Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Republican Party Rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

September 14, 1988

The President. Senator Jack Danforth, Senator Kit Bond, and your great Congressman—one of the finest—Bill Emerson, and Joanne, thank you all very much. It's great to be in Cape Girardeau, and I want to thank the Southeast Missouri State University Foundation, the university, and Congressman Emerson for the invitation.

But before we begin, I have an announcement to make. The latest trade figures were just released by the Department of Commerce this morning, and the news is very good. The trade deficit has declined by $3.6 billion for the month of July. This continues the steady progress that we've seen. In fact, the trade deficit for the first 7 months of this year is over 18 percent lower than for the same period last year. And the long-term trend is excellent: The deficit is now at its lowest level since 1984. And today America's exports are nearly at an all-time high, and imports are declining. And I'm happy to say that by resisting protectionism we've kept our economy growing at a strong rate, created millions of new jobs, and kept inflation low. And I can tell you, the message is going out to every corner of the world: When America goes into the market to compete, we plan to win. Others may talk, but we deliver.

Well, now, I've been told that SEMO students have a lot of spirit. And I already know that about my brothers in Tau Kappa Epsilon. But on a day like this, I can't help but feel like I'm from Missouri. So, let me ask you to do something. Since we're here in the Show Me Center, do you think that right now you can "show me" and let me hear some of that SEMO spirit? [Applause] Okay. You've shown me. And in fact, there are a few thousand students next door watching me on daytime television—I think I heard them, too. [Laughter]

But I can't think of any place that gives a better welcome than Southeast Missouri State. And who can match your champion cheerleaders and the award-winning Golden Eagle? Now, you know that as President I can't favor one college team over another. [Laughter] But with all the support that Congressman Emerson has given me, when he asked me for a favor, how could I refuse? So, let's just say that this fall there will be at least one cowboy who will be rooting for the Indians.

Now, with this great reception that you've given me, I have to say that there was once upon a time that to be a Republican in this area of the country felt a little bit like being Gary Cooper in "High Noon"— [laughter] —outnumbered in a big way. [Laughter] But I remember the story of a fellow who was running for office as a Republican. And he was in a rural area, and it wasn't known to be Republican. And he stopped by a farm to do some campaigning. And when the farmer heard he was a Republican, his jaw dropped, and he said, "Wait right here till I go get Ma. She's never seen a Republican before." [Laughter] So, he got her. And the candidate looked around for a podium from which to give his speech, and the only thing he could find was a pile of that stuff that Bess Truman took 35 years trying to get Harry to call fertilizer. [Laughter] So, he got up on the mound, and when they came back he gave his speech. And at the end of it, the farmer said, "That's the first time I ever heard a Republican speech." And the candidate said, "That's the first time I've ever given a Republican speech from a Democratic platform." [Laughter]

Well, all that, as they say, is history—or should I say ancient history, which at my age is a subject that I'm regarded as an expert in. [Laughter] Today Missouri has a team that it can depend on to defend our basic values and keep America strong: Bill, Jack, Kit and, of course, Governor John Ashcroft.

Now, let me take just a moment to talk about the positive achievements of the past 8 years. We do have, as you've been told already, a robust, growing economy with low inflation. Young people starting out can look forward to jobs and opportunity, a secure future to start a family. We're beginning to turn around the decades-long decline in education by returning to basics and demanding nothing less than excellence. We're restoring our judicial system by appointing serious-minded judges who respect the Constitution and America's traditional values. Our nation is again respected in the world. Our Armed Forces are strong. And America is at peace. And we've rekindled an ancient pride, a noble patriotism that loves America and would extend our blessings to the world.

What more can we say than that the parents of a child born today can look forward to the 21st century with hope and optimism that their child will know the brightest future the world has ever seen. And let me say something to each one of you here today: That bright future is also yours; it is your birthright as Americans. And what we have seen in the last years is only the beginning. Soon you will be out there with all your energy and creativity, taking advantage of the greatest opportunities on Earth. And when that moment comes, well, all I can say is, Katie, bar the door.

