Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Annual Republican Congressional Fund-raising Dinner

April 29, 1987

Joe Canzeri, Vice President, Barbara Bush, Members of the House and Senate, Chairman Boone Pickens—what happened? There. [Laughter] I thought it was sabotage for a minute—Chairman Boone Pickens and honored guests and fellow Republicans, Nancy and I are pleased to be with you on this memorable and beautiful occasion—an expensive one, too. [Laughter] Well, we can be gratified that if it wasn't for all of us, what we're paying tonight might well be the normal price for dinner. [Laughter] It's a joy to see old friends and to recognize the hard work and generosity of so many.

The other day, an aide burst into the Oval Office to tell me that intelligence reports indicated there would soon be another hostile takeover. I said, "Is it Daniel Ortega, his Eastern-bloc advisers, the helicopter gunships, and all those Soviet tanks?" He said, "No, it's even worse. It's two Texans, a letter of credit, and Boone Piekens." [Laughter] Well, then he gave me the good news. He's on our side. [Laughter] I think we owe a special word of thanks to Boone Piekens for the terrific job he's done in putting this event together. [Applause] And I also want to thank each and every one of you for your tremendous generosity in support of our party and what we're doing for America. Believe me, we couldn't have accomplished so much without you.

Also with us tonight are a number of candidates seeking our party's nomination for President. I'd ask them to stand, but I know you'd all be watching to see Howard Baker's response. [Laughter] But seriously, we can be proud of those seeking our nomination, and I'm certain that we all agree it would be an honor to have any one of them head up our ticket. And I'm going to do everything I can to help our nominee become the next President of the United States. Now, the other party had a flock of contenders, as well—so many that it gets a bit confusing at times. A few weeks ago, I read that Gephardt had announced his candidacy. I remember putting down the paper when I read that, and I said, "Nancy, it sounds like that fellow Hartpence has changed his name again." [Laughter]

Also a word of congratulations to Senator Rudy Boschwitz, new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. And let's make it clear, as others have said already, in 1988 we intend to win back control of the United States Senate for the GOP. It's not that we don't like Senator Byrd's fiddling, mind you. It's just that we'd like him to do it with his violin. [Laughter]

What doesn't go to winning back the Senate from tonight's revenues will be put to work by Guy Vander Jagt's National Republican Congressional Committee. And together, we're going to make certain that the next President is a Republican and that he has a Congress that will work with him rather than against him. Do you know how long it's been? The last time that a Republican President had a Republican Congress was in Dwight Eisenhower's term, and for 46 of the last 56 years, it hasn't been that way. Well, I'll come to that later. One thing becoming clearer every day is that the number of Republicans in Congress makes an enormous difference. As of next year, the other party, as I've said, will have had a majority in both Houses of the Congress for 46 of the last 56 years and one House for an additional 6 years. And we have had a majority in both Houses for only four of those 56 years, and two of those were with a Democratic President and two, as I said, with President Eisenhower. Let's make a commitment tonight to get the word out and get the vote out.

Many in the other party don't understand they're vulnerable, but the American people do understand that. For 6 years, they've been telling themselves that their political slippage is a fluke of history. Well, sometimes I'm taken aback to be given personal credit for throwing the predetermined course of history off track. Well, there's going to be a rude awakening out there when our opponents realize that our success has more to do with substance than style.

Winston Churchill was once asked, "Doesn't it thrill you, Mr. Churchill, to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing? .... It's quite flattering," Winston replied, "but whenever I feel this way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big." [Laughter] "Success in a democracy," as Churchill pointed out, "has little to do with pleasing the crowd and a lot to do with the soundness of one's ideas."

The unmistakable truth is that the other party still bends and twists to maintain the support of liberal activists whose values, goals, and interests are contrary to those of the American people. No matter how it's decorated, theirs is still the party of more regulations, bigger spending, and higher taxes. The Republican Party, for the sake of the country, must continue to offer a vigorous and distinct alternative, a platform consistent with the traditions and desires of those whose votes we seek.

