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Remarks at the Annual Convention of the Texas State Bar Association in San Antonio

July 06, 1984

Reverend clergy, Blake Tartt, Mayor Cisneros, secretary of state, the gentlemen here on the dais, and you ladies and gentlemen:

I'm going to, before I start, just take a second to return to my past and give you kind of a news commentary. Just in case that you haven't caught the news early this morning, the Labor Department has announced the unemployment figures for June. And from 7.4, if you counted the people in uniform—and they certainly are employed—7.5, if you just count the civilians, and as of the end of June that had gone down to fiat 7 for the total unemployment and 7.1 for the Nation as a whole. And 6,700,000 people have gone into new jobs in the last 19 months in our country.

Incidentally, it is the first single administration since—well, more than 20 years ago, that has reduced both unemployment and inflation in the same period of time.

But now I'll get on with the business of the day, and it begins with saying it is great to be back in Texas. You know, all Americans like to think that they're a little bit of Texas, because Texas is such a big and great part of America. You're so much a part of our national past, and because you stand for growth and energy, you stand for the best in our future as well.

Now, I guess it's just instinctive for Texans to think big. I mentioned to Jim Baker a few months ago that with the election coming up, I probably should get out and meet some people. [Laughter] And the next thing I knew, I was in China, where there's a billion of them. [Laughter]

And I know everybody expects me to be political this morning, but this is an official stop, so I'll resist the temptation to comment on .all the odd causes and special interest groups the other party seems to be embracing these days. [Laughter] And I don't know what the secretary of state meant when he said that I might come back before November. [Laughter] I don't know why that was.

But, you know, I've discovered that much of the Texas legend is true. For example, never try to top a Texan. I made that mistake a few years ago. I was talking to a Texan, a friend of mine, about our ranch up in the mountains near Santa Barbara. And he just kind of got around to asking how many acres. And I said, "Six hundred and eighty-eight." Then he asked me if I'd bought it at a toy store. [Laughter]

There is, of course, more to Texas than even the legend. One journalist noted a few years ago in Atlantic magazine how ludicrous the attitude of some of his fellow northeasterners seemed after he had experienced firsthand the friendliness, the genuineness, and the opportunity of Texas. Well, I know how he feels, because I've felt that way myself a good many times. Believe me, I can remember a couple of primary days, not to mention the last general election, when my affection for all things Texan was completely unbounded. [Laughter]

Now, I'm sure you're all aware, too, of the contributions that Texans have made to this administration: the Vice President, George Bush; chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Tower; and, as you've been told, Chief of Staff at the White House, Jim Baker. Anne Armstrong is Chairman of my Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and now Deputy Attorney General Carol Dinkins.

So, Texas continues to be very much a part of the American story. And what a story! During the past few years, Americans and Texans have been riding together. It wasn't long ago, after all, when our national economy was in its worst mess in years, when our national security was badly endangered, endangered not only by Soviet expansionism and a massive Soviet arms buildup but even by threats and aggressions from tiny nations run by bullying despots and dictators.

From Washington we heard only an elaborate and disheartening series of excuses about our national and international problems. We were told these problems were basically insoluble and that we had to accommodate ourselves to stagflation, to limitations on growth, to living with less. And some said our political institutions and constitutional system weren't up to functioning in the modern world. And, worse, some said all of this was the fault of the American people, who, we were told, suffered from a crisis of confidence.

Well, there was a breakdown in America, but it had precious little to do with our political system or the American people. It had everything to do with 63 square miles of riverfront real estate called the District of Columbia and some of the politicians and bureaucrats who've been bivouacked there too long.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, this administration wasn't in office but a few minutes before we went to work on some of those same national problems that some said had no solution. And we aimed our fire at the high spending and taxes and unnecessary Federal regulations that were thwarting the spirit of enterprise and faith in hard work in America. And today, as we look at an expanding economy and a low inflation rate, we can see how far we've come from the days when inflation was running at 12.4 percent, the prime interest rate was 21 1/2, unemployment was climbing, and we were entering our fourth straight year of stagnant or declining productivity.

On the international front, too, there have been dramatic changes. This administration spoke candidly about the wrongs and dangers of totalitarianism; we checked its advance; we rebuilt our defenses; we revitalized our alliances. And yet, at the same time, we launched the most comprehensive series of arms reduction proposals in our nation's history.

Now, I know it's a political year. Some may expect me to stand here and claim this was a victory for one administration or one political persuasion. But as I've said many times before, this victory went far beyond any one person or any party. It was a victory that belonged to the people, because they were the ones who, time after time, forced the grasping politicians and indifferent bureaucrats in Washington to do what all the smart sayers and seers said was impossible: cut Federal spending, cut individual tax rates, end the unfairness of bracket creep by indexing tax rates to inflation, thin out the thicket of Federal regulations, fight waste and fraud, rebuild our defenses, and resist totalitarian expansionism in Central America. And I think if this administration deserves credit, it's only for having the kind of trust in the people that made us willing to take our case to them and seek their support.

We dared to do it then, and we dare to do it now for one simple reason: We believe we were speaking for a new political consensus in America, a consensus that objected to government intrusions into areas where government was neither competent nor needed, but a consensus that was also critical of government's failure to perform its legitimate and constitutional duties like providing for the common defense and preserving domestic tranquillity; a consensus, in short, that wanted to get government off our backs, out of our pockets, and back to the standards of restraint and excellence our forefathers envisioned.

Now, it's true that the focus of much of our effort in Washington during the past few years has been on those twin crises we inherited on entering office—the crisis of our economy and our national security. But now that our economic expansion is well underway, and now that America's international prestige and security are being enhanced and restored, I've had the chance to report on another crisis that we've been working on quietly but, I think, effectively, and one that I know concerns all of you-the crisis of crime in America.

Two weeks ago in Hartford, I reported to the National Sheriffs Association on the steps we've been taking since our first few days in office to fight the menace of crime in America. You know how dangerous that menace had grown. Violent crime had risen 50 percent in a decade. It was costing more than $10 billion in financial losses, touching 30 percent of America's homes, and taking the lives of more than 23,000 Americans a year.

I noted then something basic and something obvious: The American people are fed up with leniency toward career criminals, and they're fed up with those wrongdoers who are openly contemptuous of our way of justice and who do not believe they can be caught and, if they are caught, are confident that once the cases against them enter our legal system, the charges will be dropped, postponed, plea-bargained, or lost in a maze of legal technicalities that make a mockery of our' society's longstanding and commendable respect for civil liberties.

I also noted the American people have lost patience with liberal leniency and pseudointellectual apologies for crime. They're demanding that our criminal justice system return to realism; that our courts affirm values that teach us right and wrong matters, and that individuals are responsible for their actions, and retribution should be swift and sure for those who prey on the innocent.

And the will of the people is at last being felt again. Reported crime dropped 4.3 percent in 1982, and that was the first decline since 1977. And reported crimes for last year showed an even more remarkable 7-percent decrease. This is the sharpest decrease in the history of the crime statistics and the first time the serious crime index has shown a decline for 2 years in a row.

Now, a few people want to attribute the encouraging downward trend in crime to the fact that there are fewer members of the population now in the crime-prone age group. Well, I challenge this view. Coincidence isn't necessarily cause. The truth is that crime has sometimes risen with population growth and sometimes not. There's nothing historically inevitable about it. Between 1970 and 1982, for example, the numbers in the crime-prone age group did drop slightly by about 1 percent, but serious crime went up 40 percent.

No, the real explanation for the drop in crime lies in the nationwide crackdown on career criminals in America. The growth of Neighborhood Watch associations, the new statutes in many States toughening criminal penalties, and the sweeping steps we've taken at the Federal level are all indications of this new consensus, of a return to traditional values and an insistence that criminal predators who make a mockery of those values be brought to justice.

And that's why, from our first few days in office, the Attorney General and I gave the closest attention to the kind of candidates picked for Federal judgeships. Yes, we wanted candidates who were sensitive to the rights of the accused, but we also wanted candidates who understood that society and the innocent victims of crime had rights that needed protection, too.

We moved to crack down on the growing menace of illegal drug trafficking. We increased our law enforcement budget by more than 50 percent and added over 1,900 new investigators and prosecutors. Most of them went to work in the 12 new regional drug task forces that we established around the country. And these task forces are already cracking major drug rings. They've initiated 620 cases; they've indicted more than 2,600 individuals. And 143 of these indictments have been under the "Drug Kingpin" law, which carries maximum penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

We've also declared war on organized crime in America. I'm proud to tell you that organized crime convictions are up from 515 in fiscal 1981 to 1,331 in 1983. And we're getting longer prison sentences and, for the first time, making a serious effort to confiscate the financial assets of the mobsters. And our new organized crime commission has begun hearings on the structure of the mob today in America and its money-laundering techniques, and its work will now be greatly broadened, because just last week it received subpoena powers from the Congress.

Believe me, we have it within our power to shatter the regional and national syndicates that make up organized crime in America. And this administration seeks no negotiated settlement, no detente with the mob. Our goal is to cripple their organization, dry up their profits, and put their members behind bars, where they belong.

Now, the list goes on about the offensive that we've been carrying on against crime during the past 3 1/2 years. Our local law enforcement councils under our U.S.. attorneys have helped improve cooperation with State and local law enforcement agencies. We've implemented most of the recommendations of our task force on violent crime. We appointed a task force on the victims of crime that has come up with legislation that will compensate crime victims, and not from tax dollars, but from the penalties paid by criminal wrongdoers. We've won some important legislative victories, making it easier for the IRS to work on organized crime investigations and revising the posse comitatus law to permit the use of military resources against the international drug traffickers.

But I have to tell you today that the major part of our legislative initiative against crime remains right where it has remained for the last 3 years—dead in the water in the House of Representatives.

Now, our crime package includes bills calling for bail reform, tougher sentencing, justice assistance to States and localities, improvement in the exclusionary rule and the insanity defense, and major reforms affecting drug trafficking, prison crowding, capital punishment, and forfeiture—all of these reforms are badly needed and constitutionally sound. In fact, yesterday the Supreme Court agreed with one of our proposals concerning the exclusionary rule. But the Congress- [applause] . Now, I'm happy to hear that applause for that particular court decision. But the Congress still needs to enact our proposals so that the Supreme Court's rationale will be applied to the full range of appropriate searches.

Our core crime package has already passed the Senate once by a vote of 91 to 1. But in the House of Representatives, the leadership keeps it bottled up in committee.

Now, this isn't at all surprising. This is the same liberal leadership that has done nothing but stand in the way of initiatives the American people want and need—initiatives like tuition tax credit to help hardworking families; enterprise zones to provide jobs to those who yearn for progress; a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced Federal budget; and, yes, an initiative to return the freedom of voluntary prayer to children in every school across our land.

We're not about to quit—not on those initiatives and not on our crime bill. We're going to do what we've done in the past. We're going out to the heartland; we're taking our case to the people. That's why we're here today. The liberals in the House can stand again in the way if they want to, just as they did when they opposed spending cuts and tax cuts, rebuilding our military strength, or helping El Salvador and other nations resist totalitarian rule. But they didn't win then—and here's a flash from the Gipper—they're not going to win now. [Laughter]

So, I do have some advice this morning for the House leadership: Stop kowtowing to the pundits and the special interests, and start listening to the American people. The American people want this anticrime legislation; they want it now; and with your help, they can get it. Please tell your elected representatives you expect full and fair representation, and that means getting this bill out on the floor of the House for a vote.

But I believe the issue goes beyond this urgently needed crime legislation. This new consensus that I've been talking about goes deeper than just an interest in a limited, but effective rule of law. It understands that law is not just a way of preventing one citizen from taking advantage of another. It's also the collective moral voice of society. And so, it understands that laws and government, the power of the state and politics itself, can never really account for the moral or material progress of a society. At root, these things are reflections of much deeper currents, the wisdom, the energy, and the decency of the people themselves.

"You may think that the Constitution is your security." Justice Charles Evans Hughes once said that. Well, he said, "It is nothing but a bit of paper. You may think that the statutes are your security—they are nothing but words in a book. You may think that elaborate mechanism of Government is your security—it is nothing at all unless you have sound and uncorrupted public opinion to give life to your Constitution, to give vitality to your statutes, and to make efficient your Government machinery."

