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Remembering Ronald Reagan

Remembering Ronald Reagan
National Taxpayers Union Annual Meeting
June 18, 2005
Omni Shoreham
Washington , D.C.

Becky Norton Dunlop

It is my privilege tonight to speak with you briefly about one of my favorite topics, Ronald Reagan. It is this month of June that is the first anniversary of his passing and what an outpouring of love and affection, respect and admiration we saw during the week of his funeral. The world took notice as America said goodbye to our beloved former President. And, during that entire week, many of us who had the honor of serving as part of his team in the 1980's were asked over and over in interviews about our personal reflections of this great man and more importantly, President Reagan's legacy. Of course, in discussing his legacy, there are lots of stories to be told about him and lots of stories he told...to be retold. Each of them enriches us because a message is there, not only for us, but for the ages.

Tonight, I just want to take a few minutes for us to reminisce about three issue areas that Ronald Reagan felt passionately about, touch on a couple of my personal favorite Reagan stories and leave you with as assessment of his vision for America and for freedom.

First, and perhaps most relevant to this audience is taxes and spending. Let me take some words from an address to the Nation President Reagan gave from the Oval Office in April of 1982.

The President said, and I quote, "...let me take you back a little to 1977. When the (Carter) administration took office, inflation was 4.8 percent. It rose steadily and in 1979 and '80, we had two years of back-to-back double-digit inflation. Unemployment started to increase and by 1980 we were in a recession with nearly eight million unemployed, inflation at 12.4 percent and interest rates at 21 1/2 percent. ...We had to reduce the built-in rate of increase. At the same time, we had to reduce the share of the people's earnings that government was taking in taxes. ...High taxes, destroying incentive, had contributed to reduced productivity and a reduction in savings which left us without the capital we need for industrial expansion."[1]

It was a pretty bleak reality that Ronald Reagan faced and he tackled it with vigor mapping out a four-part plan for national economic recovery: tax cuts to stimulate more growth and more jobs, spending cuts to put an end to continuing deficits and high inflation, regulatory relief to lift the heavy burden of government rules and paper work, and finally, a steady, consistent, monetary policy.[2] You see, Ronald Reagan, "got it" about taxes and spending.

He insisted that if we reduced tax rates and allowed people to save or spend more of what they earned, "they'll be more industrious," Reagan said, "they'll have more incentive to work hard, and money they earn will add fuel to the great economic machine that energizes our national progress." Some people called this "supply side economics" but Ronald Reagan simply called it "common sense."

In a speech he gave in August of 1981 to the Orange County Republican party, he was discussing his success in getting the budget cuts and the tax program passed by Congress and he confessed that he once was a Democrat, and said "that all these years, I've been a subversive in the Republican Party. Because,' he said, lsquo;I remember my first vote as a Democrat, and I voted for a Democratic platform that called for reducing the size and cost of the federal government, eliminating useless bureaus and agencies, turning authority and autonomy back to local and state government, and reducing the cost of government, and, finally, after all these years, since 1932, we're making good on that Democratic promise."[3] Ronald Reagan knew what he believed and he stayed the course from 1932 right through his presidency.

Now, let me mention Social Security...In 1964, Ronald Reagan, the actor, was asked to give a speech in support of Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for President. Today, that speech, titled "A Time for Choosing" has become one of the most memorable of the Reagan speeches, though it was his first on a national political stage. It was in that speech that he first discussed his views in support of voluntary personal retirement systems that would "permit a citizen to do better on his own" if he wanted to. While he did not pursue this agenda during his presidency, it was not because he did not have strong views about what was the right policy but rather because he had specific goals to accomplish in his time in office and this was not his top priority. Restoring the economy was first and was certainly a prerequisite for what we are all trying to accomplish today with reforming social security and creating those personal retirement accounts he envisioned in 1964. You know, that is one of the great aspects of a principled policy, it stands the test of time.

Now, I must turn to his commitment to human freedom. As you all know, actor Ronald Reagan fought against communism in Hollywood. That story is fascinating and inspiring. He maintained his beliefs that communism was evil and believed that he could contribute to its demise as President but his real vision was expressed in a speech at Notre Dame in 1981...when he said, "The years ahead will be great ones for our country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization. The West will not contain communism, it will transcend communism. We will not bother to denounce it. We'll dismiss it as a sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written." [4] Who could have known how prescient were these words?

