Remarks at a Dinner for the Board of Governors of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation

December 14, 1985

I have been quite surprised in the last few moments, and every bit of show business instinct in me tells me I ought to keep my mouth shut and sit down. [Laughter] But Nancy and I want to thank all of you for being here tonight and tell you how grateful we are for your kind efforts on behalf of the foundation. Paul Laxalt mentioned the other day how fitting it was that so many old friends there from the beginning should be associated with a project that someday will mark the formal end to 8 years of government, though we pray not an end to the idea and principles for which we stood.

Now, like the good chairman that he is, I think Paul also said something about creating a proper mood for fundraising. Entrepreneurial leverage, I think he called it. [Laughter] Shame on you, Paul. [Laughter] You're talking bureaucratese. That's a language peculiar to Washington, and there are no interpreters of it. Let me give you an example. Some of you have heard this before, but I'm going to tell it anyway. One day early in my first term a native bureaucrat stood in front of my desk and said, ``Action-oriented orchestration of meaningful indigenous decision-making dialog, focusing on multilinked problem complexes, can maximize the vital thrust toward nonalienated and viable urban infrastructure.'' [Laughter] Now, that's pure basic bureaucratese. So, I took a chance and said, ``Well, why don't we try busing'' and hoped he'd go away. [Laughter]

But I look out here tonight and I see so many old friends. I'm gravely tempted to reminisce. I could tell a few stories that I think would interest future historians, but there isn't time for that this evening, except to say the moments that we've spent together are locked away forever in our memory and our hearts. Nancy and I want you to know that we looked forward to this dinner for a special reason: We thought this a particularly good time to extend our thanks, first, because of the season -- and we wanted to share the joy of it with you -- and second, through this foundation you are helping to guide future generations of Americans to a deeper appreciation of our nation's past.

Now, in that film you just saw, I mentioned how living in the White House can overwhelm you with a sense of the past -- so many events, so many Presidents. I know all of you share this sentiment and this attachment to history, so I think we are here for a good cause and a noble work. But I can assure you in one century or ten, scholars and students looking through these records will find an anecdote of heart or humor or a detail of warmth and wit that will not so much tell the story of one man's Presidency as the story of an entire people, a good and generous people, proud of their heritage of freedom, determined that America shall be, as it was said on that tiny ship, the Arabella, off the Massachusetts coast some three centuries ago, ``A light unto the nations, a shining city on a hill.''

And you know, what we've done as friends and fellow citizens to keep faith with those who came before us, those who won for us the blessings of liberty, is at the heart of our purpose here this evening. Have we had some success? Well, I believe we have. But we haven't won all the battles. Just these last few days we lost a skirmish, but the battle goes on. And it's the nature of this battle, and the other battles in these last 5 years, that has changed. We're no longer the embattled few trying to stem the tide of ever-increasing government growth, fighting to halt the adoption of new programs and the increase of government interference in the people's lives. No, today the debate has switched; it's over how much government should be reduced, which programs should be eliminated, and how best to make government less intrusive in people's lives and less costly.

You know, in a play some years ago called ``Benjamin Franklin in Paris,'' Franklin sits alone in the final act and wonders what he would find if after 200 years: ``I, too, should rise up and stand once more on Pennsylvania land and walk and talk and breathe the free air. For I know in my heart it will be free. I know it -- I know it even now. What a dream. Two hundred years, and I wonder -- I wonder how I should find them then, those Americans to whom the name `American' will not be new. Will they love liberty, being given it outright in the crib for nothing? And will they know that if you are not free, you are, sir, lost without hope? And will they who reap this harvest of ideas be willing to strive to preserve them as we so willingly strove to plant them -- that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights''? Well, the ham in me makes me think I would have loved to have had a speech like that in a theatrical production. But I think old Ben, were he to make such a visit, might be a little proud of what he would find. And he might even have a word or two of praise for what the American people have achieved. It is those inalienable rights that were threatened not too long ago. And tonight I believe they're safe, made so by we, the people. My every instinct is to turn to you for answers to our problems, and you have always responded. As long as I'm here, I'll turn to you.

In one of the Geneva meetings, I spoke of having read the constitutions of a number of countries, including that of the Soviet Union. And in each, the government enumerated the privileges granted to the citizenry. For the most part, they were very much the same as the privileges that we take for granted here. But I pointed out to the General Secretary that there was one difference between those other constitutions and ours, a difference that's often overlooked and yet a difference so great that it tells the entire story. Those other constitutions are grants to the people by government; our Constitution says we the people grant to government the following powers and government shall have no power or privilege that is not granted in that document by we, the people. This administration, which you have so generously helped, has one guiding thought. I have said it very often to the people surrounding me in the administration. That guiding thought is, when we start talking about government as ``we'' instead of ``they,'' we've been here too long. For that, and for helping through this foundation to record a part of the American saga, Nancy and I extend to you tonight our heartfelt thanks and wish you the best of the season and a joyous New Year.

Thank you all more than I can say, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 9:01 p.m. in the Main Ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.