I was reminded of what a great general of ours said when he was asked about any secret weapons we might possess in World War II. And he said that our secret weapon was just the best darned kids in the world. Well, whenever I'm with Jerry, I see that one of the best darned kids grew up into one of the best darned officers and now is one of the best darned Senators in the United States Congress.

Jerry and I came into office in the same year, 1981, and for the last 4% years, he's been a pillar of support for our efforts to keep America strong and free and true. He's been rated the most conservative Senator by the National Journal. That's my kind of Senator. His voting record has been rated 100 percent by the American Conservative Union, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Conservatives Against Liberal Legislation-I like the name of that one—the National Alliance of Senior Citizens, the Christian Voters Victory Fund, and some others. The magazine, Conservative Digest, took a poll of its readers, and Jerry Denton was their second most admired Senator. Now, knowing Jerry, he's probably wondering where he slipped up. But that's all right because we're going to make sure that you have at least another 6 years to make number one.

He's more than one voice and one vote in the Senate. He's one of the most persuasive leaders on the Hill. And he's also one of the most effective spokesmen I know for the interests of his State, this proud and growing State of Alabama, which, as he says so well, is marching confidently into the future.

One example of Jerry's abilities in looking out for Alabama is the Tenn-Tom Waterway, which, due in great part to his support and leadership, was completed ahead of schedule.

We're also joined tonight with three very able State leaders—State Republican Chairman Emory Folmar, who also did a tremendous job for us as his finance chairman in the campaign, and from the Republican National Committee, Perry Hooper and Jean Sullivan. I also want to recognize the job that's being done by Congressman Bill Dickinson and Sonny Callahan. I don't know if Sonny claims any relation to Harry Callahan, but after all he's done, he really makes my day. [Laughter]

Jerry's been telling me about the progress of Operation Open Door, the program that's been set up to bring Democrats into the Republican fold. So, let me pause right here and congratulate all of you. Welcome on board. And those of you made the decision in the Grand Old Party. Nowadays, we also call it the Great Opportunity Party. Switching to the Republican Party is rapidly becoming a venerable tradition—Sonny and Emory are both Republican converts and, well, so is the President of the United States. [Laughter]

I know from personal experience how hard it can be to make the change from Democrat to Republican. I also know that there comes a time when you look in your heart and realize that it may be hard to change, but it's just something that you've got to do. Party loyalty can be mighty fierce, though.

We all know that story about way back when—probably one of the first Republicans was running here in the South for office, out soliciting votes, and he was rejected by one gentleman who said to him, "I'm a Democrat, always been a Democrat, my pappy was a Democrat, and my grandpappy was a Democrat." And the candidates made the mistake of saying, "Well, if your pappy was a jackass and your grandpappy was a jackass, what would that make you?" And he says, "A Republican." [Laughter]

But I think all that's changing. While a lot of Democrats have stood fast by their principles, the party has been pulled out from under their feet by a kind of left-wing leadership. I know it's what made me change, and I found the answer and will suggest it to others who maybe are considering it. As I say, I know the pain. It was like changing your religion. And I was converted in principle before I could still bring myself to make that change in party. And then I heard the words of another man who had changed party, Winston Churchill. And Winston said, "Some men change principle for party and some change party for principle."

A lot of Democrats supported Senator Denton and me in 1980, and we're very grateful. And we just want to say to any registered Democrats out there who might not be so happy about the direction their party is heading: If you're looking for a new home the Republican Party has a welcome mat out, and the doors are wide open. Come on over. And I can tell you, if you really look back—and I look back to that first vote that I cast in 1932 as a Democrat and others that I cast subsequently—and I remember what I voted for, not who. And then the time came when I realized that what I had voted for there—reduction of the Federal Government in cost, elimination of useless boards and commissions, States rights—not protectionism, but free trade. The leadership of the Democratic Party today does not represent those things, but millions of rank-and-file patriotic Democrats throughout the Nation represent those things, and I believe that we're trying to represent them in the leadership of the Republican Party. So, you're welcome.

Well, today, June 6th is a double anniversary. It marks the day, 41 years ago, that the allies won Normandy beach and the day, 39 years ago, that Jerry won his lovely bride, Jane, and convinced her to marry him. Happy anniversary. Congratulations to you both.

