Remarks on Signing the German-American Day Proclamation

 

October 2, 1987

 

Well, thank you, President Jenninger, Ambassador Guenther van Well, Senator Lugar, and distinguished guests. Some say this is German-American Day. I don't know. Seeing the band here in costume, I'd say it is Oktoberfest. [Laughter] As the President has told us, it was 304 years ago this coming week that a small band of Mennonites disembarked from their ship, the Concord, in Pennsylvania. They made their way from Philadelphia to what is now Germantown, where they established the first German community in what is now the United States.

 

Since that time, German-Americans have helped forge the ideals and dreams that have built our nation. It was a German-American, John Peter Zenger, who first fought for and established the tradition of freedom of the press on this continent. The Colonial Governor charged Zenger with libel, and Zenger's defense was that he had printed the truth. He won, and the principle he established lives to this day: that the press can and must be free to tell the truth.

 

Freedom and the opportunities that freedom brings have been enduring themes in the German-American story. In 1830 one young German engineer wrote eloquently of his yearning for freedom, in particular, the freedom to try new ideas and pursue new dreams. He had seen the bureaucratic restrictions on commercial freedom in Westphalia, where he had found his first job after graduating from the Royal Polytechnic Institute in Berlin. No project could go forward, he wrote, without -- in his words -- ``an army of counselors, ministers, and other officials discussing the matter for 10 years, making long journeys and writing long reports.'' And a few months after arriving, he wrote: ``I have found all that I sought -- a free, reasonable, democratic government and reasonable, natural relationships of the people toward each other -- no unbearable taxes, no executor, no arrogant chief magistrate.'' Well, the writer of those words was named John Roebling, and he designed and, with his son, built one of the greatest monuments to engineering in American history, the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been sold many times -- or attempted to be sold by certain individuals. [Laughter]

 

But, yes, America's genuine [German] heritage is rich. It is deep and fertile. It's helped nourish and cultivate our national heritage, our national accomplishments, and our national ideals. And that's why I'm so happy to have all of you here today. I remember back when I was a boy in Illinois, up near the Wisconsin border. The German heritage was displayed with pride. The German language, at that time, was the second most widely spoken language in the Nation. Here in America, German-Americans have helped give our nation its freedom, optimism, enterprise, and its love of peace. Today this heritage is Germany's, as well. A common dedication to democracy, freedom, and peace ties America and Germany together. It is the bedrock upon which our alliance has been built.

 

And it's why our people have made the sacrifices to build and maintain our military strength in the face of the missiles and armies of the Warsaw Pact. In the last 6\1/2\ years, we've stood firmly together, and now, as a result, America may be on the eve of an historic agreement with the Soviet Union. I remember -- too many times to count -- that my arms reduction proposals were not serious. After all, the Soviets would never agree to actual arms reductions, certainly not to the zero option for U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range, ground-launched nuclear weapons.

 

The agreement toward which America and the Soviets are now moving is not happening because we -- America, Germany, and our allies -- have been weak, but because we've been strong. And it is, as you know, nothing short of historic. Never before has an agreement actually abolished an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles. Never before has either side retired top-of-the-line, spanking-new, mint-quality missiles. I don't know just when I'll sit down with General Secretary Gorbachev to sign this agreement, but I look forward to that day. None of us should ever forget, however, that all that we've achieved for world peace could never have happened without the strong alliance and friendship between the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

Now, though, let me say a brief word of purely domestic interest. As you know, I've nominated Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. I've been very clear about why I want Judge Bork on the high bench. Robert Bork believes that judges should interpret the law, not make it. And he believes that it's time the courts showed less compassion for criminals and more for the victims of crime. There have been a lot of misstatements spread around about Judge Bork and civil rights. It's time to set the record straight. Robert Bork has an outstanding record on civil rights. As Solicitor General, for example, he convinced the Supreme Court for the first time ever to extend the protection of Federal civil rights laws to purely private contracts. Those who've been distorting his record have said over and over he's going to turn back the clock on civil rights. It's amazing they can find a room big enough for them to get in front of the cameras -- their noses must be so long by now. [Laughter]

 

It's time to say a few words about the way the confirmation hearings have been conducted. Our Founding Fathers intended the courts to be above partisan politics. But in the last few weeks we've seen an attempt to turn the confirmation of a Justice into a partisan issue. No expense has been spared, and we all know the reason. A few special interests consider the courts their private preserve. Communities all over the Nation have seen how these special interests get through the courts what they can't get through the ballot box.

 

Now the special interests are determined to pack the Supreme Court and to distort the reputation of anyone who disagrees. Some say they're compromising and demeaning the judicial selection process. I hope we haven't come to a time when good men and women are afraid to accept nominations to the bench for fear of the kind of treatment we've seen the last few weeks.

 

This is no longer a battle over whether the most qualified man nominated in a century is confirmed to the Supreme Court. At stake here is the integrity and independence of the American system of justice. So, I hope that before you leave Washington all of you will take time to let your Senators know that you want to see Robert Bork on the Supreme Court.

 

Forgive me for taking advantage of this -- well, there she is. [Laughter] Well, I'll bet you right now she's wondering if I put some sun block on my face before I came out. [Laughter] I did. [Laughter] She can't hear me.

 

Well, now to get back to the matter at hand, and that means there's a proclamation for me to sign.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:24 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to West German President Philip Jenninger; Guenther van Well, West German Ambassador to the United States; and Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana. The President also referred to Mrs. Reagan, who watched the ceremony from a window in the Residence.