Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Mississippi Republican Party Fund-raising Dinner in Jackson

June 20, 1983

Reverend clergy, Senator Cochran, Webb Franklin, our honored guest tonight, Trent Lott, Ebbie Spivey,1 and all of you:

I thank you for a very warm and a very wonderful welcome.

It's true what Trent said, I've been here a number of times. I have a number of wonderful warm memories. As a matter of fact, I was just telling Trent earlier today, I remember being here as Governor of California, sitting in a box at Ole Miss with your then Governor Williams. Ole Miss hadn't had a good season. They were playing Auburn, and Auburn was heavily favored to win. But Ole Miss was rising to the heights, turning the tide, and someplace late in the third quarter was substantially ahead. And there was one of those moments of silence in the stadium that can happen now and then, even with all the excitement. And in the midst of that silence, about 20 rows behind us, the box that I was in, I heard a voice say, "Man, what would they have done if John Wayne was here?" [Laughter]

But isn't it wonderful to see so many Republicans in Mississippi? [Applause] Times have changed and for the better. Former Congressman Prentiss Walker, who I understand is here today, tells a story about his first campaign. He dropped in on a farm and introduced himself as a Republican candidate. And as he tells it, the farmer's eyes lit up, and then he said, "Wait till I get my wife. We've never seen a Republican before." [Laughter]

And a few minutes later he was back with his wife, and they asked Prentiss if he wouldn't give them a speech. Well, he looked around for kind of a podium, something to stand on, and then the only thing available was a pile of that stuff that the late Mrs. Truman said it had taken her 35 years to get Harry to call "fertilizer." [Laughter] So, he stepped up on that and made his speech. And apparently he won them over. And they told him it was the first time they'd ever heard a Republican. And he says, "That's okay. That's the first time I've ever given a speech from a Democratic platform." [Laughter]

You know, a moment ago, when I was recognizing the people up here, all these distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I missed one, maybe kind of on purpose, set him apart by himself, because Leon Bramlett—doesn't it sound nice: "Governor Bramlett"? That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? [Applause] You know, your candidate for Governor was himself an active Democrat like me, until he saw the light. And like those people that it's the first time they'd ever seen one, a Republican.

Seriously, though, we have to understand the importance of reaching out to Democrats with whom we have fundamental agreement. Democrats, we have little in common with the national and State Democratic platforms. And I'm quite sure there are many here who were and some who still are Democrats but who have found it more and more difficult to follow their party's leadership.

One of our top priorities since getting to Washington has been turning power back to the levels of the government closer to the people. For this to succeed, we need good people, like Leon Bramlett, in positions of authority at the State level. I hope that from now until election day you will put out a maximum effort to make him Mississippi's first Republican Governor in more than a hundred years.

You know, when I remarked about Democrats being present, Leon and myself having been Democrats, seriously, I think it is time to point out that there are many fine, patriotic Democrats in this country who are beginning to recognize that the present leadership of their party and the leadership in recent years has strayed far from the principles that once characterized the Democratic Party in the days of Jefferson and Jackson. They would no longer be at home, I think, with the present leadership of that party and what it advocates.

Today, we're honoring all your Republican officeholders, but especially Congressman Trent Lott. Now, I know you're proud of him, and I only wish we had another 434 just like him in the House of Representatives.

Trent began his political career as an administrative aide to Democratic Congressman William Colmer, a fine man who ably represented his State for many years. When Congressman Colmer retired and Trent ran as a Republican to fill his seat, the old man didn't know who to endorse. He loved Trent like a son, but at heart, he was still a Democrat. Well, he figured that out, because near the end of the campaign this veteran Congressman held a press conference. And he mentioned that, although he wasn't endorsing anyone, he wanted everybody to know that he was voting for Trent Lott. [Laughter] I'll take that kind of an endorsement anytime.

Trent, I've got it on good authority that the turning point came when you went to visit the old gentleman and brought him a half dozen shot and cleaned squirrels ready for cooking. [Laughter] I think what we've got to do is to get a large batch of Mississippi squirrels for Trent to bring back so that everybody in the Congress can have a big helping.

Incidentally, on that dinner at Williamsburg for the press, they weren't the only ones that dined on catfish and hush puppies. So did the seven heads of state that were gathered around a table that night. And it was a marvel to see some of those with the gourmet backing of France and the cuisine of Europe tasting catfish for the first time in their lives and wondering why they had missed such a delicacy all their lives.

Trent represents all that's best in the new generation of Republican leaders. He combines a deep, personal commitment to the ideals of free enterprise and individual liberty with a practical expertise in getting things done. He's put together one of the best staffs on Capitol Hill and is admired on both sides of the aisle for his efficient handling of constituent problems. Yes, as you've been told, he's number two in the House minority leadership, and I pray that someday soon, we will be saying, the House majority leadership.

