Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Republican Governors Club Dinner

October 04, 1988

I have a news flash for you. That got you, didn't it? Well, at some time, not more than an hour ago, the Congress started voting on a measure that was of great interest to me. As you know, I vetoed what I thought was a terribly protectionist measure, the textile bill. The vote in the attempt to override was 272 to 152, which means my veto was sustained.

Well, I'm delighted to see so many of you here tonight. This is a great time of year because it gives me an opportunity to get out and around and spread some gospel. And from what I've been told by Mike Castle and Terry Branstad, many of you in this room have been instrumental in making it possible to get the good word out to the people of all our 50 States. Believe me, everything you've done through the Republican Governors Association has been much appreciated—in the past, yes, but especially this year. Your generosity has made possible so much good work for the party and our all-important statewide races.

And you know, whenever I come to one of these fundraisers, I think of the couple that never once during the long years of childrearing took a vacation. But then in retirement, they wanted to take a trip to Florida, and they asked their sons for some money. And the first son was a lawyer, and he said, "No, I can't do it. I'm just fitting out a new law office and sending my son to an expensive camp." So, they asked their second son, a doctor. But he said, "No, I'm sorry. I can't. I've just bought a new house, and my wife is putting in a new kitchen." Then they asked the third son, who was an engineer. And he replied, "It just would be impossible for me to do it. I've just bought a big boat for the family and am remodeling our summer home on the lake."

Finally the father pleaded, "Look, we've worked all our lives, not 1 day of vacation. We never had any money except what we saved for your education. In fact, do you realize that your mother and I were so busy working, trying to save money, that we never took the time out to get a marriage license?" [Laughter] "And, father," said all the three sons in unison, "do you realize what that makes us?" He said, "Yes, and cheap ones, too!" [Laughter]

Well, the fact you're here tonight means some of you have anything in common-none of you I should say— [laughter] —have anything in common with those ungrateful sons. But, ladies and gentlemen, I've been thinking your continued generosity is going to make a difference. And I'm starting to think perhaps a bigger difference than any of us could have realized. As I said, I've been out on the campaign trail lately, and I'm just starting to wonder if this year there isn't something in the air.

When you step back and look at it, it's been quite a couple of months. We've seen George Bush come from way behind and then go into the lead—a movement of about 25 points in the public opinion surveys. And that's some kind of movement. In fact, it leaves you a bit speechless, sort of like the cowboy who stumbled one day into the Grand Canyon and said: "Wow, something sure happened here!" [Laughter]

Something has been happening. You know, when this race began, we knew that our record gave us a big advantage on the key issues of peace and prosperity that are normally decisive in a national campaign. We've also seen the emergence of a whole range of social issues from the Pledge of Allegiance to school prayer, to the radical agenda of some far-left legal groups. And when you compare our positions with those of the other fellas, you begin to see a dramatic difference not just on these individual issues but on basic values and fundamental perspectives.

Well, you and I are aware of these very clear distinctions. The fact of the matter is that while someone decided to put the wishes of the Massachusetts Legislature out on furlough and refused to sign a certain bill, Governor Jim Thompson—who has plenty of legal experience, by the way-decided he could sign the Pledge of Allegiance bill sent to him by the Illinois Legislature. And it's incidents like that that are making it easier for the American people to perceive the fundamental difference between the two sides.

At first, of course, there was the difference on taxes and spending; a difference that we drove home in the 1984 campaign. We were against big government and more regulation and higher taxes, and the liberals in the other party couldn't stop talking about how good a tax increase and more government would be for us. And then the people told the liberals exactly what they thought of that bit of castor-oil economics. Maybe you remember—in 1948 [1984], 49 States spoke up and said no to liberalism.

Now, I think the American people are beginning to see that this consistent difference in how the two sides approach government springs from deeper convictions about the nature of society and the rights of the individual. So, too, on the social issues, we believe in certain basic values that give a sense of order to our free society. And it's these values the average American also readily identifies with. The public agrees with us when we say we are for the death penalty, school prayer, tough law enforcement, and against liberal organizations like the ACLU that always seem to be searching for technicalities to exonerate criminals.

