Remarks at a Columbus Day Dinner in West Orange, New Jersey

 

October 12, 1988

 

The President. Thank you, Governor Kean, and thank you all very much. And let me offer my special thanks to John Renna, the Italian-Americans of Essex County, and the Italian Tribune for your hospitality here tonight. My friends, grazia [thank you]. And thanks also to Bob Franks, Bo Sullivan, and Victory '88 for helping make this dinner possible. It really is great to be here, and you sure know how to make a fellow from out of town feel welcome. When Columbus discovered America, I can't believe that he got as warm a reception as you've given me. And I doubt there was a delicious plate of baked ziti waiting for him, either. Now, contrary to what you may have heard, however, I was not with Columbus on that trip. [Laughter] Certainly, I wanted to go along. But as he was getting ready to depart, he just didn't have the heart to wake me. [Laughter]

 

Well, that was almost 500 years ago, and few people could imagine where we would be today. Tonight, for example, we're eating a delicious hot meal, sitting on top of an ice-skating rink, listening to a speech by the President -- this could only happen in America.

 

Now, I also want to give special mention to my friend, Pete Dawkins. He's athlete, scholar, soldier, and businessman. Running for the United States Senate, he shares our values. He has a record of leadership. And New Jersey needs him in Washington. He's one of the finest candidates I've known. And I think he deserves your support, and it sounds like he has it. [Applause]

 

You know, with this great reception you've given me, it's hard to believe that once upon a time to be a Republican around here felt a little like Gary Cooper in ``High Noon'' -- [laughter] -- outnumbered in a big way. But I remember the story of a fellow who was running for office as a Republican once in a rural area. And he stopped in at a farm and thought he'd do a little door-to-door campaigning. And when the farmer heard he was a Republican, his jaw dropped, and he said, ``Wait right here till I get Ma. She's never seen a Republican.'' [Laughter] So, he got her. But while he was going for her, the candidate was looking around, figured he'd make a little speech, and he was looking for something he could use as a platform. And the only thing he could find was a pile of that stuff that Bess Truman took 35 years trying to get Harry to call fertilizer. [Laughter]

 

So, he got up on the mound, and there they were, and he gave his speech. And at the end of it, the farmer said, ``That's the first time I ever heard a Republican speech.'' And the candidate said, ``That's the first time I've ever given a Republican speech from a Democratic platform.'' [Laughter]

 

Well, all that, as they say, is history -- or should I say ancient history, which at my age is a subject that I'm regarded as an expert in. You know, for a short time I was also regarded as an expert in economics. They named an economic policy after me. It was a thing that we had started 8 years ago, and they were making fun of it, and so they called the program Reaganomics. And then it became clear that the program was working beyond anyone's expectations. The funny thing is that they stopped calling it Reaganomics.

 

But, you know, we are now in the longest peacetime expansion ever recorded. We are now in the 71st month of growth. And since the recovery began, the unemployment rate in the Essex County area has fallen by well over half, down to just 3.6 percent. And statewide, real personal income is up by some 28 percent. We've shown that record economic growth, more jobs than ever before, and a greater decline in the unemployment rate than any other major economy not only can be achieved, but that we could do it while also reducing tax rates, slashing inflation by two-thirds, and cutting interest rates in half. And I would add that over the last 2 years, without much help from Washington's big-spending liberals, we have also cut the Federal budget deficit by a third, continued to reduce the trade deficit, and we've still kept the economic expansion going -- and we've done it without raising taxes.

 

Now, with regard to the Federal budget deficit and all the campaign rhetoric, I think our critics ought to read article I, sections 8 and 9 of the Constitution. Congress passes the budget each year; I don't. The President of the United States can't spend or borrow a dime; only Congress can do that. And every dime of deficit spending over the last 8 years has been mandated by Congress, line by line. And that's why I want for the President to have what 43 Governors already have: the line-item veto. Let me interject something here. When I said that every dime of deficit spending for the last 8 years -- how many of us have stopped to think that in 58 years, including this as the 58th year, the Democratic Party has had the majority in the House of Representatives for 54 of those 58 years and has had both Houses of the Congress for 48 of the 58 years. And in all of that time, there were only 8 scattered years in which the budget was balanced. The last time was 1969. And yet they keep on pretending that somebody else, somebody at this podium, is responsible for the deficit.