Trent was first elected in 1972 and for a decade has been fighting—along with other stalwart Republicans—against the taxing and spending irresponsibility that shoved our country into the economic turmoil and decline from which we're now just emerging. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Trent, to thank Webb Franklin, to thank Thad Cochran for the courage they've shown in tackling what seemed like overwhelming problems just 21/2 years ago.

In 1980 we promised to make America strong again. It's taken everything we could muster, but we've ridden out the storm. We've beaten back attempts to get our program before it had a chance. And I'm proud to tell you today that, even as our critics now have to admit, it's working.

We've brought inflation, as you were told by Trent—formerly public enemy number one—down from—it was 12.4 at exactly that point to less than 1 percent for the last 6 months. And as Trent told you, we were handed prime interest rates of 2 1/2 percent. We ignored the calls for a quick fix. We worked the prime down slowly but surely to 10 1/2 percent. And that's good news for thousands of Mississippians involved in the construction and timber industries.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Federal' spending seemed out of control. It was rising at 17 percent in 1980 alone. We've cut that growth rate by 40 percent, but we must and will do better than that with your help.

To finance all that spending, Federal income taxes doubled between 1976 and 1981. And I heard a gentleman on the air yesterday on one of the panel shows, and he was talking about the terrible deficits that we now confront. Well, those deficits were very large and were the greatest that we'd had until that time. In those 5 years in which taxes were doubled, the deficits went up. By 1980 many working people were being taxed at rates reserved for the well-to-do only a few years ago. Together we've managed to reduce the tax rates 25 percent across the board and to index the tax rates thereafter, so inflation can no longer push people into higher and higher brackets.

Much of the economic turmoil we've gone through can be traced directly to overspending and overtaxing. Those who think they can pull the wool over the eyes of the voters and return to the tax-and-spend and spend-and-inflate policies of the past are badly mistaken. For my part, if confronted with budget-busting spending bills or any attempt to take away the people's tax cuts or indexing, I will not hesitate to veto—indeed, I look forward to it.

The big spenders, anxious to get their hands back in the public's pockets, are now trying to use greed and envy to undercut the economy-building aspects of our tax program. They're calling for a tax cap on benefits that would undermine new investment, job creation, and economic growth.

I hope the American people remember that many of those advocating this tax cap opposed any reduction in tax rates for anybody. They don't think we're taxed enough. And what they're suggesting now isn't a cap on tax cut benefits; it's a cap on the recovery—a permanent tax increase—and we can't let that happen.

You know, for many years we, all of us, used the term that I think was created by some of the liberal bent—$50,000 annual income. That was the dividing line between the working people and the middle class and the wealthy—$50,000 a year. Well, it's time we looked at that again and made some adjustments for inflation, because those who are advocating the cap have again used that as the dividing line$50,000. I wonder, does Speaker O'Neill know that the person who was earning $50,000 a year 10 years ago in 1973 to just stay even would today have to be getting $113,843 to be equal to a $50,000 income of 10 years ago?

And let's set the record straight about indexing. Indexing prevents lower and middle-income earners from being pushed into higher tax brackets. It doesn't have any impact on the tax rates of our wealthiest citizens. They're already in those top brackets. Those who advocate eliminating indexing are trying to perpetrate a cynical hoax on lower and middle-income earners in America. In fact, 78 percent of the benefits of indexing will go to lower and Middle-income earners.

In the last few months, we've seen the initial phases of a strong and steady economic recovery. Retail sales and productivity are up. Real wages are up. This morning at 10 o'clock in the East, they announced that personal earnings were up 1.2 percent for the month of May; personal spending for consumer items was up 1.4 percent. Those are the two highest, most solid gains for any month since the recovery began. Housing starts are up; automobile sales are up; and new business incorporations are at near-record levels. And unemployment-always a lagging indicator—has finally begun inching down.

Those who talk about raising taxes are gambling with the future of the recovery. And that's a game that none of us here on this platform intend to play.

A weak economy wasn't the only cause for concern in the 1980 election. During the last decade, our military strength was permitted to erode dangerously. At a time when the Soviets were dramatically increasing their military effort, real spending for our defense needs was reduced by almost 20 percent. By 1980 our fleet, which had numbered nearly a thousand ships in the late 1960's, had dwindled to less than 500. Our military personnel were relying on weapons designed a generation before, and many of our airmen were flying in bombers that were older than the pilots.

We promised to turn this threatening situation around. Again, with the help of your Republican representatives, we've set a place in program to rebuild our defensive capabilities. We're doing our best to keep costs down. But no matter how diligent we are, there's no escaping the fact that providing this country with an adequate defense is an expensive undertaking, especially when you're forced to make up for the irresponsibility of so many past years. But, I say to our critics, we will not send our brave young men and women in the military out to defend us with second-rate weapons and bargain-basement equipment. If they can put their lives on the line for us, we can afford to give them what they need to do the job right. And with those young men and women and the training that they are getting and the morale and esprit de corps they have and with the proper kind of weapons, they won't have to use those weapons, because no one will dare tread on US.