So, what does all this mean? Well, it's way too early to say that this is the realignment election. But I do think many rank-and-file Democrats are getting in a mood to say to their party leadership: "You've gone too far to the left. Return to the political mainstream. And just to make sure you know how deep our dissatisfaction is, this year we're voting Republican in State races and congressional races."

Now, remember we did see signs of this happening back in 1984, when Republicans made unexpected gains in States like Texas and North Carolina. And I'm just thinking that some of this is going on out there in the heartland and that this campaign may be starting to break out as a referendum on liberalism itself, a referendum on the direction in which the liberals have taken the once-proud Democratic Party.

Now, of course, some of you know how tough it is to get people to give up old loyalties. There's plenty of disenchantment out there with that other party, but we have to realize that people are still a little cautious about our party.

In fact, when I was out in Missouri just a few weeks back, I told some students down in Cape Girardeau—and they seemed to enjoy the story—about the fellow who was running for office as a Republican in a heavily Democratic State. He stopped by a farm to do some campaigning. And when the farmer heard he was a Republican, his jaw dropped, and he said, "You wait right here while I get Ma. She's never seen a Republican." [Laughter] So, he got Ma. And while they were gone, 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 that mound, and when they came back, he gave his speech. At the end of it, the farmer said, "That's the first time I ever heard a Republican speech." The candidate said, "That's the first time I've ever given a Republican speech from a Democratic platform." [Laughter]

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the American people are beginning to fit it all together. They're beginning to realize that under the leadership of the liberals the once-proud Democratic Party, a party of hope and affirmation, has become a party of negativism, a party whose leadership has changed it from the party of "yes" to the party of "no"-"no" to the balanced budget amendment and the line-item veto, "no" to holding down taxes and spending, "no" to the death penalty and the school prayer amendment, "no" to adequate defense spending and a Strategic Defense Initiative.

The American people are beginning to understand that in all these ways the liberal leadership has been saying "no" to rank-and-file Democrats. Now, rank-and-file Democrats are going to say "no" to the liberal leadership by saying "yes" to George Bush and the Republican Party. Now, let's move in on that. Let's point out that the other party has had enough control of Congress to say "no" to the American people on all these issues because of gerrymandering. And that's why, with congressional reapportionment coming up in 1991, your statewide races take on a special importance.

But in addition to drawing attention to the liberal bender the opposition party has been on, let's also talk about our own record of success in the States. And here again, we see fundamental differences. Our policy of taking power away from the Federal Government and returning it to State and local authorities has been a smashing success. The recently passed welfare reform bill that drastically overhauls the existing Federal welfare system is true to this principle by relying heavily on State participation and involvement. But federalism is more than just a policy; it's a philosophy of government. People in Washington have a tendency to look out at America and see a sea of distant faces, all of which are a little fuzzy. But when a Governor looks at the people of his or her State, he or she sees them in all their variety, and he or she hears their voices.

Each State has different characteristics, each has different greatnesses, and each has different problems. And you, the Republican Governors, can see all these things and act to help where help is needed. And when you're successful, you show us all how we can do better to help. I think of Governor Tom Kean's innovative ideas for helping the disadvantaged in his State, which have been models for some of the things we've been trying nationwide. I think of Governor Ed DiPrete's investment in jobtraining programs to build a more positive work force. I think of Governor John Ashcroft's efforts to improve the education in his State and compel those who provide education to be accountable to parents and school boards. And there are more, many more, but time prevents my listing them all here.

The Federal Government is so large and its mandate so very broad that when programs are instituted, flexibility and ability to adapt to local circumstances are very limited. And that's another way the States have it all over the Federal Government. You're low to the ground, you're flexible, you can change speeds and directions as nimbly as a high-performance sports car when you find out what works. The virtue of innovative programs at the State level is when they work you know it quickly and you can expand them, and when they don't you can rechannel the energies that went into them and look for new solutions.

