Remarks at the Annual Conservative Political Action Conference Dinner

March 2, 1984

Thank you very much for those kind words, Lew. Mr. Vice President, Members of the Congress, members of the Cabinet, and distinguished ladies and gentlemen:

I just want to say thank you to Mickey Edwards. I'm honored to stand beside this fine Congressman from Oklahoma and ACU's great leader.

Seeing the size of your gathering here this evening, the exciting program that you've planned, and the media attention you're drawing, and seeing and feeling the drive, energy, and intellectual force that's coming to our cause from the American Conservative Union, Young Americans for Freedom, Human Events, and National Review, I believe the proof is undeniable: The conservative movement is alive and well, and you are giving America a new lease on life.

It is true that many of you are helping now in our administration. And we're going to add one more in the next few days, because coming to the West Wing, there on our staff, will be the man that organized the first four of these dinners -- Frank Donatelli.

We've been together through many struggles. We've known the agony of defeat. And recently, we've seen public support begin to swell behind our banner. What we worked so long and hard to win was good, but hardly good enough. So, in expressing my pride and affection for this good family, for our family, may I say not only Happy Anniversary, ACU, but also, long live the revolution.

The mission of this conference is a mission of principle: It is a mission of commitment, and it must and will be a mission of victory. Color our cause with courage and confidence. We offer an optimistic society. More than 200 years after the patriots fired that first shot heard 'round the world, one revolutionary idea still burns in the hearts of men and women everywhere: A society where man is not beholden to government; government is beholden to man.

The difference between the path toward greater freedom or bigger government is the difference between success and failure; between opportunity and coercion; between faith in a glorious future and fear of mediocrity and despair; between respecting people as adults, each with a spark of greatness, and treating them as helpless children to be forever dependent; between a drab, materialistic world where Big Brother rules by promises to special interest groups, and a world of adventure where everyday people set their sights on impossible dreams, distant stars, and the Kingdom of God. We have the true message of hope for America.

In ``Year of Decision, 1846,'' Bernard DeVoto explained what drove our ancestors to conquer the West, create a nation, and open up a continent. If you take away the dream, you take away the power of the spirit. If you take away the belief in a greater future, you cannot explain America -- that we're a people who believed there was a promised land; we were a people who believed we were chosen by God to create a greater world.

Well, I think we're remembering those bedrock beliefs which motivate our progress. A spirit of renewal is spreading across this land. We even have a pro-conservative newspaper in the Nation's Capital. [Laughter] And, if I may just interject, I understand that Jim Whalen will be honored by your group tomorrow night, and that's wonderful news and well deserved.

I think America is better off than we were 3 years ago because we've stopped placing our faith in more government programs. We're restoring our faith in the greatest resource this nation has -- the mighty spirit of free people under God. It was you who reminded Washington that we are a government of, by, and for the people, not the other way around. It was you who said it is time to put earnings back in the hands of the people, time to put trust back in the hands of the people, time to put America back in the hands of the people.

And this is what we're trying to do. Our critics are not pleased, but I hope we'll be forgiven this small observation: The spendthrifts who mangled America with the nightmare of double-digit inflation, record interest rates, unfair tax increases, too much regulation, credit controls, farm embargoes, gas lines, no-growth at home, weakness abroad, and phony excuses about ``malaise,'' are the last people who should be giving sermonettes about fairness and compassion.

Their failures were not caused by erratic weather patterns -- [laughter] -- unusual rotations of the Moon -- [laughter] -- or by the personality of my predecessor. [Laughter] They were caused by misguided policies and misunderstanding human nature. Believe me, you cannot create a desert, hand a person a cup of water, and call that compassion. You cannot pour billions of dollars into make-work jobs while destroying the economy that supports them and call that opportunity. And you cannot build up years of dependence on government and dare call that hope.

But apparently nothing bothers our liberal friends. The same expertise that told them their policies must succeed, convinced them that our program spelled economic Armageddon. First they blamed the recession on our tax cuts. The trouble is, our tax cuts hadn't started yet. [Laughter] They also warned that when our tax program passed, America would face runaway inflation, record interest rates, and a collapse of confidence. Well, at least they got part of it right. Our program passed, and we witnessed a collapse all right. A collapse of inflation from 12.4 down to about 4 percent; a collapse of the prime interest rate from over 21 percent to 11; and a new surge of confidence in stocks and bonds.

