I deeply appreciate your warm welcome, and I'm
especially grateful to Ed Feulner and Mark Burson and all the other
great folks at The Heritage Foundation and the Ronald Reagan
Foundation. You are doing so much to keep the Reagan legacy alive.
It's an honor to be with you today as we prepare to celebrate the
christening of the United States Aircraft Carrier Ronald
one thing I'm certain: President Reagan would be so pleased--but
also humbled--if he could be with us today. This very old friend of
his is grateful--and humbled--that you invited me to help assist in
paying our loving respect to the man that we all know to be the
greatest 20th century President of the United States--and indeed,
one of the greatest Presidents in America's history.
would be willing to wager that everyone here today remembers the
time when we first met that handsome, reserved, smiling gentleman
whom we would later thank the Lord for his having been
elected--twice--President of the United States. In my own case, our
first meeting seemed pleasant but unremarkable. I was, as I recall,
executive vice president of a television station in Raleigh. Some
time earlier, WRAL-Television had become, as I recall, the second
TV station in the country to begin televised editorials.
that smiling, soft-spoken, likable youngish gentleman stopped by
WRAL, I instantly recognized him as "the movie star." He knew that
I was delighted that he had stopped by. We talked awhile about
Hollywood and the media and editorializing and--of
course--politics. He had known when he stopped by that I had worked
for awhile in Washington for a conservative Senator from North
Carolina who died in office less than three years after being
elected to it.
suggested at the outset that I call him "Ron," not "Mr. Reagan." We
agreed to first-name each other, and out of the blue, with that
inimitable smile and those twinkling eyes, he asked: "Are you going
to run for office some day?"
said, "Nope" but that I sure hoped he would.
hesitated a moment, then said, "I'm thinking about it." Well, thank
the Lord he did more than think about it. And, as Paul Harvey might
say, "Now you know that the rest of the story is beginning to
Reagan did run for public office soon thereafter. In 1966, he was
elected Governor of California. We kept in touch. And in 1972, when
I ran for the U.S. Senate knowing that I would not be elected, he
supported me and even did a TV ad for my Senate campaign.
there we were, a widely known Governor of California and I, the
first Republican ever elected to the United States Senate by the
people of North Carolina. The liberal media were already
criticizing the Governor of California for being "too
conservative." They were chuckling about how I would be a one-term
Senator because I was one of those right-wing nuts. Ron Reagan,
they said, would be a one-termer because, as they frequently
sneered, "Reagan is just an actor." Well, he showed them.
watched the career of Ronald Reagan blossom, just as you did. Then
came the Nixon disaster and Jerry Ford's being elevated from
appointed Vice President to the presidency, and his subsequent
candidacy for election to the presidency. Ronald Reagan ran against
Ford in that race.
taking on a sitting President of one's own party is no easy task,
but Ronald Reagan gave it his best shot. Yet in that 1976 campaign,
Ron was in rough shape coming into the North Carolina primary after
having lost five consecutive primaries to President Ford. The media
people were saying he was finished; the Ford people cranked up the
pressure for Ron to get out of the race; nine of his fellow
Republican governors issued a statement calling on Ron to withdraw;
and even some of his own advisers were telling him to throw in the
Ronald Reagan wouldn't give up, and if he wasn't giving up,
we weren't about to give up on him. Tom Ellis and the folks
at the Congressional Club went all-out for Ron, putting together a
travel schedule across North Carolina for him and Nancy. Dot and I
campaigned with him: Nancy and Dot went East; Ron and I went West.
Jimmy Stewart came to North Carolina and barnstormed the state for
Donaldson was among the Washington reporters there covering the
race in North Carolina. At just about every campaign stop, Sam
would bellow: "Governor, Governor, Reagan! When are you getting
out?" And in a ritual that would later become familiar to the
American people, Ron Reagan would smile, cup his hand to his ear
pretending he couldn't make out what Sam was saying, and keep on
Ronald Reagan campaigned his heart out,
but he left North Carolina absolutely convinced he was going to
lose. But he didn't. He carried North Carolina by 52 percent to 46
percent. It was the first time in a quarter-century that a sitting
President had been defeated in a primary. A few weeks later, Ron
went on to Texas--and won again. The Reagan campaign was on a roll,
and suddenly there was a real race on our hands.