The security of our country, of course, depends on more than weapons. We must have the will to meet the challenges of an adversary who is constantly testing our resolve to defend our vital national interests. And this is exactly what is happening in Central America.

I appreciate the sincere motives of many who point to the faults of our friends and ask for reforms. I agree with those who insist on economic as well as military assistance. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for not providing those under attack the weapons they need to defend themselves. We must not listen to those who would disarm our friends and allow Central America to be turned into a string of anti-American Marxist dictatorships. The result could be a tidal wave of refugees. And this time, they'll be "feet people" and not "boat people" swarming into our country, seeking a safe haven from Communist repression to our south. We cannot permit the Soviet-Cuban-Nicaraguan axis to take over Central America.

What we have in this country is the most precious gift God has given to mankind. Our country, more than any other, has been blessed with liberty and abundance. A few years ago some people were counting America out, claiming that our best days were behind us, that our country was in decline. Well, not anymore. That pessimism is something else we've turned around.

I'm as confident as ever that the character of the American people is still strong, the soul of this nation is still something of which we can be proud. And that was never more apparent than recently when the floods swept through your State. From all reports, your citizens, young and old, white and black, proved that the American spirit is alive and well.

Take the case of Tommy Wallace, from Marion County, who heard the screams of people who'd been washed out of their cars by the raging waters. Wallace launched his small boat into the torrent and, braving the washing waters and the floating debris and logs, saved the lives of seven people. Later, when he was asked about it, he replied, "Well, you just don't think about being scared. You just feel like you've got to do what you've got to do."

Well, during the floods, there were numerous accounts of neighbor helping neighbor, of heroism and kindness crossing all racial and economic lines. The people of Mississippi showed the country that when the chips are down, we are all Americans.

Today, we have a heavy responsibility; the future peace and freedom of our children and of all mankind rests on our shoulders. But we have no reason to fear. Instead, like Tommy Wallace and all good Americans, we'll do what we have to do.

I just have to inject something here, because we had a Cabinet meeting this morning. It was on a subject that you haven't heard talked about at all, but it's something—a program that we've had underway for about 2 years. And this is a program that has to do with something we had promised, and that was that we were going to make government smaller; we were going to make it more efficient. And we've had a task force working for 2 years now on the actual operations of government—not the programs that you hear about in the budget discussions, but how to manage things more efficiently in government.

We had said that our goal would be that in 3 years we would reduce the size of the Federal Government by 75,000 employees—the nondefense side, domestic side. Well, it isn't 3 years yet, but we're ahead of schedule, because we've already reduced it by 65,000.

Then there were publications— [applause] —I can't go into all the details, but I'll be talking about it much more in the days to come as we're putting together these recommendations now.

But we—for example, publications, we are now—we have canceled 73 million copies of Federal publications. We have eliminated 2,200 various publications, bulletins, and reports and so forth, such as "How to Buy a Christmas Tree." [Laughter] And then there was a regular one they put out-and I just happened to take that one off the Cabinet table today and bring it along, because I thought it was pretty indicative of the kind of thing that government's been doing. It's "How to Have a Sparkling Clean Sink"—kitchen sink. [Laughter]

Now, the very top of it illustrates why they had to keep this bulletin out for you people. It said, "A clean sink helps keep you and your family healthy. A dirty sink often smells bad. It will attract bugs. For a clean kitchen you need a clean sink." [Laughter] And the last point is, "A clean sink looks nice." [Laughter] Now, you ladies know you'd have never thought of that by yourselves if the government hadn't pointed it out to you. [Laughter]

Well, there's going to be a surprise pretty soon, coming another budget time when they find out how much we are able to cut, how many billions of dollars simply in the improvement of management to bring the Federal Government up somewhere close to what has been just common business practice for all of you that are out there in business today—that you've taken for granted, but government's still been doing it. The only thing we've changed is from horses to automobiles. And we're changing the rest of the government to come up to date at the same time.

I know that we can count on you in the days ahead. And I thank you for having me with you here for this very special occasion. God bless you all, and thank you.

1 Mississippi Republican Party State chairman.

Note: The President spoke at 5:28 p.m. in the Mississippi Coliseum arena.

Earlier, after his arrival in Jackson, the President attended a Mississippi Republican Party fund-raising reception in Dennery's Restaurant, which is adjacent to the coliseum.

Following his appearance at the dinner, the President returned to Washington, D.C.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Mississippi Republican Party Fund-raising Dinner in Jackson Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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