 

Well, you see, our program has helped middle-income families make their paychecks go further. The drop in interest rates has made homeownership more affordable. The drop in inflation has protected the savings of the citizens and has helped those who live on fixed incomes. And our tax reductions and indexing have guaranteed that a family's purchasing power will not be eroded by tax-bracket creep.

 

I think it's important to note that today when hard-working people like you put in long days to provide for your family, to give them a better future, the Government lets you keep more of what you've earned instead of confiscating it through higher taxes and runaway inflation. But back in Washington, the liberals already are saying they want to raise taxes, and they have all kinds of inflationary spending programs in the works. Well, I think the people of New Jersey know what to do with tax-and-spend liberals. All you need to do is just walk into the polling booth, put your hand on the lever, and say read my lips: No new taxes!

 

Of course, the liberals still don't understand how we were able to get rid of their economic crisis, their ``malaise'' -- remember that word from back 8 years ago -- their inflation, their gas lines, and turn this economy around. So, in this campaign they're treating the good times as if they're a given, as if they just automatically happen. Their message is: You can take prosperity for granted. It's time for a change, so take a chance on us. Well, you know, that's sort of like someone telling you that if you've stored up all the cold beer you could want, now it's time to unplug the refrigerator. [Laughter] But whether it's a well-stocked refrigerator or our progrowth economic policies, you can't unplug what's working and expect things to stay the same.

 

And there's another point I want to make here. What we've done with the economy is very important, and we must make sure that it continues. But our special strength as a nation, as you all know so well, is that, yes, we can march into the future, leading the world into a new age of growth, technology, and innovation; but we can do so without leaving behind the vital moral foundation, the basic values of faith and family that make ours a great nation and on which all that we've accomplished has been built. Yes, the family is the bedrock of this nation. But it's also the engine that gives our country life; it is the reason that we produce. It's for our families that we work and labor so that we can join together around the dinner table, bring our children up the right way, care for our parents, and reach out to those less fortunate. It's the power of the family that holds the Nation together, that gives America her conscience, that serves as the cradle of our country's soul.

 

Well, as I've said before, there really are only two things the liberals don't understand: the things that change, and the things that don't. The economy, technology -- these things change, and under us for the better. But America's basic moral and spiritual values -- they don't change. No, the truth is that on issue after issue the liberals have, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, submitted to ``the modern and morbid weakness of always sacrificing the normal to the abnormal.'' They've turned principles at the core of our common culture and common history into partisan issues that hang in the balance as we prepare to elect a new President and Congress.

 

For example, some liberal organizations believe that separation of church and state requires ending the Catholic Church's tax exemption, or removing the words ``under God'' from the Pledge of Allegiance. Is that what you believe?

 

Audience members. No!

 

The President. They favor the right to retail what they call nonobscene child pornography and think we should repeal the criminal penalties for selling marijuana. Is that what you believe?

 

Audience members. No!

 

The President. They think tuition tax credits for children in parochial schools are unconstitutional, that prostitution should be legalized, but the children should be denied the right to begin their schoolday by joining with their classmates in a voluntary prayer. Is that what you believe?

 

Audience members. No!

 

The President. No, that's not what we, or most Americans, believe. And with outstanding judges like Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Antonin Scalia, we're showing that, despite what the liberals may think, America's most basic, fundamental values are not unconstitutional.

 

Now, I'm not saying that all or even most liberals agree with all of these far-out views. But these issues, and there are other examples, raise an important question. You recall a few years back, political figures had to disassociate themselves from groups on the right with crackpot, far-out views. Well, isn't it now time for responsible people to do the same thing with far-out groups on the left? [Applause]

 

Let me take a moment to tell you something I've never said before. You know I'm a former Democrat. And it's often said that the once-proud Democratic Party of F.D.R. and Harry Truman is dead and gone; that the Democratic Party has been taken over by the left; that the departure from the mainstream that we began to see at their 1968 convention now defines the party at the national level, especially the liberal leadership in Congress. But there's something you should know.

