Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Welcoming Rally at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana

August 14, 1988

The President. Thank all of you, and thank you, Frank and Mary. It's great to be in New Orleans. You know, I always feel at home here in Louisiana because, you know, I'm the fella that talked Tom Jefferson into buying it. [Laughter] I'm really looking forward to tomorrow night in the Superdome. It's going to prove something I've always suspected: that when I finally got to the home of the Saints, it would be filled with Republicans. But I can understand the opposition rejecting New Orleans as their convention city, though. They really would have had trouble readjusting here. After all, they think the Sugar Bowl is located in Washington and is known as the United States Treasury. [Laughter] But I can guarantee one sight here would have made them feel at home. We Republicans love our bandwagon, but all that other party's got is "A Streetcar Named Desire." [Laughter] This may surprise you, but today I want to point out similarities between myself and both of the nominees at the top of the other ticket. You see, in one way, I'm just like their Vice Presidential nominee: neither one of us shares the political views of their Presidential nominee. Though, come to think of it, I do have one thing in common with the fella at the top of their ticket: Come this January, neither one of us will be holding a Federal office.

But I confess to all of you I did miss that other convention this summer. [Laughter] I did read, though, all about it—those great issues and ideas—and I've got to admit I found them pretty interesting when I first heard them back some years ago. But believe me, I know better than to even mention their platform that—in a city that takes such pride in its cuisine, its cooking, who would dare discuss in front of the proud people of New Orleans anything so rehashed, so reheated, and so often rejected? But, ladies and gentlemen, the truth is, that platform was one of the most artful dodges in American political history. It was an outright refusal by the liberal leadership of the other party to level with the American people, to deal with the issues, to tell the American people, especially independents and rank-and-file Democrats, what the liberal leadership really has in store for us should they be victorious.

And they gave us one huge glaring clue to all that when they said at the Atlanta convention this was a campaign about competence, not ideology. Now, let's be honest. If this really were a campaign about competence, if this really were a battle of the resumes, I just happen to think that the former captain of the Yale baseball team, the youngest flier in the Navy with 58 combat missions, the former Texas wildcatter who turned down a soft job on Wall Street to make his own way, the former Member of the House of Representatives from Texas, the former Republican National Chairman—hang on, there's more—the former Ambassador to the United Nations, the former de facto Ambassador in China, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the current Vice President of the United States, who's handled every tough issue from deregulation to drugs to terrorism-frankly, I think the fella with that resume has it all.
Audience members. Bush! Bush! Bush!

The President. You're right. That's his name.

So, why did they say it? Well, you see, when they came right out at that convention and said this is a campaign not about ideology but about competence, they were really telegraphing their greatest weakness-the very thing that worries them and their advisers most—to every State in the Union, to every voter in America; and that's their liberal record and that of the liberal leadership of their party in Congress.
Audience members. Booo!

The President. They know what they intend to do once in office, but they don't want the American people to find out until after the election. And that's where we come in—you and me. We Republicans know the truth: That convention in Atlanta was the biggest masquerade since last year's Mardi Gras here in New Orleans. And so, we're here this week for one purpose: to get our message to the American people, to prove to the liberal leadership of the other party, starting here and starting now, their attempt to hide their stand on the issues isn't going to work. The masquerade is over. The stealth candidacy has to come out from cover. It's time to talk issues; to use the dreaded "L" word; to say the policies of our opposition and the congressional leadership of his party are liberal, liberal, liberal. The choice before the American people this year is just as clear as it was in 1980 and 1984: a choice between, 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, always, blame America first.
Audience members. Booo!

The President. Yes, the choice this year is between the policies of liberalism or the policies of America's political mainstream. But you and I understand that just having Republicans know all this isn't good enough. Our great victories of 1980 and '84 were based on millions of independents and rank-and-file Democrats who came our way. Their votes, especially those of traditional Democrats, is the key battleground. And here we have an advantage because on economic, social, and foreign policy issues those conservative-minded Democrats agree with us. And you know, some people—and I've been a little flattered by this—refer to this group as Reagan Democrats. Well, if it's true that I have an "in" with those Democrats, here's what I want to say to them today—and what I hope you'll say to them when you get back home: You're right to feel uncomfortable about the leadership of the party you and I once pledged loyalty to. A party that once stood for the broad interests of America's working men and women has become a party fixated on the narrow agenda of the liberal elites and special interest groups. The power of liberal pressure groups in the party has grown so great that the rest of their candidates this year, the ones who voted for strong defense or tax cuts, didn't even dare to get into the primaries.