America has traveled such a remarkable distance in the last 8 years that the memory has faded of the economic and foreign policy crises that we faced when Vice President Bush and I took office. The truth is that when you take a walk down our opposition's memory lane it starts to look like "Nightmare on Elm Street." And if you want to remember how things really were just a few years back, think of the year 1979. In that one year, Iran, Nicaragua, and Grenada were all lost. Iran fell to the Ayatollah; Nicaragua and Grenada were taken by the Communists. In that one year, our Embassy in Iran was seized, not once but twice. Our Ambassador to Afghanistan was assassinated by Communist gunmen, and that country invaded by Soviet troops. Add to that the economic crisis at home. That was just 9 years ago, and we're still paying for it today. That was the year 1979. Don't we have the right to ask the American people: If the liberals return to power, what happens in 1989?

Let's remember one thing: When the American people saw that under the other fellows the economic misery index was soaring off the charts—and I think I'd better stop right there and explain to you what the misery index was. The misery index was created by adding the rate of inflation to the rate of unemployment. And it took place in the Presidential race between Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter. And it was invented by the Carter people because that misery index then was somewhere around 12 percent or so. And they said that any man with a misery index of that size didn't have the right to even seek the Presidency. Well, something happened about that because you never heard of the misery index in 1980—because it was somewhere in the twenties by the 1980's. And now the misery index, if they wanted to use it, is less than 10 and continues to go down.

Today we have peace and prosperity, and the liberals are trying to pretend those economic and foreign policy nightmares they gave us never happened. One political commentator noticed this at their recent convention in Atlanta. And believe me, I just don't think I can improve on this paragraph. Forgive me—I have to mention my name in it but I'm quoting Mark Helprin who said—and remember this is from him now, not me. I might be accused of being biased. [Laughter]

He said: "After 8 years of R.R., a dozen new or incipient democracies in South America, the Philippines, and South Korea; after Russian or proxy withdrawal in process in Afghanistan, Angola, and Cambodia; the winding down of the Iran-Iraq war; half a dozen treaties and summits with a marvelously chastened Soviet Union; after the longest peacetime economic expansion in American history, record employment and a 2-point drop in the unemployment rate, a significant drop in the crime rate, a 12-point drop in the prime interest rate, and a 10-point drop in the rate of inflation, not to mention tax reform and an economy that has succeeded in making the stock market crash almost inconsequential"—well, the liberal leadership came out this summer and said don't blame us, we told you so. [Laughter] I'll bet a lot of the press didn't think I'd ever be quoting one of them. [Laughter]

Of course, the liberals still don't understand why we were able to turn the economy around, so they're treating good times as if they're a given. Their message is: "You can take prosperity for granted. It's time for a change, so take a chance on us." Well, that's sort of like someone telling you that if you stored up all the soft, cold drinks you could want in the refrigerator, now it's time to unplug the refrigerator. [Laughter] But whether it's a well-stocked refrigerator or our progrowth economic policies, you can't unplug what's working and expect things to stay the same.

Now, I don't think I have to tell you that some liberals have tried to take refuge in our words and phrases, like "community," "family," and "values." But we know that what matters isn't the words they use; it's what they really believe and what they really would do.

Well, you know, that reminds me of a little story. And it's okay, isn't it, if I tell one of my little stories? [Applause] It's about Mark Twain. And one day Mark Twain was there at his dresser, and he was going through shirt after shirt and just couldn't get one with all the buttons on it. And finally, losing his patience, he started using some very choice words. And then, as the story is told, about the time he was through, he turned, and there was his wife standing in the doorway. And very carefully and slowly and without a trace of emotion she repeated every naughty word just uttered by her husband. And that took several minutes. [Laughter] And when she was through, she just stood there, silent, hoping her display would shame her husband. And instead there was twinkle in Twain's eye. He puffed on his cigar and said, "My dear, you have the words. You just don't have the music." [Laughter]

Well, you know that's true about the liberals. They can try and adopt our words. For example, only in the past few days we've heard talk about how the opposition really is in favor of a strong defense. We haven't seen such a radical transformation since Dustin Hoffman played "Tootsie." [Laughter] But as long as we get out there and give the American people the music, there isn't a chance they'll get away with just the words.

Ultimately, the choice before the American people is the choice between two visions: on the one hand, the policies of limited government, economic growth, a strong defense, and a firm foreign policy; and on the other hand, policies of tax and spend, economic stagnation, international weakness and accommodation, and always, always, from them, "Blame America first." It's the choice between the policies of liberalism or the policies of America's political mainstream.