 

The party of F.D.R. and Harry Truman couldn't be killed. The party that represents people like you and me, that represents the majority of Americans -- this party hasn't disappeared. The fact is we're stronger than ever. You see, the secret is that when the left took over the Democratic Party, we took over the Republican Party. We made the Republican Party into the party of working people; the family; the neighborhood; the defense of freedom; and, yes, the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance to ``one nation under God.'' So, you see, the party that so many of us grew up with still exists, except that today it's called the Republican Party. And I'm asking all of you to come home and join me.

 

You know, I cast my first vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. And his platform then was to cut Federal spending by 25 percent, to restore authority and autonomy to the local communities and States from which it had been unjustly seized by the Federal Government, to eliminate useless boards and commissions. Well, now, which party does that represent today? That has to be our party. Those are the things we've been doing and trying to do.

 

Well, the liberals may try to mouth some of our words, but they often mean something very different. When they talk about ``family,'' they mean ``Big Brother'' in Washington. When we talk about ``family,'' we mean ``Honor thy father and mother.'' I'll give you an example that at first may sound incredible, but remember, when it comes to the liberal leadership in Congress, nothing is incredible. The liberals recently proposed a Federal child-care assistance program. But under their program, if you want assistance and wish to leave your child with his or her grandmother that day, grandma will have to be licensed by the Federal Government. [Laughter]

 

One of the liberal congressional staff members behind the bill was asked by a reporter if this was true -- that grandmothers would have to get Federal licenses to take care of their own grandchildren. And the reply came, Yes, of course, it's true. After all -- and here's the quote: ``How else can you design a program that receives Federal funds?'' Licensing grandmothers -- can you believe it? Next thing you know, they'll say that grilling sausages is an environmental hazard. [Laughter]

 

What, in fact, is the big news of the 1988 campaign: that this campaign is developing on the issues, and the American people are finding out what I said some time back -- that the policies of the opposition can be characterized as liberal, liberal, liberal! And the darnedest thing about the liberals is no matter how many times you defeat them they just can't take the hint. [Laughter]

 

You know, I'm reminded of a story. Yes, it's one of my stories. It's about a man who aspired to an opera career, and he got a job in pictures, acting in motion pictures in Hollywood. But he was there just long enough to put money together that he could go and realize his real ambition. And so, he left Hollywood; then he went to Milan to study opera. And he was studying there in Italy for 2 years and then received a very great honor.

 

He was invited to sing at La Scala, the very spiritual fountainhead of opera. They were doing ``Pagliacci.'' And he, in his part, sang the beautiful aria ``Vesti la Giubba.'' When he finished singing, the applause from the orchestra seats and the balconies and the galleries was so sustained and so thunderous that they couldn't continue the opera until he stepped back and repeated the aria as an encore. And again, the same sustained and thunderous applause. And again, he sang ``Vesti la Giubba.''

 

And finally, he motioned for quiet. And he tried to tell them how much this welcome meant to him in this, his first appearance in opera. But he said, ``I have sung `Vesti la Giubba' nine times now. My voice is gone. I cannot do it again.'' And a voice from the balcony said, ``You'll do it till you get it right.'' [Laughter]

 

Well, today, as we think about America, as we think about Columbus' discovery of the New World and all that it's meant for mankind, we should realize how our one nation with its special destiny has brightened the hopes and possibilities of every country and people on Earth. From our inception, we have represented the hopes of freedom for all humanity. And we've learned important lessons along the way.

 

I think many of you know that we recently marked the 50th anniversary of the Munich pact, the naive act of appeasement that brought us the great nightmare of this century -- the Second World War. The vain boast that we had achieved ``peace in our time'' was followed 11 months later by Hitler's invasion of Poland. The lesson from Munich is too clear and too important to be forgotten. The sad lesson is that to be weak is to invite war. And that's why I say to you: America must never be weak; we must always be strong.

 

But the liberals would break faith with anti-Communist freedom fighters. They oppose a strategic defense against nuclear missiles. They would cancel essential defense systems and receive nothing in return. They're against the B - 1 bomber, and they would wipe out two carrier battle groups with their proposal. And even when they say they now favor weapons like the new Trident missile and the Stealth bomber, listen closely, and you hear them whisper that it's just in theory that they favor these systems; they're not prepared to deploy them.