Yes, I would say to rank-and-file Democrats, a once-proud party of hope and affirmation has become dominated at the top by strident liberalism and negativism. The party of "yes" has become the party of "no"—no to holding the line on taxes, no to spending cuts, no to the line-item veto, no to the balanced budget amendment, no to the death penalty, no to tough-minded judges, no to enterprise zones, no to the school prayer amendment, no to the right to life, no to adequate defense spending, no to a strategic defense system that protects America from nuclear missiles—Central America—no to help those for fighting for-keep Central America safe from communism, no to liberating Grenada, no to a policy in the Persian Gulf that's help ending war in that region, no to a negotiating stance that has brought us the first nuclear arms reduction treaty in history, 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 seven decades. And I would also say to those rank-and-file Democrats: In all these ways, the liberal leadership of your party has been saying no to you, and now it's time for you to start saying no to them. And the best—

Audience members. Just say no! Just say no! Just say no!

The President. All right. But the best way to do that is by saying yes to George Bush and yes to a new Congress—a Congress that will work with the new President, not against him—a Republican Congress.

My fellow Republicans, this is the message we must carry to America this week and beyond. For too long the control of the Congress has been in the hands of the liberal leadership. So, let us say to conservative Democrats and independents: Don't cancel out your vote for George Bush by voting for a Senator or Representative who will go along with the liberal leadership of the Democratic Party and fight all the good the new President will try to do. But even beyond that, my fellow conservatives, beyond identifying our sharp differences on the issues and exposing the opposition's attempt to hide its liberalism, there is something else we have to do. As time has gone by, the memory of the economic and foreign policy nightmares that we faced when we took office has faded. And so, we have to remind the American people of the record, of how far we've come.

Now, you can be sure the opposition party isn't going to help us here. They're even trying to pretend those economic and foreign policy nightmares they gave us never happened. One political commentator noticed this at their recent convention, and believe me, I just don't think I can improve on this paragraph. Let me read to you what Mark Helprin said. And remember, this is from him now, not me. Because you know, I might be accused of being biased. [Laughter] "After 8 years of Ronald Reagan; 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 two-point drop in the unemployment rate; a significant drop in the crime rate; a 12-point drop in the prime 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—the Democrats trotted out Jimmy Carter to say 'I told you so.'" [Laughter] And you know something, when I saw that happen in Atlanta, forgive me, but I couldn't help but think: There he goes again.

And you know, we didn't just see at that convention the desire to forget about the record of chaos their policies gave America in the seventies. We also heard them openly saying they're going to steal our words and slogans—words like "community," "family," "values." And even more amazing, after 8 years of prophesying gloom and predicting doom every night on the evening news, they now want to be-and are you ready for this—optimistic and hopeful. [Laughter]

You know, that reminds me of a little story. [Laughter] It's about Mark Twain. One dark day Mark Twain went through shirt after shirt after shirt and just couldn't get one with all the buttons on it, and finally, losing his patience, he flew into a rage and then used a string of some very choice words. And then, as the story is told, when he was through, he turned and was startled to see his wife standing in the doorway. Carefully, slowly, and without a trace of emotion, she repeated every naughty word just uttered by her husband. That took several minutes. [Laughter] And when she was through, she stood impassive in silence, hoping her display would shame Twain. Instead, there was a twinkle in his eye. He said, "My dear, you have the words. You don't have the music." [Laughter] Well, that's true about the so-called leaders of the other party. They can try and adopt our words, but as long as we Republicans get out there and give the American people the music, there isn't a chance they'll get away with it.

So, that's the job ahead of us. And you tell me, when the liberals try to tell the American people they won't raise taxes, but fail to mention the new spending programs they've promised every liberal special interest group in Washington, are we going to stand by and let 'era get away with it? Audience members. No!

The President. When the liberal leadership tries to portray themselves as the newly ordained champions of law and order, but forgets to mention they have given a virtual veto power over the Supreme Court appointments to fellow liberals like the Civil Liberties Union.
Audience members. Booo!

The President. I'm with you. Are we going to stand by and let them get away with it?
Audience members. No!

