Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Spirit of America Rally in Atlanta, Georgia

January 26, 1984

There's someone from the old days. [Laughter] Well, if you'd done this a few years ago when I was making "Bedtime for Bonzo," I'd still be there. [Laughter]

Well, thank you very much, Jay. Governor Harris, Senator Mattingly, Congressmen Gingrich and Levitas, and the many sponsoring organizations and ladies and gentlemen:

May I say, this is a tonic to be in Georgia with so many thousands of America's finest. I believe that I'm looking at citizens who don't consider themselves Democrats or Republicans so much as just deeply patriotic Americans.

You are concerned about your country and determined to do all you can to make tomorrow better. And you are doing that. It's people like you who show us the heart of America is good, the spirit of America is strong, and the future of America is great. You give meaning to words like entrepreneur, self-reliance, personal initiative and, yes, optimism and confidence. And you will lead America to take freedom's next step.

Perhaps you heard my speech to the Nation last night on the state of our Union. What I said before that joint session I certainly can see and feel here this afternoon: Energy, optimism, and progress are surging through our land. America is back, as I said last night, and standing tall. And we're looking to the eighties with courage, confidence, and hope.

Together, we've charted a new course since 1980. And because we took those bold steps, I believe America is stronger, more prosperous, and more secure today than 3 years ago. It seems like only yesterday we were hearing that our country was doomed to decline and the world would slide into disaster no matter what we did. Like death and taxes, the doom-criers will always be with us, and they'll always be wrong.

They're wrong because they lack faith in the American people. They just can't understand that there is no limit to what proud and free citizens can do. But you understand, and you always have. It was you who reminded Washington that we are a government of and by the people, not the other way around. And it's you who told us that it was time to put earnings back in the hands of the people, time to put trust back in the hands of the people, and time to put America back in the hands of the people.

And that's what we've been trying so very hard to do, trying to change just one little two-letter word—control by government to control of government.

Our economic program is guided by a spirit of enterprise that encourages risktaking, rewards innovation, and involves millions of Americans making their own decisions. We have one policy intended to benefit Americans from every walk of life-it's called economic recovery, one of the best recoveries in the decade.

In just 6 days, a brand new airline, Air Atlanta—it's headed by Michael Hollis and primarily black-owned and managed—will begin service to Memphis and New York. We salute the spirit of entrepreneurship in the black community, and I'm pleased to say we're getting the Federal Government out of the way so they can compete.

Deregulation of the transportation industry has created new opportunities for small business while holding down costs for consumers. And we haven't cut back on safety.

Women have begun finding the economic opportunities they've always deserved. In 1983 they filled almost three-quarters of all the new jobs in managerial, professional, and technical fields. And the number of women-owned businesses is growing four times faster than those owned by men.

But we can do better. We can build a new era of lasting economic expansion filled with greater opportunities for all our people. You know something?—that'll be quite an improvement from what we inherited, because in 1981, as I said last night, we inherited the worst economic crisis in postwar history. There was only one thing fair about those policies of the past—and we hear a lot about fair today—they didn't discriminate. They made everyone miserable.

Would you agree that by reducing inflation from 12.4 percent in 1980 to just 3.2 in 1983 that we're helping all Americans and we should stick with it? [Applause]

Would you agree that by knocking down the prime rate from over 21 percent in 1981 to 11 percent today that we're helping small business and we should stick with it? [Applause]

Would you agree that by refusing to balance the budget on your backs, but insisting that government spend less, that we're doing what's right and fair for the people and we should fight on? [Applause]

And would you agree that by building a recovery which has created 4 million jobs and employed more people than any time in our history, that together we can and will save the American dream? [Applause]

Well, then, I have one more question. Would you tell the people in Washington what you just told me? [Applause] Thank you.

I know this is an election year. But I believe responsible Republicans and Democrats can still cooperate and put good government over politics. To those who say we must turn back to tax and tax and spend and spend, I can only reply: Not on your life. The best view of big government is in the rearview mirror as we leave it behind. [Laughter]

I know the intentions were good, but we paid a terrible price for those government excesses of prior years. Americans endured a long and terrible ordeal lasting more than a decade and filled with one economic disappointment after another. Despite an increase in American incomes of 140 percent during the seventies, a 112-percent increase in inflation and personal tax rates that nearly tripled left them feeling worse off than before. But we're seeing a new dawn of hope for our people. As the passage says in Psalms, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

From solid growth in housing to new frontiers in high technology, from a healthy recovery in real wages to a big improvement in productivity, and from record increases in venture capital to new confidence in the stock market, America is moving forward and getting stronger.

