Reagan's Speech at the 1994 Gala
On the Occasion of His 83rd Birthday
I can't tell you how thrilled Nancy and I are to be here with you tonight to celebrate the "forty-fourth anniversary of my thirty-ninth birthday." Haley told me he was going to gather a few friends for dinner tonight, but I had no idea!
Before I get started here, I want to thank my dear friend, Margaret Thatcher, for being part of yet another important milestone in my life and for those very kind words.
As most of you know, Margaret and I go back quite a ways. We met at a time before she became Prime Minister and I became President. From the moment we met, we discovered that we shared quite similar views of government and freedom. Margaret ended our first meeting by telling me, "we must stand together," and that's exactly what we've done in the years since--as friends and as political allies. Margaret Thatcher is one of the giants of our century. Her many achievements will be appreciated more and more as time goes on and history is written. For me, she has been a staunch ally, my political soulmate, a great visionary and a dear, dear friend. Thank you, Margaret, for being with us here tonight. I would also like to convey my personal appreciation to Haley Barbour. Haley, you and the entire Republican National Committee are doing an excellent job keeping the heat on the Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Haley, back when I hired you to work on my White House staff, I suspected you might amount to something someday!
I must say that returning to Washington today really brought back memories. As our plane headed toward the airport, I looked down on the White House, and it was just like the good old days...the South Lawn, the Rose Garden...David Gergen. I looked over a couple of blocks, and there was the Internal Revenue Service--bigger than I ever remembered it. When I looked down at the enormous United States Post Office building, I could just see the excitement on the faces of the bureaucrats--knowing they would soon be managing our national health care system! Up on Capitol Hill, I saw that big, white dome, bulging with new tax revenues. I instinctively reached for my veto pen and thought to myself, "Go ahead, make my day." You may have seen President Clinton draw his own veto pen on television just last week. The difference is that his pen doesn't have any ink in it! Unless, of course, you're talking about red ink. And we all know the Democrats have plenty of that!
All of you have made our day, just by being here. It's a pleasure to see so many familiar faces and those who work so hard for the Grand Old Party. Birthdays often serve as the rare moments when we can pause from the bustle of our daily lives to reflect on the years that have passed, the accomplishments and people that have made them special. As I look around this gathering, I am filled with countless warm and fond memories. Many of you go back with us as far as my two terms as California Governor. Others of you are more recent additions to the family.
Regardless of when you came, you have been a big part of our lives. For that, we are so grateful and feel so blessed.
Now, as most of you know, I'm not one for looking back, I figure there will be plenty of time for that when I get old. But rather what I take from the past, is inspiration for the future. And what we accomplished during our years in the White House must never be lost amid the rhetoric of political revisionists.
When we came to Washington on that bright sunny day in January of 1981, we shared a dream for America. Back then, the reach of government had become intolerable. It was a time of rampant inflation and crushing interest rates--when hope was scarce. It was a time when cold, ugly walls divided nations and human rights were trampled in the name of evil and corrupt ideologies. It was a time when the nuclear arms race was spiraling out of control and a blinding mistrust stood between East and West. We believed that for the future of America and the free world, this could not stand. And together, we insisted that this great nation must once again behave as such.
In our America, most people still believed in the power of a better tomorrow. So together we got the government off the backs of the American people. We created millions of new jobs for Americans at all income levels. We cut taxes and freed the people from the shackles of too much government. And the economy burst loose in the longest peacetime expansion ever. We brought America back--bigger and better than ever.
It was a time when America was a bright beacon of hope and freedom to oppressed people everywhere. The world looked to us--not just because of our military might--but because of our ideas of liberty and freedom. And, they knew we were willing to defend and promote those ideas in every corner of the earth. We rebuilt a demoralized, underfunded and unappreciated military. And we made it the most modern and respected force in the world. And who can forget those so-called "experts" who said our military build-up threatened a dangerous escalation of tensions? What kind of fool, they asked, would call the Soviet Union an "evil empire"? But as events have shown, there was nothing foolish in my prediction that Communism was destined for the ash heap of history. After decades of struggle, and with the help of the bold leadership of Margaret Thatcher, democracy won the Cold War and the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
The world watched with amazement as we put our house in order and took our rightful place as the most dynamic country in the world. And I firmly believe that history will record our era as one of peace and global prosperity.
However, our task is far from over. Our friends in the other party will never forgive us for our success and are doing everything in their power to rewrite history. Listening to the liberals, you'd think that the 1980s were the worst period since the Great Depression--filled with greed and despair. Well, you and I know better than that. Although the political landscape has changed, the bold ideas of the 1980s are alive and well. Republican candidates swept every major election across the country last year. From New York to Texas--from New Jersey to my home state of California. And as a result, it seems that our opponents have finally realized how unpopular liberalism really is. So now, they're trying to dress their liberal agenda in a conservative overcoat. After watching the State of the Union address the other night, I'm reminded of the old adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Only in this case, it's not flattery, but grand larceny--the intellectual theft of ideas that you and I recognize as our own. Speech delivery counts for little on the world stage unless you have convictions and, yes, the vision to see beyond the front row seats. The Democrats may remember their lines, but how quickly they forget the lessons of the past. I have witnessed five major wars in my lifetime, and I know how swiftly storm clouds can gather on a peaceful horizon. The next time a Saddam Hussein takes over a Kuwait, or North Korea brandishes a nuclear weapon, will we be ready to respond?
In the end, it all comes down to leadership. That is what this country is looking for now. It was leadership here at home that gave us strong American influence abroad and the collapse of imperial Communism. Great nations have responsibilities to lead, and we should always be cautious of those who would lower our profile because they might just wind up lowering our flag.
My friends, on a serious note, I would like to end by telling you something Nancy and I have wanted to say to you for a long time. During our years together here, as you know, things were always on the move. As soon as we accomplished one objective, we were quickly on to the next. There was rarely time to celebrate victory or recall all the people who made it possible.
Well, one of the benefits of retirement is you get a chance to reflect back over the years. Since Nancy and I have returned to California, we've spent many occasions looking back at what we did here and remembering the extraordinary people who worked so hard to make those great days possible. And we've wondered if we would ever get the chance to thank them. You are those people--those great individuals who gave so much of yourselves--who sacrificed and supported us and helped us achieve everything we did. So, I will conclude tonight by saying that the greatest gift I could receive on my birthday is to be able to stand before each and every one of you and convey in the only words I can how grateful Nancy and I are: thank you for being there--and for being here. And thank you for making this evening a memory I will cherish forever.
Until we meet again, God bless you, my friends.