They warned that decontrolling the price of oil would send the cost of gas at the pumps skyrocketing. We decontrolled, and the price is lower today than it was 3 years ago when we decontrolled.

And then they said that recovery couldn't come, or would be too feeble to notice. Well, from strong growth in housing to autos, construction, and high technology, from a rebirth of productivity to the fastest drop in unemployment in over 30 years, we have one of the strongest recoveries in decades. And we'll keep it strong if they'll get out of the way.

Pardon me if I add something here. You know, I did get a kick out of watching on TV the door-to-door campaigning in New Hampshire. I got to see some of the homes the people have been able to buy since we brought interest rates down. [Laughter] Incidentally, I'm sure all of you have read or seen on the air that in the month of January our sale of new houses dropped, and dropped to a great percent -- about a 9-percent drop below what it was the previous month. Only 688,000 new homes were sold in January. But they didn't add that that drop was only from the sales in December, and beyond that it was the highest number that had been sold since 1979 in a single month.

But our critics moan the recovery can't last. Those awful tax cuts haven't sparked business investment; private borrowers are being crowded out of the capital markets. Well, if that's true, how did the venture capital industry raise four times as much capital in 1983 as it did in 1980? How could real, fixed business investment increase by a 13-percent rate last year, the fastest rate in any recovery in the past 30 years? And how could funds raised in the equity markets zoom from $16.8 billion in 1983 -- or in 1982, to $36.6 billion in 1983? Still another record. Now, all this means more growth, more jobs, more opportunities, and a more competitive America.

Now, lately, the pessimists have been sounding a new alarm: The dollar is so strong, they say, that exporters can't export, and we'll have no chance for lasting growth. Well, the facts are -- as Secretary Don Regan has pointed out -- the dollar is strong because of people's confidence in our currency, our low rate of inflation, and the incentives to invest in the United States. No American should undermine confidence in this nation's currency. A strong dollar is one of our greatest weapons against inflation. Anyone who doubts the value of a strong currency should look at the postwar performances of Japan, Switzerland, and West Germany.

Yes, we have a trade deficit, but this isn't entirely new. The United States had a merchandise trade deficit in almost all of the years between 1790 and 1875. I remember them well. [Laughter] Of course, I was only a boy at the time. [Laughter] But that was when our economy grew into one of the largest and strongest in the world. Rising incomes have given us the ability to increase purchases from abroad. The U.S. economy is serving as an engine for worldwide recovery, and this will translate into greater demands for our own goods. But even with our current trade deficits, exports of goods and services have made a greater contribution to this recovery than to any previous recovery in the postwar period.

The critics were wrong on inflation, wrong on interest rates, wrong on the recovery, and I believe they'll be wrong on the deficit, too, if the Congress will get spending under control. If optimism were a national disease, they'd be immune for life. [Laughter] Isn't it time that we've said no to those who keep saying no to America? If the sourpuss set cannot believe in our nation and her people, then let them stand aside and we will get the job done.

In fairness, I'll admit our critics are worried sick about the future of the economy. They're worried it might keep getting better and better. [Laughter]

Now, those who deal in a world of numbers cannot predict the progress of the human mind, the drive and energy of the spirit, of [or] the power of incentives. We're beginning an industrial renaissance which most experts never saw coming. It started with the 1978 capital gains tax reduction -- passed over the objections of the last administration -- and which was then made greater by our own tax reductions in 1981.

Incentives laid the seeds for the great growth in venture capital which helped set off the revolution in high technology. Sunrise industries, such as computers, micro-electronics, robotics, and fiber optics -- all are creating a new world of opportunities. And as our knowledge expands, business investment is stimulated to modernize older industries with the newer technologies.

Dr. Robert Jastrow, chairman of the first NASA lunar exploration committee, believes the potential in our high-tech industries for new jobs and economic growth is mind-boggling. A year ago, he predicted the computer industry would double in size by 1986, becoming America's biggest business. And now we're seeing the knowledge and benefits of high technology being put to use in medicine, bringing new hope to millions who suffer handicaps and disabilities.