I believe our challenge of building a permanently manned space station within the next decade can open up an entire—well, open up new industries, not just an industry for space-based entrepreneurs.

Our work is far from finished. Too many of our fellow countrymen are still out of work or down on their luck. They include workers and would-be workers in areas that depend heavily upon one company or industry. Many of them have been displaced by changes in the way things are produced.

If the dream of America is to be preserved, we must not waste the genius of one mind, the strength of one body, or the spirit of one soul. We need all our people-men and women, young and old, individuals of every race to be healthy, happy, and whole. This is our goal. We will not rest until all Americans can reach as high as their vision and God-given talents take them. And that's why I've been asking the Congress for 2 years to get off the dime and pass our enterprise zones proposal. If they do, we can prove that areas of chronic unemployment need not be areas of permanent unemployment. But the Congress must act. Now, present company is excepted when I say this. I know where they stand.

And as I said last night, we need the cooperation of the Congress for structural reforms that will ensure continued progress for years to come. First and foremost, we must insist on common sense in Federal budgeting.

We face large deficits, and there's no disagreement about the need to bring those deficits down. The disagreement is over how we do it—with spending cuts and economic growth or through tax increases. Well, I happen to believe responsible budgeting does not mean routing more and more of your earnings to Washington, DC. Responsible budgeting means government spending no more than government takes in.

People should have freedom to keep more of the money they earn to spend the way they want to and not have the government taking more and more of their money to spend the way it wants to.

Our critics sometimes forget that even after our tax cuts, the American people are shouldering a near-record peacetime tax burden. The other problem with raising taxes, as we've seen in the past, is that it simply encouraged government to spend more. And since people had less money in their pockets to spend or save, economic growth was hurt, so fewer people were employed and able to pay taxes. Deficits went up, not down. Tax revenues doubled between 1976 and 1981, but deficits increased. A recent study shows that countries with lower tax burdens have higher rates of economic growth and employment.

Of course, this shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who understands incentives: We don't face large deficits because you're not taxed enough; we face those deficits because government still spends too much.

We've already cut spending growth by more than half from its 17.4-percent rate in 1980. And in the area of waste, fraud, and abuse, the diligence of our Inspectors General has saved taxpayers over $30 billion and improved the use of funds. I sent them out—we put them all together into a kind of a task force, the Inspector Generals, and sent them out through government. And for the last year and a half they've been out there, and they report to me every 6 months. And the only thing I told them to do was, I said, I just want you to be as mean as junkyard dogs. [Laughter] And they have been.

Now a recent poll has revealed—and I'm surprised—that fewer than 10 percent of our people know what the Grace commission report is. We must change that. I asked an American industrialist, Peter Grace, to put together a task force of citizens from the world of commerce and industry to find ways that government could become more businesslike. Mr. Grace organized an executive committee of 161 such experts from the business world—the private sector-then nearly 2,000 others like themselves. They went into every area of government and, incidentally, financed the whole operation themselves.

The Grace commission's report has come up now. We have it in hand with nearly 2,500 recommendations that could save billions of dollars in wasteful Federal spending. I'm asking the members of our administration to study those recommendations with a fine tooth comb to see how many we can put in place.

Beyond that, I'm convinced that we need improvements in the budget process itself. Some 43 of our 50 Governors have the right to veto individual items in appropriation bills without having to veto the entire bill. When I was Governor of California we used that line-item veto to very good effect. Isn't it time to bring the Federal Government into the 20th century by enacting the same fiscal controls the States have been using for years? [Applause] Mr. Mattingly, sitting on this platform, is undertaking the task of getting this started up there on Capitol Hill.

Most of our States also have provisions in their constitutions requiring balanced budgets. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson, way back in the beginning of our country, said there was one thing lacking in the Constitution, and he said this right after it had been adopted. He said, "It should have additionally a clause that forbids the Federal Government from borrowing money."

Well, my dream is to see the day when a constitutional amendment requiring the Federal Government to balance its budget, as well, will be adopted.

A balanced budget amendment is no panacea, because it would take several years of continued effort to achieve it. But it would force the leaders in the Congress and the executive branch to sit down to work out a long-term plan for spending restraint. And I believe we owe this to the people. It's what you sent us to Washington to do.

In addition to long-term reforms for spending, I believe we should make our tax system more simple, fair, and rewarding for all the people. Would you believe I've been told that even Albert Einstein had to ask the IRS for help on his 1040? [Laughter] Now if we could broaden the tax base, then personal tax rates could come down, rather than go up. And I think that's one change the American people want and our economy needs.