Senator Jesse Helms speaking at the Ronald Reagan
The Heritage Foundation Luncheon Celebrating the Christening of the
U.S.S. Ronald Reagan
© 2001 Chas. Geer Photography
turned the tide in North Carolina and Texas in 1976? The answer is
simple: Ronald Reagan campaigned on principles. He made clear where
he stood--and North Carolina stood with him.
Prior to his North Carolina victory, a lot
of self-appointed experts had been warning Ron to tone down his
conservatism to make him appear more "mainstream" and thereby
acceptable to middle America. That strategy lost him five states in
a row, and coming into North Carolina, thank the Lord, the time had
come to let Reagan be Reagan.
Reagan took on the Ford-Kissinger policy of détente with the
Soviet Union. Ron sensed that the American people felt that America
was losing the Cold War. They saw that country after country was
falling to communism, American resolve was faltering, and the
Soviets were pulling ahead of us in the race for military
Ronald Reagan made his case to the
American people: We should stand up for freedom, he said over and
over again, instead of seeking "peaceful co-existence" with Soviet
tyranny. He called for rebuilding America's defense capabilities.
He declared that "peace does not come from weakness or retreat--it
comes from the restoration of American military superiority."
condemned immoral agreements such as the Helsinki Accord in which,
he said, the Ford Administration had put "America's stamp of
approval on Russia's enslavement of the captive nations...[and had
given] away the freedom of millions of people--freedom that was not
ours to give." He called for an end to "balance of power" diplomacy
and declared that our battle with Soviet Communism was not simply a
struggle between rival powers, but rather a battle between right
and wrong, between good and evil.
Henry Kissinger declared that Ron was
"trigger-happy" and said that Ron was "inciting hawkish audiences
with his demagoguery." But the American people began
the GOP convention in Kansas City, Reagan fought to include a
"Morality in Foreign Policy" plank in the Republican platform. At
his insistence, and over the objections of the Ford forces, the GOP
platform that year declared that, henceforth, "the goal of
Republican foreign policy is the achievement of liberty under law
and a just and lasting peace in the world."
platform declared forthrightly that "we must face the world with no
illusions about the nature of tyranny" and that the U.S. must not
conclude agreements with the Soviets that "take away from those who
do not have freedom the hope of one day gaining it"--a direct
repudiation of the Helsinki Accord. And it concluded: "Honestly,
openly, and with a firm conviction, we shall go forward as a united
people to forge a lasting peace in the world based on our deep
belief in the rights of man, the rule of law, and guidance by the
hand of God."
was a thrilling turning point in American history. Ronald Reagan
didn't win the nomination that year, but his strong showing staked
his claim as the frontrunner for the nomination in 1980; Ron Reagan
had laid down a marker that the days of coddling Soviet tyranny
were coming to an end.
today, let me here declare that Ronald Reagan's willingness to
stand up for a foreign policy based on principle not only won him
the North Carolina primary--it also won the Cold War!
Success, it is said, has many fathers, and
America's victory in Cold War has innumerable claims of paternity.
It did not take long after the fall of the Berlin Wall before
everyone in Washington began claiming to have been "on the right
side" of the battle for freedom, and that back then "we all agreed"
on the need to confront and defeat Soviet communism.
Hogwash. Things were not "easy"
during the Cold War, and we did not "all agree."
The liberals howled when Ronald Reagan
declared the Soviet Union was an "Evil Empire."
Their blood curdled when he declared his
intention to leave Communism on the "ash heap of history."
They opposed his efforts to build SDI.
They opposed his effort to rebuild our
They opposed his efforts to support
freedom fighters seeking to overthrow Communist regimes in our
hemisphere and around the world.
- They fought him tooth and nail every step
of the way.
always, President Reagan put it best himself in 1992 when he
addressed the Republican National Convention for the last time: "I
heard those speakers at that other convention saying `We won the
Cold War,'" Reagan said. "And I couldn't help wondering...just who
exactly do they mean by `we'?"
friends, it was Ronald Reagan who won the Cold War. But his victory
in the Cold War was only the first of many instances in which his
opponents sought to associate themselves with his successes and
co-opt his ideas.
don't think it's possible to overstate just how deeply President
Reagan affected--and continues to affect--the American political
landscape. The Reagan presidency was an event of seismic
proportions--a shift in the tectonic plates of American politics.