Look at the evidence: It's only been a few months since our opponents regained control of both Houses of Congress, and already spending and tax schemes are bobbing to the surface like so much debris on the Potomac. [Laughter] One piece of pork floating our way is a housing bill to spend $131 billion over the next 5 years. The Federal Government is already the Nation's largest landlord, and the last thing we need now, for everyone's sake, is to expand that role. The Federal Government just shouldn't be building and maintaining housing units. If the goal is helping the needy, let's give them direct financial assistance and let the private sector build and maintain the housing.

Now, this approach, of course, differs dramatically from that of those who would expand government at any cost in order to try to solve every problem. One need only remember the cumulative effect of that way of governing. The last time the opposition controlled both Houses of Congress and the Presidency, the average price of a new home went from $54,200 to $83,000; the interest rates shot through the roof. And by the time we got here, the average monthly payment for buying a new home had escalated from about $330 to 780—the biggest 4-year jump in housing costs on record. Now, I ask you: Would you buy a used housing policy from such people? [Laughter]

No matter how well-intentioned government controls and grandiose programs are, for the most part they are counterproductive. The inefficiency and misallocation of resources inherent in this approach undercut effective local and private sector programs. You know, if central planning worked, we'd be getting our grain from the Soviet Union and not the other way around.

We hear reports from that country, for example—I collect stories about that country—of a 10-year wait, seriously, to purchase an automobile, and the customer has to pay in advance. And there's this story about a worker who saves and saves, fills out all the paperwork, stands in all the lines, obtains all the necessary approvals. And finally, at the last window, the last stamp is affixed to the documents. He lays his cash down, and the bureaucrat counts out the money and tells him to come back in 10 years for his car. The little man turns and stops, and he says—looks back and says, "Well, morning or afternoon?" [Laughter] "Well," the fellow says, "it's 10 years from now. What difference does it make?" He says, "Well, the plumber's coming in the morning." [Laughter]

By the end of the last decade, our economy was exhibiting some of the same maladies associated with other lands and other systems—shortages, long lines, stagnation, and pessimism. Turning that situation around and setting things right, was a team effort. It would never have happened without a band of stalwart Republicans in the House, headed up by Bob Michel, and also Republicans in the Senate, under Bob Dole's leadership. Proud of our accomplishments, we Republicans have made the mistake in believing the public will naturally reward us at the polls. Well, unfortunately, as we learned last fall, the fastest drying liquid known to man are tears of gratitude. [Laughter] The American people will cast their ballots based not on what we did yesterday, but on what we will do tomorrow.

Furthermore, we cannot win or keep the allegiance of the electorate simply by opposing spending or offering protection against the ill-conceived ideas of our opponents. Political trends, especially among young people, will continue in our direction only if the Republican Party aggressively asserts a positive agenda for the future—a vision of a vigorous, competitive, and free America. In contrast to the program of more government advocated by our opponents, we must champion a program of growth and opportunity, of lower taxes and higher take-home pay, of freedom at home and abroad. Let our opponents continue to focus on redistribution and dividing the pieces of a shrinking pie. We'll turn our citizens loose to bake a bigger pie!

By sticking to our principles, we've created an environment that encourages enterprise, investment, and innovation. As a result, we've had 53 months of sustained growth, inflation has gone from double digits to the lowest rate in 25 years, and over 13 million jobs have been created—the American miracle, as our allies have called it. In the last 2 years, over half a million new businesses have been started. Yes, some fail, but they're free to try again. Our economy has been in a constant state of self-improvement from top to bottom. America is now well on its way into a new era of technology and enterprise.

What this has meant to our citizens—one myth being spread is that old high-paying jobs are being replaced by lower paying new jobs. Well, this big lie should be laid to rest. Yes, many entry-level, lower paying jobs are being created, but 60 percent of those 13 million new jobs are in higher paying occupations—management, technical skills, professionalism. This is one reason real take-home pay for the average American is up, poverty has declined 2 years in a row, the average life span continues to expand, and our standard of living is on the upswing. None of this, however, can be taken for granted. If Congress is permitted to slip back into old habits, it could well undermine prosperity, undo our reforms, and pull us back into the pit we left behind.

First and foremost, we challenge the new congressional leadership to live up to the spending limitations of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. If they do not, we'll take our case to the people. The situation already cries out for institutional reform. The primary item on our list is giving the President of the United States the same power now in the hands of 43 Governors, something that will help him eliminate the worst abuses of politically motivated spending. I'm talking about a line-item veto. And something else America clearly needs is a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced Federal budget. I'd prefer relying on Congress, but if they fail to act—as I wrote to the minority leader of the Montana State Senate—we can still turn to a constitutional convention to get the job done. Wasteful spending, especially in this time of high deficits, is a dagger pointed at the heart of everything we've accomplished. Let the big spenders note that if through their profligate ways they threaten to destroy the hard-fought tax reform achieved last year, they'll face not only a veto but an outraged electorate. I predict that if Congress spends itself silly, then tries to pay the bill by undoing last year's tax reform, a sort of Proposition 13-like rage will sweep across this land.

Of course, some of the most hard-fought battles that we've had in these last 6 years dealt with issues of national security. We were told time and again that if we didn't give into this or that Soviet demand, any hope for arms control would be lost. There was tremendous pressure, for example, to accept a freeze that would have left the Soviet Union in a position to dominate Europe with nuclear-armed intermediaterange missiles. Well, we held firm, and today we could be on our way to an historic first—an actual reduction in the number of nuclear weapons threatening mankind. The details must be worked out, hitches may arise, but undeniably, progress has been made. But let me reaffirm one thing tonight: We are proud of the technological genius of our people, and we do not intend to stand still simply because our adversary can't keep up. We will not bargain away our right to develop a system that can offer protection against ballistic missiles. The Strategic Defense Initiative is not on the bargaining table.

Preserving the peace is one of America's primary goals in world affairs. However, equally important to us is our commitment to championing the cause of freedom. Freedom and peace are inseparably linked, and in no place is that more clear than in Central America. If we permit the cause of freedom to be snuffed out in Nicaragua, if we cower and refuse to support those who fight for democracy, our country will pay dearly for our lack of courage.

I received a letter signed by several of the field commanders of the democratic resistance a few months ago, just before they began their long trek back into Nicaragua. They went knowing they faced an enemy supported by Eastern-bloc and Cuban military advisers, an enemy armed with powerful Soviet weapons. In their letter these field commanders indicated they understood the political difficulties I was going through and appreciated the faith that I had in them. And they pledged, as individuals who were putting their lives on the line, fighting against tremendous odds, that they would not let me down. What they meant is, they would not let us down.

That same kind of spirit is found among the people in Afghanistan, in Angola, in Poland, and among all those who resist dictatorships. There is a power in the flame of liberty. It can melt the chains of despotism and change the world. It built our country into a mighty engine of progress and opportunity and made us a beacon of hope to all those who would be free. Today we must stand strong, because we are the keepers of that flame. And again, I appreciate your hard work and generosity. You are doing your part.

You know, I can't close without saying something I said to an audience in Los Angeles just a short time ago. I received a letter recently, and a man told me something—I had never heard it put in these words. He said, "You know, you can go to live in Greece, but you cannot become a Greek. You can go to live in Japan, but you cannot become a Japanese. You can move to Turkey, live there, but you can't become a Turk." And he went on through several more countries where this was true. "But," he said, "anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to America and become an American."
Thank you all, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 p.m. in Hall A of the Washington Convention Center. The dinner was sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Joseph Canzeri, a local businessman, introduced the President.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual Republican Congressional Fund-raising Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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