That coincidence kind of makes you think how closely intertwined our families, our faith, and our communities are with the freedom that we cherish. The family is the guardian of our most treasured possessions—our values of loyalty, chastity, and love and our belief in human dignity and the incalculable worth of each individual life—and through the family, each generation passes these values on to the next as a sacred inheritance. It's the family that civilizes us, that keeps us human, and ensures that our future will be humane.

Totalitarian ideologies, in their drive to subvert human nature, will always be hostile to the family and its transcendent loyalties. We have seen that today in Russian totalitarianism; the taking over of the children by the state, the virtual elimination of family control. But free and democratic nations must be sure to honor, protect, and nourish their families as if their very survival depended on it, because in truth it does.

In his 41/2 years in the Senate, Jerry's been an untiring advocate of the family, and I might say his seven children and eight grandchildren attest to the fact that he practices what he preaches. [Laughter]

Jerry established and chairs the Senate Caucus on the Family. He's been a leader in the fight against child abuse, and his adolescent family life act has been on the books since 1981, helping to combat the tragedy of adolescent pregnancy. And Jerry knows that families don't hand over to the State all rights to their children when they walk through the front door on their way to school. I know there's been a strong push here in Birmingham to help restore voluntary prayer in public schools. As this week's Supreme Court decision shows, we still have an uphill battle before us. So, I hope we can also count on the support of Alabama's entire congressional delegation for our prayer amendment, because it is time it was adopted.

Last year with the passage of the Equal Access Act, Jerry made sure that student religious groups have the same rights as other student groups. Thomas Jefferson said, "The God who gave us life gave us liberty." Well, thanks to Jerry's determined efforts, Alabama schoolchildren now have a little more liberty to thank their God for both these great gifts.

Last week I announced our plan to completely overhaul our nation's tax structure and replace it with one that's fairer, simpler, more compassionate, and most importantly, one that gives the American family a long-overdue break. As I said then, our proposal is the strongest profamily initiative in postwar history. First, it will take the tax lid off our economy and make America an engine of economic growth and job creation. We've called it America's tax plan, and I'm convinced that it is quite simply the most effective jobs creation bill that ever came before the United States Congress. We're not going to rest until every American who wants a job has a job, until the doors of opportunity are open so wide that everyone from the inner cities to the countryside can walk right on through.

We're also going to give immediate tax relief to America's families by nearly doubling the personal exemption, raising the standard deduction, lowering income tax rates, and making tax-deductible IRA accounts fully available to homemakers, so that spouses that choose to stay home and take care of the children are no longer penalized. Through our plan, a family of four wouldn't pay a cent in Federal income tax on the first $12,000 of income and only 15 cents on the dollar up to $29,000 of taxable income.

Our tax proposal will right the injustices in the old system, help families, and increase economic opportunity. There are two things that our tax plan will not do, however. It will not expand the deficit, and it will not raise taxes. Now, I'm glad that some forward-looking Democrats in Congress have decided to join hands with us and work alongside their Republican colleagues to remold our tax system along the lines of fairness, simplicity, and economic growth. Since Rosty1 and I went on TV urging tax change, Washington has been deluged under a mountain of letters and telegrams, most with one very simple message: America, go for it! Well, all I have to say is, keep those cards and letters coming, folks.

1 Representative Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois.

I can only hope that this emerging spirit of bipartisanship will also transfer to the transcendent moral issue of our time—the support and protection of freedom from the assault of communism. Sooner or later, we're all forced to shed any illusions we may have had about Communist regimes. Jeremiah Denton knows from experience what communism means. He wrote about it graphically in a book called, "When Hell was in Session." And we're all seeing that communism has become synonymous with starvation, terror, brutality, and prison camps.

Some would like to ignore Nicaragua's connection to the international terrorist network, the PLO, Libya, and the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who now-thanks to the Sandinista Communists—have a foothold in Central America, just 2 hours by air from our southern border. Some would like to ignore the incontrovertible evidence of the Communist religious persecution of Catholics, Jews, and fundamentalists; of their campaign of virtual genocide against the Miskito Indians; of their attempted subversion of their free, democratic neighbors.

When it comes to the Communists in Nicaragua, some have adopted a see no, hear no evil, speak no evil attitude. But as the refugees come flooding out of Nicaragua, it becomes harder and harder not to hear their cries of anguish, not to see the suffering of their shattered lives. And it becomes all but impossible not to speak out against the tragedy the Communists are inflicting on their country.