If there was one thing I learned when I was working as a Republican Governor, it was to take heart when we began to look into a problem area. Often it was like turning on a switch in a pitch-black room: The entrenched interests had gotten so used to the dark they were blinded by the light. I know you've all heard those moans. They go like this: "No, that's not the way we do things. The way we do things is the only way. Who do you think you are, coming in here and fooling around with our program?" That's when I knew we were doing well. [Laughter] Because, of course, programs do not belong to bureaucrats, and they do not belong to politicians. They belong to the voters, the people who hire us and watch us like a hawk to make sure we're doing what we promised.

And there's something we ought to promise them: After the 1990 census, it will be time for the reapportionment of all your States and all the States in the Union. We must go to the voters now. We must tell them that never again must they permit the kind of obscene redistricting plans that we saw in 1981 in places like California, where the map was shattered like a pane of glass and each district was a different shape. We've got to let them know how it was done, why it was done, and why it must never be done again.

I want to thank all of you for what you've done these past 8 years. You've made my job easier. And after November 8th, I know you'll be there to make George's job easier, too. Some of these things that I've talked about here, perhaps you're not aware of just the extent of some of them. This redistricting, this gerrymandering; it's been a case of cramming as many Republicans as they could into as few districts as possible. And the result was that in California we saw where more people in California voted for Republican Congressmen in the last election, but the Democrats elected 60 percent of the candidates because of the way they had compressed us into the fewest possible districts.

Well, that isn't the way reapportionment was supposed to be. So, we've got to get back to where we're in charge. And you know something, I'd be awful proud if when we got back to where we were in charge instead of doing it, now that it was our turn—the way they've been doing it—if we would change the system and maybe have a bipartisan citizen's committee—blue ribbon citizen's committee—that did the reapportioning instead of the way it's done now, where there's such a conflict of interest on those that are doing it.

Well, that's one thing. This thing—what the gerrymandering has meant to us—are you aware that in the 58 years from 1931 through 1988 the Democrats have held the House of Representatives in Washington for 54 of those 58 years? And they've held both Houses of the Congress for 48 of those 58 years. The others being the 6 years that we had a majority in the Senate in this administration. Now, we're back the other way. We couldn't have done the things that we've done or accomplished them if we hadn't had that one House, the Senate. And so, this is just part of what's at stake in this coming election.

Now, you know that in 1976, when the Democratic candidate beat Jerry Ford, our candidate for President, he made great hay with the thing he invented called the misery index. And the misery index was adding the rate of inflation and the rate of unemployment, and it came out around 13 percent. And he claimed that no one had a right to ask to be President that had such a big misery index. Well, along came 1980, and they never mentioned the misery index. I did— [laughter] —because by that time it was over 21 percent. And now it's down to less than 10 percent and still going lower. And we'll keep getting it lower.

I know that I'm keeping you from your dinner, but you've just got to humor me on one more thing. I have a new hobby, and I impose it on people like you. I'm collecting jokes that I find are invented by the people of the Soviet Union. They make them up and tell them between themselves. I only collect the ones I can prove are their stories that they tell. And I brought one home on the last summit there—from Moscow.

The story was to the effect that I was in Gorbachev's limousine with him. And the chief of my Secret Service unit was with me, and his head security man was with him. And we were sightseeing. And as the story goes, we came to a waterfall. We all got out to look at the waterfall, and Gorbachev said to my Secret Service man, "Jump. Go over the fall." And my man said, "I got a wife and three kids." So, he turned to his own man. He said, "You, jump. Go over the fall." And he jumped. My man scrambled down the rocks around to the base of the falls there, wanted to see if he could be of any help, and he found the guy was all right. He was wringing out his shirt. And he said, "When he told you to jump, why did you jump?" He said, "I got a wife and three kids." [Laughter]

Thank you again, all of you, for what you're doing. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 6:20 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. In his remarks, the President referred to Governors Michael N. Castle of Delaware, Terry E. Branstad of Iowa, James R. Thompson of Illinois, Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, Edward DiPrete of Rhode Island, and John D. Ashcroft of Missouri.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Republican Governors Club Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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