 

Well, but in a dangerous world, weapons that don't exist don't count. Let's remember, the Soviets did business because they saw that we meant business. But today there are those who have forgotten the ancient principle of peace through strength. And their innocence and naivete would put in question all that we've achieved since Vice President Bush and I took office, all the progress toward ending the twin evils of totalitarianism and nuclear terror.

 

You know, when I see our tanks I think of the defense of the free world. Of course, other people now look at our tanks and think of what a Boston newspaper columnist -- him, not me -- called Pee-Wee's Armored Adventure.

 

Well, over the last 8 years, America has begun a great enterprise of resurrection. We have worked to recover the bedrock values that you and most Americans never departed from. We've rebuilt our defenses. Our country is at peace. Our economy is strong. And our future is bright.

 

And there's one last issue, yes, more important than even all the other crucial matters we've already discussed. Ladies and gentlemen, just a few years ago, I wonder how many of us could really have believed then that so many of our fondest dreams for America would come true. And of those things that have happened, how many of us could have imagined 8 or even 4 years ago that one day a President of the United States would have an opportunity to stand, as I did a few months ago, there in the Lenin Hills, at a podium at Moscow State University, and tell the young people of the Soviet Union about the wonder and glory of human freedom? And they listened and applauded.

 

What a great moment we have before us, and, oh, how future generations will dishonor us if now, in a moment of sudden folly, we throw it all away. So, let's go forth then, you and I, to tell the American people what is really at stake: the fate of generations to come, a hopeful vision of a world of freedom and a bountiful future of reverence and peace for our children and the children of all the world.

 

So, yes, some say that it's time for a change. But, ladies and gentlemen, let us remember, we are the change. We started it 8 years ago. They'd had almost 50 years of their policy. We're going to continue it and extend -- our policy, I mean -- extend that to Congress, if you do the right thing at the polls on November 8th. Now is a time for action, not complacency. It's a time to keep the progress moving, not to sit tight or slip backwards. I think George Bush had it right at the convention: If you have to change horses in midstream, doesn't it make sense to get on one that's going the same direction you are?

 

New Jersey will be a critical State this year. It could be the key to victory for everything we believe in. We need everyone to turn out to elect George Bush President, to send Pete Dawkins to the Senate, to give us a 1988 Republican landslide across the board, and to send the liberals packing.

 

Now, before I quit, I'm going to do something. It's become a hobby of mine. I've been collecting stories, jokes, that I can absolutely prove are created by the people of the Soviet Union among themselves and that they tell to each other, and they reveal a great sense of humor and also a little cynicism about how things are there. I've got quite a collection now, and I even told two of them to Gorbachev and got a laugh. There are several others I wouldn't tell him. But I'd just like to close by telling you one that I did tell him, and he laughed at.

 

You know, less than one family out of seven in the Soviet Union owns an automobile. Most of the automobiles are driven by the bureaucrats -- the Government furnishes them, and drivers and so forth. So, an order went out one day to the police that anyone caught speeding -- anyone, no matter who -- gets a ticket. Well, Gorbachev came out of his country home, his dacha.

 

He was late getting to the Kremlin. There was his limousine and driver waiting. He told the driver to get in the back seat. He'd drive. And down the road he went. They passed two motorcycle cops. One took out after him. And pretty soon he's back with his buddy. And his buddy says, ``Well, did you give him a ticket?'' And he said, ``No.'' Well, he said, ``Why not?'' ``Oh,'' he said, ``too important.'' Well, he said, ``We're told to give anybody a ticket, no matter who it is.'' ``Oh,'' he said, ``no, no. This one was -- I couldn't.'' Well, he said, ``Who was it?'' He said, ``I couldn't recognize him, but his driver was Gorbachev.'' [Laughter]

 

Well, thank you all very much. You're sending me out of here, I think, 3 inches taller than I came. God bless you all. Thank you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 6:35 p.m. in the South Mountain Arena. In his opening remarks, the President referred to John Renna, chairman of the Republican Party in Essex County; Robert Franks, chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party; and Joseph Sullivan, chairman of the New Jersey Bush for President campaign. Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.