Visionaries see infinite possibilities for new economic growth in America's next frontier -- space. Our challenge of building a permanently manned space station, and of further exploration, can open up entire new industries. Products from metal alloys to lifesaving medicines -- these can immensely improve our environment and life on Earth.

All space-related activities must begin with the transportation to get there. This is an area of American technological leadership, and I intend to make sure we keep that edge. That's why I've asked Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole to start immediately promoting private sector investment in commercial, unmanned space boosters -- the powerful rockets that carry satellites into orbit. With those boosters, and a thriving commercial launch industry, American private enterprise will be blasting off toward new horizons of hope, adventure, and progress -- a future that will dazzle our imaginations and lift our spirits.

An opportunity society awaits us. We need only believe in ourselves and give men and women of faith, courage, and vision the freedom to build it. Let others run down America and seek to punish success. Let them call you greedy for not wanting government to take more and more of your earnings. Let them defend their tombstone society of wage and price guidelines, mandatory quotas, tax increases, planned shortages, and shared sacrifices.

We want no part of that mess, thank you very much. We will encourage all Americans -- men and women, young and old, individuals of every race, creed, and color -- to succeed and be healthy, happy, and whole. This is our goal. We see America not falling behind, but moving ahead; our citizens not fearful and divided, but confident and united by shared values of faith, family, work, neighborhood, peace, and freedom.

An opportunity society begins with growth, and that means incentives. As I told the people of Iowa last week, my sympathies are with the taxpayers, not the taxspenders. I consider stopping them from taking more of your earnings an economic responsibility and a moral obligation. I will not permit an antigrowth coalition to jeopardize this recovery. If they get their way, they'll charge everything on your ``Taxpayers Express Card.'' And believe me, they never leave home without it. [Laughter]

As good conservatives, we were brought up to oppose deficits. But sometimes I think some have forgotten why. We were against deficit spending. Those who would be heroes trying to reduce deficits by raising taxes are not heroes. They have not addressed the point I made in the State of the Union: Whether government borrows or increases taxes, it will be taking the same amount of money from the private economy and, either way, that's too much.

We must bring down government spending to a level where it cannot interfere with the ability of the economy to grow. The Congress must stop fiddling and pass a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced Federal budget. With strong support from many of you here, we nearly scored a great victory in 1982. It's time to try again. We also seek a line-item veto to prevent pork barrel projects from passing just because they're attached to otherwise good legislation. I'm sure we're united by one goal. The Grace commission identified billions of dollars in wasteful government spending. And I believe the Congress has a responsibility to work with us and eliminate that waste wherever it exists.

Combining these spending restraints with another key reform will make America's economy the undisputed leader for innovation, growth, and opportunity. I'm talking about simplification of the entire tax system. We can make taxes more fair, easier to understand and, most important, we can greatly increase incentives by bringing personal tax rates down. If we can reduce personal tax rates as dramatically as we've reduced capital gains taxes, the underground economy will shrink, the whole world will beat a path to our door, and no one will hold America back. This is the real blueprint for a brighter future and declining deficits.

But economic opportunities can only flourish if the values at the foundation of our society and freedom remain strong and secure. Our families, friends must be able to live and work without always being afraid. Americans are sick and tired of law-abiding people getting mugged, robbed, and raped, while dangerous criminals get off scott-free.

We have a comprehensive crime bill to correct this. It would put an end to the era of coddling criminals, and it's been passed by the Senate. But the legislation is bottled up in the House. Now, maybe it's time they heard from a few of you -- a few million of you. You know, you don't have to make them see the light; just make them feel the heat. [Laughter] I hope you realize that in my comments about some of the shortcomings of the Congress, believe me, tonight, present company is excepted.

Strengthening values also demands a national commitment to excellence in education. If we are to pioneer a revolution in technology, meet challenges of the space age, and preserve values of courage, responsibility, integrity, and love, then we can't afford a generation of children hooked on cocaine and unable to read or write. Conservatives have pointed out for years that while Federal spending on education was soaring, aptitude scores were going steadily down. Look at the case of New Hampshire. It ranks dead last in State spending on education, but its students have the highest SAT scores among those States where at least half the students take the test. And they've maintained that honor for more than 10 years. America's schools don't need new spending programs; they need tougher standards, more homework, merit pay for teachers, discipline, and parents back in charge.