The President. When the liberal leadership tries to tell the American people that they're the party of peace, but forgets to admit they jeopardized the chance for peace and tried to tie my hands in arms negotiations by favoring a nuclear freeze, cutting defense, and gutting SDI, are we going to let them get away with it? Audience members. No!

The President. I thought you might object. [Laughter] You know, when they start using our words and slogans and then try to tell us that's how they're going to make the American people vote for them in November, it reminds me of that little kid at school who the day after getting his report card went back to school and said, "Teacher, I thought somebody should warn you. My dad says that unless my math grades go up, somebody's going to get a whipping." [Laughter] You know what? They're right about one thing: The American people, just like that young fellow's dad, really are in a mood to settle some important questions this November. And it won't be President Bush and a new Republican Congress but those liberals from the other party that the American people take out behind the barn.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we have to get our word out about our own great record. But one other thing, too. Nobody votes for you just to say thank you. Americans can be appreciative about the past, but believe me, Americans vote for a vision of the future. So, we must talk to America about her future. We conservatives must go to the American people and tell them even 68 months of economic growth and 171/2 million new jobs isn't good enough for us. We want more—more growth, more opportunity, more jobs.
Audience members. Bush! Bush! Bush!

The President. Right. 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'll do it by passing the lineitem veto, the balanced budget amendment, and limits on the congressional taxing power.

So, too, we never want to see the day when the Supreme Court is more interested in criminal rights than in the rights of the victim and of society itself. You know, the next President may have the opportunity to appoint three and possibly four new justices shortly after taking office. We want to tell the American people what it will mean for their future if it's George Bush making those appointments.

And finally, there is this one last issue, yes, more important than even all the other crucial matters I've discussed with you today. Ladies and gentlemen, when we were together in Detroit in 1980 and Dallas in 1984, I wonder how many of us could really have believed then that so many of our fondest hopes and dreams for America would 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 I would have the 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 Russia about the wonder and glory of human freedom. And here is the crux, the heart of the matter. With the beginnings of change we've seen in the Eastern bloc and with the development of concepts like SDI that destroy weapons, not people, it is 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.

My fellow Republicans, we have proved that what works in foreign policy is exactly the opposite of the policies of our opposition. We have demonstrated time and again that plain talk, 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. And this is what is now at stake. We must hold to this moment of hope. And I tell you with every ounce of energy and every fiber of my being, only electing George Bush President of the United States can accomplish that. So, let us go forth this week 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, for all the children of the world.

Don't let anyone tell you this is just another campaign. Don't let anyone tell you that we're just good administrators out to renew our management contract. Instead, remember this: This isn't a campaign, it's a crusade, a crusade for America's future. And this, too: We aren't just good conservative managers, we are the keepers of the flame, the protectors of the dream—the American dream that someday freedom will be the blessing and birthright of every people in every nation across God's greening Earth. This is a dream worth protecting and one, believe me, that needs protecting-protection from those who would squander it away with special interest spending; for those who would tax the American people into servitude; those who would make leniency, not justice, the hallmark of our courtrooms; those who would risk a Soviet base camp in Central America; those who would cut defense or end SDI or return us to weakness and accommodation abroad. No, my fellow Republicans, this is not the future our fellow Americans want.

So, let us go to the American people. Let us tell them of our vision, of the future we offer: a future of economic growth and opportunity and democratic revolution and peace among nations. And let us remind them, too, of America's destiny, of our great calling as a people. And let us take them to a place where they can see with us that hilltop just now being glimpsed through the dark but dispersing clouds of 20th-century tragedy. Let us help them look from there upon that shining city we have seen and labored for and loved so long, a city aglow with the light of human freedom, a light that someday will cast its glow on every dark Corner of the world and on every age and generation to come.

My fellow Republicans, America needs the strength, the vision, and the true grit of George Bush. And after almost a half a century of Democratic Congresses, America needs a Republican Congress. And you and I are going to give her both. Let's do this for America. Thank you, and God bless you all.

[At this point, Mr. Fahrenkopf gave the President a giant gavel.]

The President. I can't wait till next week's meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 4:15 p.m. in Hall C of the New Orleans Convention Center. In his opening remarks, he referred to Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Mrs. Fahrenkopf

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Welcoming Rally at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives