Remarks at the Annual Convention of the American Legion in Salt Lake City, Utah

September 4, 1984

It's wonderful to be back with you today. All of you in the American Legion have served your country honorably in time of war, but you've also served her nobly in time of peace by making the American Legion one of the most important and effective civic organizations in our country's history. I salute you today, as do all Americans.

You know, one of the great things about the American Legion is the broadness of your agenda. While you pay special attention to matters of military readiness and foreign policy, any issue of the American Legion magazine shows how well informed all of you try to be about a broad range of domestic issues. And it's on the broad range of issues that I want to talk with you today. So, for a few moments, let's talk about the unfinished business that awaits us as a nation and as a people.

I think we can all be proud of the economic progress America's made in the past few years. I won't bother to recite here all the statistics about how the inflation, interest rates, and unemployment have come down, or the many indicators that demonstrate America's current economic expansion, because the real question you and I must now ask ourselves is how can we solidify the gains we've made and ensure that the prosperity we're now enjoying will endure not just for the rest of this decade, but on into the next century.

To do this, we have to make sure the Federal Government never goes on a spending spree like the one it was on when we came into office. Just in case you've -- [applause] -- well, I was going to say just in case you've forgotten, but evidently you haven't forgotten -- [laughter] -- Federal spending nearly tripled in the decade of the seventies. Taxes doubled in the 5 years before we took office.

The liberals in Washington who were so sure that we could spend ourselves rich and drink ourselves sober were surprised to see the economic mess they'd created. They didn't understand the real problem in Washington and the real reason for our recent economic woes was really very simple -- in fact, if this sounds familiar, maybe it's because I've been saying it for so long: Government is too big, and it spends too much money.

Now, no one feared government's tendency to spend and tax and become the oppressor of the people more than those who built this nation. They had lived with the anxiety of a collapsing currency and runaway inflation, and that's why the Founding Fathers gave us that remarkable Constitution that placed so many checks and balances on government. But they also wisely provided for an amendment process through which later generations could perfect the constitutional system. Well, the performance of government in the last few decades shows the Constitution needs a little perfecting, and the people need a lot more protection from the fiscal transgressions of government.

I think that all of you know that the balanced budget amendment would put sharp restrictions on Federal spending, that it would force the Federal Government to do what so many States and municipalities and all average Americans are forced to do -- to live within its means and stop mortgaging our children's future. So, today I'm asking for your support and help. We need the balanced budget amendment. We need it for America's future. Is that contrary to the ideas of the Founding Fathers? No, it isn't. When the Constitution was adopted, Thomas Jefferson said there was an oversight -- it should have contained a clause forbidding the Government from borrowing.

Second, we need to give the office of the Presidency the powerful tool it needs to cut out the porkbarreling and special interest expenditures buried in those catch-all appropriation bills the liberals in the Congress are so fond of. Today I'm asking for your support and help. We need the line-item veto. We need it for America's future. Now, is that a wild experiment? [Applause] I asked, is that a wild experiment, as some have suggested? No. Forty-three Governors have that right. I had it when I was Governor, and it works.

Finally, our current tax system burdens some too heavily, while permitting others to avoid their fair -- or to avoid paying their fair share. It makes honest people feel like cheats, and it lets cheats pose as honest citizens. It encourages the underground economy and wastes millions of manhours on forms and regulation. It drives money needed for growth and investment and jobs into unproductive tax shelters. It is an obstacle to entrepreneurial spirit and economic expansion. To put it simply: Our tax system is unfair, inequitable, counterproductive, and all but incomprehensible. Even Albert Einstein had difficulty with his Form 1040. [Laughter] And he said: ``This is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher.'' [Laughter]

So, let's end the trauma of April 15th. Let's stop the nightmare of tangled regulations and twisted requirements that every American faces at income tax time. Let's make it possible to bring everybody's tax rates further down, not up. And today I'm asking for your support and help. We need a simplified tax code. We need it for America's future.

Now, as we get America on the road again economically, we also need to return her to respect for the sound values and traditional beliefs that account for her greatness. And to accomplish this, we must rectify two of the greatest wrongs of the past few decades.

First, we must rid ourselves once and for all of the old liberal superstition that crime is somehow the fault of society and not the wrongdoer who preys on innocent people. Now, we've already appointed some very fair but tough-minded judges. And I just wish there was time to report to you in detail on the efforts of the tough new steps this administration has taken against drug trafficking and organized crime. What it all means is that we're putting more career criminals in prison than ever before. So, it should be no surprise that for the first time in many years, the crime statistics are coming down and staying down, and have been coming down for 2 years in succession.

Yet critical legislative initiatives against crime remain right where they've remained for the last 3 years -- dead in the water in the House of Representatives. Our Comprehensive Crime Control Act includes bills calling for bail reform; tougher sentencing; justice assistance to States and localities; improvement in the insanity defense; and major reforms affecting drug trafficking, prison crowding, and forfeiture. All of these reforms, and others we've forwarded, are badly needed and constitutionally sound. In fact, our initiatives -- the core crime bill -- passed the Senate by a vote of 91 to 1. But in the House of Representatives, the liberal leadership keeps them bottled up in committee.

So, today I'm asking your support and help. We need this tough, new anticrime legislation. We need it for America's future.

And when I keep saying we need your support and help, what I mean is that there are people in Washington that need to hear from you. You know, it is not necessary to make some of them see the light, as long as you make them feel the heat. [Laughter]

Now, there's another major wrong done to traditional American values that needs to be corrected. Our forefathers were religious people, and they were also enlightened enough to realize the follies of religious intolerance. What they did, on one hand, was to erect a wall in the Constitution separating church and state and, on the other hand, they provided in the same document for the free exercise of religion. They knew that morality derives chiefly from religious faith and that no government -- or that government no more should handle religious expression than it should show preference for one religious group over another.

Now, I can't think of anyone who favors the Government establishing a religion in this country. I know I don't. But what some would do is to twist the concept of religion, freedom of religion, to mean freedom against religion. So, let me repeat what I've always believed: Religion is one of the traditional values which deserves to be preserved and strengthened. We are and must remain a pluralistic society. When we speak of church and religion, we speak of them with a small ``c'' and a small ``r,'' so as to include within the constitutional protection all churches and all religions. The unique thing about America is that every single American is free to choose and practice his or her own religion, or to choose no religion at all, and that right must not and shall not be questioned or violated by the state.

We must protect the rights of all our citizens to their beliefs, including the rights of those who choose no religion. That is why our administration opposes any required prayers in schools. At the same time, we call for the right of children once again to pray voluntarily in our public schools, and that stand is in the spirit of the Constitution as our Forefathers wrote it and as we have lived it for most of our history. Let us restore that balance.

So, today again, I'm asking your support and help. We need the prayer amendment. We need it for America's future.

But in addition to strengthening our economy and reasserting traditional American values, our agenda for the future must promote economic growth by extending new opportunities to all our citizens. Right now, this administration has before the Congress a series of measures that would give us a great start in this direction. But, once again, these are measures that have been held up by the liberal leadership in the Congress and, once again, we're going to need your help to get them moving: first, tuition tax credits for the parents of parochial or independent school children; second, the Federal enterprise zones bill that will provide jobs and opportunity for those in our inner cities; and third, a youth employment opportunity wage so that young people, especially minority youngsters, can get that first job they need to begin their climb up the economic ladder.

So, today I'm asking again your support and help. We need tuition tax credits, enterprise zones, and a youth employment opportunity wage. We need them for America's future.

And finally, let me turn to a matter I know is of special interest to all of you -- America's national security, the safety of her people, the right to a future of peace and freedom. We've come a long way in the past few years in restoring our ``margin of safety.'' I mentioned at this convention in 1980 that we needed this. Today every major commander in the field agrees that America's military forces have better people, who are better armed, better equipped, better trained, with better support behind them.

Now, besides moving to restore the strategic balance, we've added tanks, fighting vehicles, combat aircraft, and we've also added some 70 ships to the U.S. Navy. We will have 600 ships 4 years from now if the Congress honors our budgetary requests. In the past 3 years, we have added to our sealift capability more than in all the years since World War II. And our 1983 - 85 budgets reflect a 100-percent increase in sustainability funding, which will significantly increase staying power for all our armed services.

Now, just take Europe alone. We can now deliver 25 percent more tonnage there in case of crisis, and we've improved our air sortie rate by 60 percent. And both on land and in the air, we have more accurate weapons, newer equipment than ever before. Now, these are the kind of things which will make sure we never have to cross the nuclear threshold.

Yes, our defenses are being restored. And so, too, are our alliances. We have completely reoriented American foreign policy, imbuing it with a new energy and moral purpose. And in the process, we have rallied our friends throughout the world. Even as we've successfully resisted Soviet expansionism, we've opened a wide series of diplomatic initiatives that will eventually bear fruit not just in arms control treaties, but in arms reduction treaties.

And most of all, we've been candid about the differences between our way of our life and that of totalitarian systems. We've carried on the struggle of ideas. We have spoken up for freedom. We're determined to keep America a beacon of hope to the rest of the world and to return her to her rightful place as a champion of peace and freedom among the nations of the Earth.

But now, there are four important things we must do to move forward with the gains we've made in foreign policy.

First, we must complete the task of military modernization and improved readiness. This is directly related to the prospect for arms reductions. In the past, we've succeeded best when we've bargained from strength. We have a moral obligation to pursue technological breakthroughs that could permit us to move away from exclusive reliance on the threat of retaliation and mutual nuclear terror. We must pursue vigorously research on defensive technologies that can permit us to intercept strategic ballistic missiles -- fired deliberately or accidentally -- before they reach our own soil or that of our allies. Now, some are calling this ``Star Wars.'' Well, I call it prudent policy and common sense.

Second, we must maintain our traditional alliances. Our interests and NATO's are complementary. Their strength helps us, and vice versa.

Third, we must continue to work hard toward balanced and verifiable arms reduction treaties with the Soviets, treaties that will be made all the more feasible by maintaining our resolve to keep our defenses strong.

And fourth, we must continue our forward strategy for freedom and speak up for human dignity whenever it's threatened. I preach no manifest destiny, but I do say we Americans cannot turn our backs on what history has asked of us. Keeping alive the hope of human freedom is America's mission, and we cannot shrink from the task or falter in the call to duty. In the past 4 years, we've offered renewed hope to millions of people in developing lands, and we're beginning to see them turn away from the East and toward political and economic systems based on personal freedom. So we must not be apologetic about our nation's commitment to freedom. We must present to the world an America that is not just militarily strong, but an America that is morally powerful -- an America that has a creed, a cause, a vision of a future time when all people of the world will have the right to self-government and personal freedom.

So, today, again, I ask your support and help. We need to continue to restore our strength, to pursue emerging technologies, to consolidate our alliances, to move forward energetically with strategic arms negotiations and, most of all, to continue proclaiming the American dream of human freedom to the entire world. We need these things, and we need them for the sake of America's future.

Another subject of great interest to Legionnaires is the POW - MIA issue, and your responsible support of our efforts and the National League of Families is greatly appreciated. We've made some recent progress with both Laos and Vietnam, and we'll continue our highest priority efforts until we achieve the fullest possible accounting of these brave men.

And, by the way, I want to add something that also needs to be said here. The men and women veterans who've proudly served their country in the military have earned more than simply the respect of their countrymen, they have earned the benefits to which they're entitled, including veterans preference in government employment. As long as I'm President, those will be the policies of the United States Government. And I want you to know that as long as I'm President, the door of the Oval Office is open to you, to your leaders, and to your concerns.

You know, I can't leave this discussion without thanking all of you in the American Legion for the enormous help that you've given us on the Central American issue. It's been a long struggle and, thanks to your efforts, we're finally making progress. But the struggle isn't over yet. There are still those in the Congress who want to hinder our attempts to help El Salvador, and there is also a move underway to desert the freedom fighters in Nicaragua. So, on this issue and many others, I hope you'll think about sending a reminder to the Capital this year. I hope you'll think about ending that stalemate in Washington by voting this year for responsible candidates at the congressional level, so that this administration can have a Congress it can work with and our agenda for the future can become reality.

I think you join me in my belief in this agenda for America's future. It's one that will create growth, opportunity, and progress at home and pursue peace and freedom abroad. From reducing the growth of government to supporting prayer in our classrooms, we aim to strengthen families, local communities, private institutions, and voluntary organizations. Our goal is to reaffirm traditional American values while we get government out of the way of our people and their boundless capacity for change, innovation, and progress. Our hope is to keep alive America as a beacon of hope, a shining city in a world grown weary of war and oppression.

You know, I wanted to speak to all of you today about the future, because I believe the things so many of you struggled for so valiantly have not just endured, they have grown and prospered and turned brighter with the years. What a change from only a few years ago when patriotism seemed so out of style! I'm not sure anyone really knows how the ``new patriotism'' came so quickly, or when and how it actually began.

Was its seed first planted that day our POW's, who had braved a horrendous captivity in North Vietnam, came home, said, ``God bless America,'' and then actually thanked us for what they said we had done? Or was it at the 1980 winter Olympics and the miracle of Lake Placid -- you remember the chants of ``U.S.A.!'' and the hockey team that didn't know it couldn't do the impossible? Or maybe it was that unforgettable moment when after 444 days of captivity our Iranian hostages came home to parades and freedom.