Now, I'm a former Democrat, but I think you know what I mean when I raise questions about the distinction between the rank-and-file Democrats today and the liberal leadership of their party in Washington, a liberal leadership that has turned a once-proud party of hope and affirmation into one dominated by strident liberalism and negativism. They have made the party of "yes", the party of "no"—"no" to holding a line on taxes, "no" to spending cuts, "no" to the line-item veto, "no" to the balanced budget amendment, "no" to the Pledge of Allegiance, "no" to the death penalty, "no" to tough-minded judges, "no" to the school prayer amendment, "no" to the right to life, and "no" to adequate defense spending, "no" to a strategic defense system that protects America from nuclear missiles, "no" to the foreign policy of strength and purpose that has told the truth about communism and helped bring the first signs of change to the Soviet Union in decades. And to my way of thinking, that's too many no's—too many no's to you and me and the American people and what we want done in Washington.

What 1988 is about is America's future. Yes, we're proud of our record of 69 months of economic growth, the longest sustained growth in our nation's history, and over 17 1/2 million new jobs. And incidentally, about that figure, whatever you may have heard of certain individuals on television recently, they weren't all low salary type of jobs. As a matter of fact, almost two-thirds of them are above the median income.

Well, all this is very good, but it isn't good enough for us. We want more: more growth, more opportunity, more jobs. And we intend to ensure this kind of economic prosperity right through the nineties and into the next century by guaranteeing the Federal Government can never again spend and tax the American people into another economic nightmare. We will do it by passing the line-item veto, the balanced budget amendment, and limits on the congressional taxing power.

And there's one last issue. Yes, it's more important than even all the other crucial matters we've already discussed. Ladies and gentlemen, just a few years ago, I wonder how many of us could really have believed then that so many of our fondest hopes and dreams for America could come true. And of all those things that have happened, how many of us could have imagined 8 or even 4 years ago that one day an American President would have an opportunity to stand as I did a few months ago there in the Lenin Hills, at a podium at Moscow State University, and tell the young people of the Soviet Union about the wonder and glory of human freedom. With the beginning of change that we have seen in the Eastern bloc and with the development of concepts like a Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI, that destroys weapons, not people, it's just possible that we have a chance now to end the two great nightmares of this century and give our children a future free of both totalitarianism and nuclear terror.

We've proved what works in foreign policy. We have demonstrated time and again that candid rhetoric, a strong defense, and tough diplomacy bring peace.

What a great moment we have before us, and, oh, how future generations will dishonor us if now in a moment of sudden folly we throw it all away.

Audience member. Win one for the Gipper!

The President. You don't know how much that warms my heart.

Well, this is now what is all at stake. We must hold to this moment of hope, and we must be allowed to complete that which we have begun. So, let us go forth then, you and I, to tell the American people what's really at stake: the fate of generations to come, the hopes of peace and freedom for our children and for all the children of the world. Yes, some say that it's time for a change. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are the change. It started 8 years ago.

Well, I want to thank you all. This is very heartwarming, believe me, for me to be here with you today and to talk to you about these things. I just want to—oh, I can't resist. I'm supposed to quit right here.
Audience members. No!

The President. Oh, yes. But in view of the past things that I just said, I don't know whether you know it or not, but I have a new hobby. I am collecting stories that I can actually prove are told among the Russian people. They make them up themselves. They tell them between themselves. It reveals they've got a great sense of humor, and they've also got a little cynical attitude about things in their country. And one of these stories, the one I'm going to tell you, I told to General Secretary Gorbachev, and he laughed. [Laughter]

The story was an American and a Russian arguing about their two countries. And the American said, "Look, in my country I can walk into the Oval Office. I can pound the President's desk and say, 'Mr. President, I don't like the way you're running our country.'" And the Russian said, "I can do that." The American says, "You can?" He says, "Yes. I can go into the Kremlin to the General Secretary's office, pound his desk, and say, 'Mr. General Secretary, I don't like the way President Reagan is running his country.'" [Laughter]
Well, thank you all, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 12:32 p.m. in the Main Hall of the Show Me Center of Southeast Missouri State University. In his remarks, he referred to Senators John C. Danforth and Christopher S. Bond, Representative Bill Emerson and his wife, Joanne, and Gov. John Ashcroft. The President also referred to the Southeast Missouri State University Golden Eagles marching band.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Republican Party Rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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