I remember in Washington a few weeks back meeting a young man who was a fundamentalist preacher in Nicaragua. His face was simply a gargoyle. He had prayed, and they came in the night, the military, with the Sandinistas, and took him out, tied him to a pillar of the house where he was sleeping and then threw gasoline in the house and set it on fire. Well, fortunately, the fires burned the ropes before they could kill him. But he, with his clothing in flames and his body in flames, fled. Campesinos found him, took him to a hospital. He had to hide who he was and how this had happened, or they would have caught him again. And he was in Washington, there, still speaking out for what he believes in. And what was his sin in the eyes of the Sandinista government? He'd prayed and prayed with some of the people, the citizens there who still wanted to have religion.

When it comes to the Communists and what they're doing to their country, well, Daniel Ortega's money-run to the Soviet Union should have come as no surprise. Still, for many, it took this last trip to dispel their final illusions and to make it clear that the Nicaraguan Communists are no more and no less than agents of Soviet expansionism and the sworn enemies of freedom.

But still, in spite of what some keep saying, we remain committed to a peaceful solution. And so do the democratic opposition in Nicaragua. But while they're waiting for their own government to talk to them, they must survive. And that's what our assistance is designed to do—to give peace a chance and to keep alive the goal of freedom in Nicaragua.

Congress is now reconsidering its aid cutoff to the freedom fighters. In fact, the Senate vote comes up today. So, I'm afraid Jerry and I are going to have to do a quick disappearing act after my speech to get him up there in time to cast his vote to give freedom a chance in Nicaragua.

If aid to the freedom fighters passes the Senate, which I have faith it will, then it'll be up to the Democratically controlled House to show the Sandinista Communists that they're not fooling anybody; that when it comes to supporting freedom and reconciliation in Nicaragua, the United States can be counted on. America stands as one.

This, as I mentioned, is a day of anniversaries, proud and happy ones. But a few weeks ago on the other side of the globe, another terrible and bitter anniversary was noted—the 10th anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam to the Communists. Today the Vietnamese Communists can celebrate the transformation of their nation into one of the poorest countries on Earth. They can celebrate the creation of new Vietnamese gulags, 10 years of torture and forced relocations, and the flight of nearly a million refugees and boat people.

Americans visiting Vietnam have been surprised to find out how warmly they're received, to see people rushing up to them with smiles of joy, and to hear the Vietnamese use all the English at their command to say, "America, number one."

Well, 10 years later, after a prolonged season in hell, the memory of freedom still survives. The young children may have known only the darkness of Communist tyranny, but even they have parents and older relatives who tell them of South Vietnam before the fall and bring a ray of hope into their lives. The Vietnamese people say that America is number one because America tried to give freedom a chance in Vietnam. And 10 years later, the people for whom our brave American soldiers fought and died and sacrificed are still profoundly grateful.

The Vietnamese Government says they also want us back. They want to normalize relations with the United States. But we have made it clear there is only one way this can take place. The American people demand the fullest possible accounting for our POW's and MIA's. This and a peaceful resolution of their brutal occupation of Cambodia would help bring Vietnam out of international isolation.

For almost 8 years, Jeremiah Denton endured the inhuman trials and tortures of North Vietnamese prison camps, but his faith and the love of his family and country not only gave him the courage to survive but to alert the world of the horrors of the Vietnamese gulag. He became in those 8 years not only a great hero to his country but a hero to the cause of human freedom. He learned then that the struggle for liberty is the struggle for life, itself. And he learned that Abraham Lincoln's words were never truer—that the United States is still the "... last, best hope of earth."

I think Jeremiah Denton said it best when, after almost 8 years of unimaginable suffering and hardship, he stepped from that plane and onto his home soil. And I remember seeing that early in the morning in Sacramento on television, without any knowledge that we would ever be standing here in this particular situation. And I think we can all say with him today what those of us who were watching saw him say then-the simplest, truest words ever spoken-"God bless America."

Thank you, thank you all. God bless you all, and God bless America. Thank you.

Citation: Ronald Reagan: "Remarks at a Fund-raising Luncheon for Senator Jeremiah Denton in Birmingham, Alabama ", June 6, 1985. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=38735.
 
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