Now there's another important reform to be voted on soon in the Senate -- possibly by Monday. Let us come together, citizens of all faiths, to pray, march, and mobilize every force we have so the God who loves us can be welcomed back into our children's classrooms. I'm gratified that Congressman Newt Gingrich is organizing a rally Monday night on the Capitol steps in support of our prayer in school amendment. Please be there if you can, and please send the message loud and clear that God never should have been expelled from America's schools in the first place. And maybe if we can get God and discipline back in our schools, we can get drugs and violence out. Now, let me make it plain that we seek voluntary vocal prayer, not a moment of silence. We already have the right to remain silent; we can take the fifth amendment. [Laughter]

But as we go on, we must redouble our efforts to redress a national tragedy. Since the Roe versus Wade decision, 15 million unborn children have been lost -- 15 million children who will never laugh, never sing, never know the joy of human love, will never strive to heal the sick or feed the poor or make peace among nations. They've been denied the most basic of human rights, and we're all the poorer for their loss.

Not long ago I received a letter from a young woman named Kim. She was born with the birth defect, spina bifida, and given little chance to live. But her parents were willing to try a difficult and risky operation on her spine. It worked. And Kim wrote me: ``I am now 24 years old. I do have some medical problems due to my birth defect. I have a lot of problems with my legs. But I'm walking. I can talk. I went to grade and high school, plus 1 year of college. I thank God every day for my parents and my life.'' And Kim said, ``I wouldn't change it if I could.''

Life was her greatest opportunity, and she's made the most of it. An opportunity society for all, reaching for its future with confidence, sustained by faith, fair play, and a conviction that good and courageous people flourish when they're free -- this is the noble vision we share, a vision of a strong and prosperous America, at peace with itself and the world. Just as America has always been synonymous with freedom, so, too, should we become the symbol of peace across the Earth. I'm confident we can keep faith with that mission.

Peace with freedom is our highest aspiration -- a lasting peace anchored by courage, realism, and unity. We've stressed our willingness to meet the Soviets halfway in talks on strategic weapons. But as Commander in Chief, I have an obligation to protect this country, and I will never allow political expediency to influence these crucial negotiations.

We should remember that our defense capability was allowed to deteriorate for many years. Only when our arms are certain beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be used. President John F. Kennedy spoke those words in 1961. Too many who admired him have forgotten that the price of peace is dear. But some members of his party have not, and I am proud to have one of them, a brilliant patriot, Jeane Kirkpatrick, by my side.

And I deeply appreciate your patriotic support for rebuilding our defenses. We're just beginning to restore our capability to meet present and future security needs. I am open to suggestions for budget savings, but defense is not just another Federal program. It is solely the responsibility of the Federal Government. It is its prime responsibility. So, our first responsibility is to keep America strong enough to remain free, secure, and at peace, and I intend to make sure that we do just that.

America's foreign policy supports freedom, democracy, and human dignity for all mankind, and we make no apologies for it. The opportunity society that we want for ourselves we also want for others, not because we're imposing our system on others but because those opportunities belong to all people as God-given birthrights and because by promoting democracy and economic opportunity, we make peace more secure.

Democratic nations do not wage war on their neighbors. But make no mistake, those who would hang a ``Do Not Disturb'' sign on our shores, those who would weaken America or give Castro's terrorists free rein to bring violence closer and closer to our borders, are doing no service to the cause of peace.

Fellow citizens, fellow conservatives, our time has come again. This is our moment. Let us unite, shoulder to shoulder, behind one mighty banner for freedom. And let us go forward from here not with some faint hope that our cause is not yet lost; let us go forward confident that the American people share our values, and that together we will be victorious.

And in those moments when we grow tired, when our struggle seems hard, remember what Eric Liddell, Scotland's Olympic champion runner, said in ``Chariots of Fire.'' He said, ``So where does the power come from to see the race to its end? From within. God made me for a purpose, and I will run for His pleasure.''

If we trust in Him, keep His word, and live our lives for His pleasure, He'll give us the power we need -- power to fight the good fight, to finish the race, and to keep the faith.

Thank you very much. God bless you, and God bless America.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 p.m. in the Sheraton Ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. He was introduced by Lewis E. Lehrman, chairman of the dinner.