Spending and regulations guided by common sense and fairness, a monetary policy that ensures lasting price stability, and a tax system anchored by incentives that reward personal initiative, risk taking, and economic growth—these are keys to a society of opportunities offering a better life for our people with no barriers for bigotry or discrimination.

The trouble is when tough but necessary decisions to restrain spending are made, they're described usually in negative terms—how much less government will spend. How many fewer benefits will be given away? How many fewer programs will survive? This is an old trap we shouldn't fall into. The spenders always say, "All right, if you want to cut spending, what programs will you do away with?"

Well, most of us agree that government does have legitimate functions it must perform. Our answer must be we believe government's tasks can be performed more economically and efficiently. Cutting back a runaway government which stifles the spirit of enterprise can be profoundly positive, like performing surgery on a patient to save his life.

That's why the ultimate and overwhelmingly positive goal of our administration is to put limits on the power of government. Yes, but do it in a way that liberates the powers and the real source of our national genius—you, the people, in your families, neighborhoods, and places of work.

We are a nation under God. I've always believed that this blessed land was set apart in a special way, that some divine plan placed this great continent here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a special love for freedom and the courage to uproot themselves, leave homeland and friends, to come to a strange land. And coming here they created something new in all the history of mankind—a land where man is not beholden to government, government is beholden to man.

George Washington believed that religion, morality, and brotherhood were the pillars of society. He said you couldn't have morality without religion. And yet today we're told that to protect the first amendment, we must expel God, the source of all knowledge, from our children's classrooms. Well, pardon me, but the first amendment was not written to protect the American people from religion; the first amendment was written to protect the American people from government tyranny.

Indeed, there is nothing in the Constitution at all about public education and prayer. There is, however, something very pertinent in the act that gave birth to our public school system—a national act, if you will. It called for public education to see that our children—and quoting from that act— "learned about religion and morality."

Well, the time has come for Congress to give a majority of American families what they want for their children—a constitutional amendment making it unequivocally clear that children can hold voluntary prayer in their schools.

Within our families, neighborhoods, schools, and businesses, let us continue reaching out, renewing our spirit of friendship, community service, and caring for the needy—a spirit that flows like a deep and mighty river through the history of our nation. But to lawbreakers and drug peddlers who would harm and prey on innocent citizens, who make our family and friends live in fear, we will demand justice with swift and sure punishment for the guilty.

We are a people who seek peace within us, within our communities, and around the world. The United States has no higher mission than to build a lasting peace that enshrines liberty, democracy, and dignity for individuals everywhere. And I believe that what we've accomplished together—restoration of economic and military strength and a growing spirit of unity at home and with our allies abroad—put America in its strongest position in years to seize the opportunities for peace.

Sooner or later the Soviets will realize they have nothing to gain by waiting. Good faith negotiations are in their interest, because the West could offer them many benefits their people now lack. People don't make wars; governments do. And if the Soviet Union wants peace, there will be peace.

People don't want confrontation; they want a better life. And that's what the spirit of America does best—it builds the future. And we've always been willing to share the fruits of our success with others.

We see it in a person like John Shepherd. His hard work, vision, and determination helped him rise from poverty in Chicago to build thriving enterprises that have taken scores of families off welfare. Shepherd said, "This is the greatest country in the world. And it does offer opportunity to those who have the guts to get in there and fight for it."

In these last 3 years, we've made a new beginning, a dramatic and far-reaching step toward a much better tomorrow. Thank you for keeping the faith. Thank you all for your strength and support. I believe we've come too far, struggled too hard, and accomplished too much to turn back now. With your help we can put strong wings on weary hearts. We can make America stronger not just economically and militarily, but also morally and spiritually. We can make our beloved country the source of all the dreams and opportunities she was placed on this good Earth to provide. We need only to believe in each other and in the God who has so blessed our land.

A short time ago, I had the pleasure and honor of awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to that great friend of our nation and a great statesman, physically a small man, but so great in so many ways, who for many years was the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, General Romulo. He addressed a farewell message to America as he left to return to his own country. He ended his message saying, "Thank you, America, and farewell. May God keep you always, and may you always keep God."

Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 4:55 p.m. in Omni Coliseum. He was introduced by Jay Van Andel, chairman of the board of the Amway Corp. and chairman of the rally, which was a gathering of business people from the southeastern United States and the Atlanta area.

Following his remarks, the President met at the coliseum with representatives of the host committee of the rally.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Spirit of America Rally in Atlanta, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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