Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Senator Paul Laxalt of Nevada

March 3, 1986

Thank you, Senator Armstrong. Thank you all. Ladies and gentlemen, it's wonderful to be here tonight and to celebrate with you the longstanding friendship that Nancy and I've had with Paul and Carol.

As most of you know, Paul and I were elected Governors of our respective States at about the same time; so, you can see we started even. I had California and one of the biggest economies in the Nation, and Paul had Nevada and Howard Hughes. [Laughter] But you know, even in those early days, I knew that Paul and I would be close. We had a lot in common -- Lake Tahoe, for example. There were those who said a straight shooter like Paul could never make it in Washington. But sure enough, Paul disposed of problems here just as easily as he disposed of them in Nevada, because he had the best possible training for Washington. He was a rancher and a herder, and they have exactly the same sort of disposal problems in that business that we have in politics. [Laughter] But while we're all familiar with Paul's accomplishments here in Washington, I don't think we should overlook what he achieved in Nevada. You know, there's an old mining town there called Virginia City that proudly boasts that it has 6 churches and 110 saloons. Paul changed all that. When he was finished, Virginia City had 6 churches, 110 saloons, and 1 Republican club. [Laughter]

Well, Paul, Senator, I hope you'll forgive me for having a little fun here tonight. The truth is, ladies and gentlemen, this isn't the easiest set of remarks that I've ever been asked to give. And that comes from someone who's had to give a fair number of speeches. Come to think of it, Paul, you've probably had to sit through more of them than either one of us wants to admit. And I know that finding the right word or expression can oftentimes mean the difference between hurting or helping, between doing this job well or not so well. But sometimes the words just aren't there. The task is really impossible. I guess that was what Lincoln felt at Gettysburg. He knew there are occasions when words must be brief because the feelings are so deep, and this evening is one such occasion.

In the first place, I'm not sure I know what I could say to add to the understanding of Paul Laxalt by those of you who know and love him so well. In Paul Weyrich's article in the current issue of the Conservative Digest, the title, fittingly enough, is ``The Character of Paul Laxalt.'' There's a story about the time that Barry Goldwater was scheduled to campaign in Nevada in 1964. Everyone told Paul -- well, not everyone, but there was that certain group of people that told Paul he could probably win his race for the Senate, but only if he didn't identify himself too closely with the Senator. Paul's reply, ``Listen, Barry Goldwater is my friend. If I snubbed him now, I could never look him in the face again. I would rather lose.'' And Paul did lose, by 84 votes. But that kind of courage and sense of values would later make him part of the Nation's history, one of the guiding stars for a political revolution that has shaken America and the world.

All of you know, too, the story of Paul's family. Perhaps some of you have seen the book written about his father by one of his brothers, ``Sweet Promised Land.'' There's a wonderful picture of the elder Laxalt on the cover. He's looking out across the Sierra Nevada. ``Seeing him in a moment's pause on some high ridge,'' Robert Laxalt wrote, ``with the wind tearing at his wild thickness of iron grey hair and flattening his clothes to his lean frame, you could understand why this was what he was meant to be.'' Well, seeing Paul as I have -- calm in crisis, resolute in duty, warm in friendship -- I also knew why this was what he was meant to be; that he, too, had a destiny, a destiny to be a great leader of our nation and one of the foremost Americans of our time or of any time.

I remember back in '76. Paul was a minority of one among the Republican Governors, and he gave the first of his three speeches nominating me for President. Come to think of it, Senator, I've had to sit through a few of your speeches, too. [Laughter] Anyway, recently he gathered those speeches in a little book. After his last one in 1984, Paul notes: ``Back at the hotel that same evening, a man with tears in his eyes shook my hand and said simply, `Great speech, Paul.' The road to this had been a long one, beset by reverses and heartbreaks and finally crowned with victory. My friend's words made all the travails worthwhile,'' he said. And then he adds in that little book: ``The man shaking my hand was President Ronald Reagan.''

Well, you bet it was, and again tonight those tears aren't very far away. The friend who understands you creates you, a wise man once said. Paul created because he always understood. And for that, I am and shall always be grateful. But I'm humbled, too, knowing that so often he chose to give of himself, for Nancy and for me, always for America, his sweet promised land. So, yes, I owe a great deal to Paul Laxalt. But how really does that make me any different from anyone else in this room? And every other man, woman, and child who enjoys the blessing of freedom in this wonderful country tonight.

There's another story Paul tells in his little book. Now, like anyone, he was nervous appearing in 1984 before the packed arena and a huge nationwide television audience. But he says, ``That feeling quickly disappeared when I looked down from the podium and saw the Nevada State flag with the words `Battle borne' inscribed upon it.'' Well, that's his story, his State's story, but our story, too, and especially our century's story. Had the times been more tranquil, many of us would have preferred some other career, perhaps, or at least a little more leisure time. I know Paul would have made a lot more trips to a place called Marletta in the Sierra Nevada. But history did hit us with a freight train, and we were battle borne. The events of our century -- world wars and totalitarian governments so momentous, so rife with human suffering -- so gravely threatened our shining city on a hill, our sweet promised land, so we could not shirk nor deny the duty that we saw before us. And tonight we thank God that we saw our duty and did it and that our efforts have been rewarded with not just a glimmer but a glow of light as this dark century comes to its close.

And to the scholars who someday will seek the origin of that sudden brilliance, that sudden outburst of freedom's light in the closing decades of the 20th century -- one we pray God will continue to grow brighter -- I say to them, look to the son of the high mountains and the peasant herders, the son of the Sierra and the immigrant Basque family. Look to a man, to a friend, to an American who gave of himself so that others might live in freedom, so that his country and his father's country might always be a light unto the nations, a shining city on a hill and that sweet promised land.

Paul Laxalt is more than deserving of the honor we do him tonight. We bring honor on ourselves for recognizing that fact. He is truly a man for all seasons. And he's our friend, our good friend. God bless him.

Note: The President spoke at 7:57 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. He was introduced by Senator William L. Armstrong of Colorado.