Well, wherever the new patriotism came from, there can be no gainsaying its arrival. Maybe you've seen the television show ``Call to Glory'' that celebrates Air Force officers serving in ``the twilight struggle'' of the cold war. Or maybe you've heard country singer Lee Greenwood's new song, ``God Bless the U.S.A.,'' whose first verse says it so well:

``If tomorrow all the things were gone I'd worked for all my life

And I had to start again with just my children and my wife

I'd thank my lucky stars to be living here today

'Cause the flag still stands for freedom, and they can't take that away.''

And I wonder if anyone can forget that scene on the White House lawn last November shortly after the Grenada rescue operation. What a change it was to see young students praising and thanking our military. And as my friend Paul Laxalt recently noted, what a change to see graffiti on foreign walls that doesn't say ``Yankee Go Home,'' but says, ``God bless America.''

Or how about those young men and women on our Olympic team this summer? Who's ever said more about this country than those young Americans? Can we forget those young American sprinters who swept the 200-meter race, and then, led by Carl Lewis, went around the track with a flag, embraced their families, and then knelt to pray?

And what about the moment when they introduced George Foreman, the former Olympic champion who was brave enough to wave a tiny American flag at the 1968 Olympics when he had won his fight, after there had been a demonstration previous to that in which there was no flag-waving? The news accounts described how the fans in Los Angeles rose and cheered, filling the old arena with an emotional ovation that brought tears to many. ``All I've ever tried to tell anyone,'' George Foreman said, ``is that I'm not a black man or a white man or anything else. All I've ever been was an American.''

And for me there was that visit to Normandy earlier this year, where I read the letter of a loving daughter who had promised her father, a Normandy veteran who had died of cancer 8 years earlier, that someday she would go back to Normandy for him. She would see the beaches and visit the monuments and plant the flowers at the graves of his fallen comrades. ``I'll never forget what you went through,'' she had told her father, ``and, Dad, I'll always be proud.'' Well, reading her letter was one of the hardest speeches that I ever gave. But I'm sure you, of all people, understand. For many of you, even though your days of military service are receding, there are still reminders like that, poignant and piercing.

It's always been so for old soldiers. There's a story told about General Grant during the final weeks of his life. He had begun his last journey by train to upstate New York, and the newspapers were already filled with headlines, ``Grant is dying.'' He was in a race against time, hoping to finish his memoirs and give his family back the financial security lost by those he had trusted too well.

And outside of Albany, coming around a bend, his train halted briefly. It was near a flagman's shanty. The flagman came out and looked up through the train window into the General's eyes. The flagman waved his arm. There was no hand. ``General, I lost that with you in the Wilderness,'' the flagman said, ``and I'd give the other one to see you well.'' Well, as Grant's wife and the doctor wept, the old General's lips tightened and his hand went up quickly as he took his hat off in a final salute to an old comrade.

Nimitz and Halsey, MacArthur, Bradley, Patton, Ike -- they're all gone now. And boys who stormed the beaches for them at Normandy or Iwo are grandfathers now. Korea, too, fades into memory. And even Vietnam now belongs less to journalists or politicians than to scholars and historians.

In the book by Gene Smith, in which that story about General Grant is recounted, there's another story about an old soldier. His name was R.J. Burdette. And he returned years later to an old battlefield, one he had told his wife he could find stone-blind. But when he got there, there was grass and violets. It was May, and children were playing on what he recalled as a shell crater. And although in his memory, he wrote, there was still the day of ``might and strength and terror, it was gone.''

Well, I know you join me in a prayer today that for America such days and places are gone forever; that as much as we honor those who died to make us free, we also fervently hope that such sacrifice will never again have to be asked for, and that the day is not far off when there will be no new battlefields to visit and no old soldiers stories to hear.

Some will say that such hope is in vain, that the weight of history or human experience is against us. Well, I don't believe it's too much to hope that the years ahead will bring peace and freedom not just for the people of this kindly, pleasant, greening land called America, but for all mankind.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:12 a.m. at the Salt Palace. He was introduced by Keith Kruel, national commander of the American Legion.

Earlier in the day, the President met with Utah Republican leaders at the Little America Hotel. He then went to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where he was greeted by Gordon B. Hinckley, the second counsellor in the first presidency of the church. The President then met with church officials in the First Presidency Board Room in the Administration Building at the church.

Following his remarks at the convention, the President traveled to Chicago, IL.