Ronald Reagan, it has been said, made the Clinton presidency
possible. This is not to besmirch the reputation of our good
friend, President Reagan, but rather to demonstrate just how
fundamentally Ronald Reagan's ideas altered the ground rules of
Bill Clinton took office in 1992, his and Hillary's very first
project was their effort to nationalize American health care. It
was an old-style, left-wing, big-government project--and it was
a colossal failure. The American people wanted nothing to do
with a return to big-government liberalism. To make sure Mr.
Clinton got the message, they went to the polls in 1994, turned out
the Democrat Congress, and elected a Republican majority--a
stinging, personal repudiation of Bill Clinton.
Clinton got the message. By 1996, he was standing before a
Republican Congress declaring: "We know big government does not
have all the answers. We know there is not a program for every
problem.... The era of big Government is over." Remember that
that one statement, Bill Clinton was conceding Ronald Reagan's
victory in the war of ideas; with that statement, Clinton
acknowledged that, thanks to the Reagan Revolution, a Democrat
President could no longer govern the nation on the basis of the
Democrat orthodoxy of big-government liberalism. That orthodoxy had
been repudiated, you see, by Ronald Reagan and rejected by the
American people. And the only way a Democrat President could govern
and expect to be re-elected was do his best to imitate Ronald
Needless to say, Bill Clinton was no
Ronald Reagan: never was and never will be. Indeed, it was against
the backdrop of the dignity Ronald Reagan brought to the presidency
that Bill Clinton's moral failures were so shamefully exposed.
Ronald Reagan would not take his jacket off in the Oval Office;
Bill Clinton could not keep his trousers on.
Clinton did his best to steal pages from the Reagan playbook, and
when the history books mention the Clinton years--after the entries
on Monica Lewinsky and Marc Rich--they will note that Clinton ran a
couple of successful plays from the Gipper's game plan: They will
note the expansion of North American free trade to Mexico; the
passage of welfare reform; the expansion of the NATO alliance to
include the former "captive nations" of the Warsaw Pact. And if
they are honest, they will note that each and every one of these
accomplishments was lifted from the agenda of Ronald Wilson
Publicly, Clinton tried calling his
approach the "Third Way." Privately, the term was "triangulation."
But whatever he chose to call it, it was nothing more than a
smokescreen behind which a Democrat President sought to hide the
fact that he was stealing ideas from Ronald Reagan.
Today, we have finally returned to the
true way forged by Ronald Reagan. We have a new President we can be
proud of again--a President who is not ashamed to embrace the
enduring legacy of President Reagan.
his speech at the Reagan Library in 1999, then-Governor George W.
Bush declared: "We live in the nation President Reagan restored,
and the world he helped to save." It was an appropriate venue, for
so much of what President Bush is seeking to accomplish for America
is the continuation of the Reagan Revolution and the completion of
its unfinished agenda.
the Reagan Library, President Bush rejected isolationism as a
"shortcut to chaos...an approach that abandons our allies, and our
ideals...[whose] result, in the long run, would be a stagnant
America and a savage world." Many in the media reported this as a
tactical shift to the center--an effort to distance himself away
from the conservative wing of the party. Nothing could be further
from the truth. In point of fact, President Bush was calling on
Americans to heed the call of Ronald Reagan, who exhorted us in his
farewell address at the Houston Convention to reject "the new
isolationists [who] claim the American people don't care about how
or why we prevailed in the great defining struggle of our
age...[and] who insist that our triumph is yesterday's news, part
of a past that holds no lessons for the future."
the consensus for vigorous, "distinctly American" leadership on the
world stage is only the beginning of the legacy Ronald Reagan left
us. Consider just some of the things we take for granted in
American political life today that would never have happened were
it not for the leadership of President Reagan.