Another of his great speeches touching on communism was in the1983 national conference of the National Federation of Independent Businesses where he said, "The principles of wealth-creation transcend time, people and place. Governments which deliberately subvert them by denouncing God, smothering faith, destroying freedom and confiscating wealth have impoverished their people. Communism works only in Heaven, where they don't need it, and in Hell, where they've already got it."[5]

And then, of course, his memorable speech naming the "Evil Empire" set out clear differences in the way conservatives and liberals view the world. And this speech changed everything.

Here was an American President stating, for all to hear, about the brutality of the Soviet regime, with lovers of freedom like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn nodding in agreement as Reagan spoke words of truth. Liberals were offended by his brand of moral absolutism, It was a direct confrontation of communism; and his conviction that communism was a form of modern-day slavery was at the core of his vision. It is the best example of how Reagan's faith and political philosophy drove the words he spoke according to Richard Wirthlin, his long time friend and advisor.[6]

Tax cuts, limited government, personal retirement accounts, freedom from communism...each of these policy positions taken by Ronald Reagan speaks to his philosophy but also to his optimism. And that brings me to favorite stories.

One of them I will share with you, I heard President Reagan tell and re-tell many times...and so perhaps have you. But we will always enjoy hearing it as much as he enjoyed the telling of it, I am certain.

The parents of two brothers ndash; one an incurable pessimist and the other an incurable optimist ndash; took their sons to see a doctor in the hopes of curing the boys of their respective conditions. The physician started with the young pessimist. He took the boy into a room brimming with a mountain of new toys. "These are all yours," the doctor said. Immediately, the young pessimist burst into tears. "What's wrong?" His parents asked. "If I play with the toys, "the boy sobbed, "surely they will all break and be ruined."

Next, the doctor tried his hand with the young optimist. Instead of toys, the doctor took his patient into a room filled with a mountain of horse dung. "This is for you." The doctor told him. With that, the boy smiled, so wide he could have eaten a banana sideways. Excited, he raced to the top of the mountain of manure, where, with his bare hands, he began digging into the pungent heap. Baffled, the doctor and the parents looked at one another quizzically, "Son," the father asked." What in heaven's name do you think you're doing?"

"Well, the boy replied, with all this horse dung, I figure there's got to be a pony in there somewhere!"

Maybe this story helps to explain Ronald Reagan. He believed that Americans could achieve whatever they put their minds too and he intended to have optimism rule during his presidency.

My final Reagan story is really about the man and his ranch, Rancho del Cielo, Ranch in the Sky. It is a beautiful piece of God's country in the mountains around Santa Barbara, California. He loved his and Nancy's ranch and went as often as he could during his presidency. In fact, the liberals complained that he spent about 25% of his presidency there. The house is a small adobe...there are a few outbuildings, a modest guest house where the family members stayed on visits, a lake, Lake Lucky, that he made into the real lake it is today, and a fabulous view where on a clear day you can see forever. The fences and gates are old power poles that he personally "recycled" with a chain saw. He loved to ride his horses on that ranch...and made the remark often that "the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse."

In fact, it was when he could no longer safely ride because of his Alzheimer's that he and Nancy left the ranch never to return. John Barletta with whom I serve on the Reagan Ranch Board of Governors was his personal secret service agent for many years, and it fell to John to tell "Rawhide" that he could no longer ride. John had already told Nancy that it was no longer safe for the President to ride and she told John that he would have to be the one to break the news to the President. When he did, he was very emotional because he knew it would be very hard for the President. President Reagan reached his hand to touch John's arm and softly said, "It's okay, John, I know."

As Ambassador Bill Wilson, his old friend who found the ranch for him in the seventies says, "The ranch gave him the opportunity to see the problems of his office in a completely different light. From Rancho del Cielo he could view situations with a more worldly vision and make decisions from a much better perspective than in the confinement of the Oval Office. ...his own ranch was really in his soul." Today, Young America's Foundation has preserved The Reagan Ranch so that people can visit to experience this beautiful place that held such an important position in the heart of this great statesman. It was at the ranch that he signed the 1981 Economic Recovery Act and we have preserved the table on which he signed it so that the story can be told over and over again to students and adults alike about this man who stood on principle and made America believe in itself once again.

On more than one occasion, Ronald Reagan would end his speeches noting that "As Tom Paine said 200 years ago, lsquo;We have it within our power to begin the world over again.'

What are we waiting for?" he would say. That's what he would want you to do when you leave here tonight, begin the process of making the world over again. Thank you for allowing me to help you honor the memory of our great President. God bless you and God bless America.



[1] April 29, 1982

[2] September 24, 1981

[3] August 20, 1981

[4] May 17, 1981

[5] June 22, 1983

[6] The Greatest Communicator