Over a decade ago, it was Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell who noted that, as our society grew more developed, we saw a weakening of the "most personal" focus—or forms, I should say, of authority: "the home, the church, the school and community," which once gave direction to our lives. He wondered how we could survive without the "humanizing authority" of these institutions that in the past "shaped the character of our people."

Well, other writers and thinkers in our time have made similar observations. Dr. Charles Malik, the former President of the U.N. General Assembly, wondered how it was that in so many universities what he called the wonderful living values of the great tradition were all but forgotten in the curriculum.

And a few years ago, social critic and theologian Michael Novak wrote about the weakening of family values. "The family nourishes 'basic trust.' And from this springs creativity, psychic energy, social dynamism.... Familial arts that took generations to acquire can be lost in a single generation, can disappear for centuries. If the quality of family life deteriorates," and then he said, "there is no 'quality of life'" if it does.

And that's why it's so important to make our government leaders respond to the demands of the people, to make them reduce the role of government and restore government's legitimate functions. It is also why restoring common sense and decency to our criminal justice system is equally vital.

For too long, our criminal justice system has ignored reality and moral values. As former New York Police Commissioner Robert McGuire said: "In the criminal courts, cases are being trivialized in ways independent of the evidence, instead the system being geared to treat each individual case as a manifestation of antisocial behavior. The main impetus is to dispose of it. No one is talking about the morality of crime."

Well, our goal then is not to pass laws that will make the people good. Our goal is to have our laws and legal institutions reflect the goodness of our people and to reflect the things they most deeply believe in. We need to make our criminal justice system reflect once again the innate decency and sound values of the American people.

I began by speaking today about the Texas legend. Its hold even today on the American people is easy to understand. Not far from here, 187 men gave a display of personal valor and commitment to ideals the world will never forget. And sometimes it's forgotten that only a few miles from here, a young colonel named Robert E. Lee held his first real command.

"Who are you, my boys?", he once shouted to some regiments arriving just in time to fill a gap and prevent disaster at the Battle of the Wilderness. "Texas boys," came back the reply. And Lee shouted, "Hurrah for Texas!" And he waved his hat and tried to lead them into battle. And it was then that they grabbed the bridle and the stirrups of his mount, and the cry went up, "Loe to the rear!" And they refused to budge until he removed himself from danger, and then they turned and fought and saved the day.

Robert E. Lee, this southerner who criticized secession and called slavery a great moral wrong, would become himself an American legend; yet a man who thought-though he rode off into myth and glory, would suffer cruelly in his own time. After the dissolution of his cause, he would work to bind up the Nation's wounds. And to those pessimistic about the Nation's future, he once said, "The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long and that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history," he said, "that teaches us to hope."

Well, if we look to history, if we examine closely the last few years and see how far we've come, we can say that these have been hopeful years and be grateful for them. And let us move forward now together to bring about a new age of reform, to complete our national renewal, and to bring about a new birth of freedom.

I'm going to say something right now that—I know I run a risk because there are so many people that want to portray me as trigger happy. I want to tell you something—I never see these young men and women in our Armed Forces in uniform without having a swell of pride that puts a lump in my throat. And how anyone could think that any man would want to send them out to lose their lives—it's just impossible.

And I just have to tell you at the risk, however, as I say, of endangering myself in this, I received a letter not too long ago from the Ambassador to Luxembourg. And he had been up on the East German frontier visiting our armored cavalry regiment there. And as he went back to his helicopter, a young 19-year-old trooper followed him, and he asked the Ambassador if he thought he could get a message to me. Well, being an Ambassador, he figured he could. And then the young fellow stood there at attention and said, "Mr. Ambassador, will you tell the President we're proud to be here, and we ain't scared of nothing."

And you know something? You know, that's all we have to remember. How can anyone in the United States of America, in the world today, be scared of anything? We are truly a shining city on a hill.

God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:09 a.m. at the San Antonio Convention Center. He was introduced by Blake Tartt, president of the Texas State Bar Association.

Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual Convention of the Texas State Bar Association in San Antonio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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