example, missile defense. In 1983, when Ronald Reagan declared
America's intention to build and deploy strategic missile defenses,
the liberals ridiculed it as science fiction--"Star Wars," they
was then. In 1999, after eight wasted years under Bill
Clinton, Congress passed the National Missile Defense Act,
mandating the deployment of missile defenses--and did so by a
bipartisan, veto-proof majority. There is today a consensus
in Washington on the need for a defense to protect the American
people from ballistic missile attack, and President Bush has
declared building and deploying missile defenses his single most
important national security priority.
take the economy. When Ronald Reagan argued 20 years ago that the
way to get the economy moving again was to cut taxes to spur
economic growth, the left howled its rage. The liberal media sought
to make "Reaganomics" a bad word.
was then. Today, after two decades of the virtually
uninterrupted economic expansion that Ronald Reagan set in motion,
the economy is slowing down, and everyone in Washington agrees that
a tax cut is needed to spur economic growth. Think about it: The
Democrats want to cut taxes by $900 billion, the Republicans want
to cut taxes by $1.6 trillion, and we will fight over the numbers.
But there is consensus in Washington on the need for tax cuts, and
no one in the political mainstream today contests the principle
that cutting marginal rates is the key to economic growth.
That is the legacy of Ronald Reagan at work.
how about "compassionate conservatism"? Ladies and gentlemen, I
suggest to you that Ronald Reagan was the original "compassionate
conservative." Listen to the commission President Reagan gave us in
Houston nine years ago, where he called for conservatives to
declare war on poverty the same way we declared war on Soviet
communism. "Just as we have led the crusade for democracy beyond
our shores, we have a great task to do together in our own home,"
President Reagan told us. "With each sunrise we are reminded that
millions of our citizens have yet to share in the abundance of
American prosperity. Many languish in neighborhoods riddled with
drugs and bereft of hope. Still others hesitate to venture out onto
the streets for fear of criminal violence. Let us pledge ourselves
to a new beginning for them."
do we do that? Start with education, President Reagan told us: "Let
us apply our ingenuity and remarkable spirit to revolutionize
education in America, so that every one of us will have the mental
skills to build a better life." Or, as President Bush might say,
let's make certain that "no child is left behind."
Next, President Reagan told us, we must
make sure that the engine of economic growth touches every American
community. "Let us harness the competitive energy that built
America into rebuilding our inner cities," President Reagan said,
"so that real jobs can be created for those who live there and real
hope can rise out of despair." Or, as President Bush has put it, we
must have "prosperity with a purpose."
let us never forget, President Reagan declared, that the American
dream must be open to every American: "Whether we are Afro-American
or Irish-American; Christian or Jewish; from big cities or small
towns, we are equal in the eyes of God.... In America our origins
matter less than our destinations and that is what democracy is all
Ladies and gentlemen, the Reagan agenda is
still our agenda today: principled American leadership on the world
stage; a commitment to freedom under God as the organizing bedrock
of our foreign policy; unmatched military might and concrete
defenses for the American people; limited government and
growth-oriented tax cuts that keep our prosperity going; and a
commitment to give every one of our citizens a shot at the American
Ronald Reagan's voice may have been
silenced by Alzheimer's disease, but his vision and his principled
leadership will forever continue speak to our future. Before he
left us for that journey leading him "into the sunset of [his]
life," President Reagan laid out a parting vision for the
Republican Party and the conservative movement. It is a vision that
I believe is shared, in the most heartfelt way, by our new
President, George W. Bush.
President Bush, we have a leader worthy of the mantle of Ronald
Reagan--a leader who will not only continue the Reagan Revolution,
but who will take that Revolution, shape it, build it, and move it
forward in his own unique way. I know Ronald Reagan would be proud
of him and would be pleased to see a man so worthy of the office
once again sitting at his desk.
while we honor President Reagan this weekend, let us remember that
we are not merely commemorating past glories. Rather, we are
renewing our commitment to a living revolution, an ongoing and
unfinished agenda, and the lasting leadership of Ronald Reagan.
bless you, and--as Ronald Reagan always used to say--God bless
The Honorable Jesse Helms is the Senior Senator
from North Carolina and chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign
Relations. These remarks were delivered at a Ronald Reagan
Foundation/Heritage Foundation luncheon celebrating the christening
of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C., on March 2,