To Restore America
March 31, 1976
Reagan's televised appeal to the nation for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. Gerald Ford ultimately won the nomination, but Reagan was soon planning his return to national politics in 1980.
Good evening to all of you from California. Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about issues. Issues which I think are involved-or should be involved in this primary election season. I'm a candidate for the Republican nomination for president. But I hope that you who are Independents and Democrats will let me talk to you also tonight because the problems facing our country are problems that just don't bear any party label.
In this election season the White House is telling us a solid economic recovery is taking place. It claims a slight drop in unemployment. It says that prices aren't going up as fast, but they are still going up, and that the stock market has shown some gains. But, in fact, things seem just about as they were back in the 1972 election year. Remember, we were also coming out of a recession then. Inflation had been running at round 6 percent. Unemployment about 7 [percent]. Remember, too, the upsurge and the optimism lasted through the election year and into 1973. And then the roof fell in. Once again we had unemployment. Only this time not 7 percent, more than 10. And inflation wasn't 6 percent, it was 12 percent. Now, in this election year 1976, we're told we're coming out of this recession--just because inflation and unemployment rates have fallen, to what they were at the worst of the previous recession. If history repeats itself, will we be talking recovery four years from now merely because we've reduced inflation from 25 percent to 12 percent?
The fact is, we'll never build a lasting economic recovery by going deeper into debt at a faster rate than we ever have before. It took this nation 166 years--until the middle of World War II--to finally accumulate a debt of $95 billion. It took this administration just the last 12 months to add $95 billion to the debt. And this administration has run up almost one-fourth of the total national debt in just these short 19 months.
Inflation is the cause of recession and unemployment. And we're not going to have real prosperity or recovery until we stop fighting the symptoms and start fighting the disease. There's only one cause for inflation-- government spending more than government takes in. The cure is a balanced budget. Ah, but they tell us, 80 percent of the budget is uncontrollable. It's fixed by laws passed by Congress. Wel1, 1aws passed by Congress can be repealed by Congress. And, if Congress is unwilling to do this, then isn't it time we elect a Congress that will?
Soon after he took office, Mr. Ford promised he would end inflation. Indeed, he declared war on inflation. And, we all donned those WIN buttons to "Whip Inflation Now." Unfortunately the war--if it ever really started--was soon over. Mr. Ford without WIN button, appeared on TV, and promised he absolutely would not allow the Federal deficit to exceed $60 billion (which incidentally was $5 billion more than the biggest previous deficit we'd ever had). Later he told us it might be as much as $70 billion. Now we learn it's 80 billion or more.
Then came a White House proposal for a $28 billion tax cut, to be matched by a S28 billion cut in the proposed spending--not in present spending, but in the proposed spending in the new budget. Well, my question then and my question now is, if there was $28 billion in the new budget that could be cut, what was it doing there in the first place?
Unfortunately, Washington doesn't feel the same pain from inflation that you and I do. As a matter of fact, government makes a profit on inflation. For instance, last July Congress vaccinated itself against that pain. It very quietly passed legislation (which the president signed into law) which automatically now gives a pay increase to every Congressman every time the cost of living goes up.
It would have been nice if they'd thought of some arrangement like that for the rest of us. They could, for example, correct a great unfairness that now exists in our tax system. Today, when you get a cost of living pay raise--one that just keeps you even with purchasing power--it often moves you up into a higher tax bracket. This means you pay a higher percentage in tax, but you reduce your purchasing power. Last year, because of this inequity, the government took in $7 billion in undeserved profit in the income tax alone, and this year they'll do even better.
Now isn't it time that Congress looked after your welfare as well as its own? Those whose spending policies cause inflation to begin with should be made to feel the painful effect just as you and I do.
Repeal of Congress' autornatic pay raise might 1eave it with more incentive to do something to curb inflation. Now, let's 100k at Social Security. Mr. Ford says he wants to "preserve the integrity of Socia1 Security." We11, I differ with him on one word. I would like to restore the integrity of Social Security. Those who depend on it see a continual reduction in their standard of living. Inflation strips the increase in their benefits. The maximum benefit today buys 80 fewer loaves of bread than it did when that maximum payment was only $85 a month. In the meantime, the Socia1 Security payro11 tax has become the most unfair tax any worker pays. Women are discriminated against--particularly working wives. And, people who reach Socia1 Security age and want to continue working, should be allowed to do so without losing their benefits. I believe a presidential commission of experts should be appointed to study and present a plan to strengthen and improve Social Security while there's still time--so that no person who has contributed to Social Security will ever lose a dime.
Before leaving this subject of our economic problems, let's talk about unemployment. Ending inflation is the only long range and lasting answer to the problem of unemployment. The Washington Establishment is not the answer. It's the problem. Its tax policies, its harassing regulation, its confiscation of investment capital to pay for its deficits keeps business and industry from expanding to meet your needs and to provide the jobs we all need.
No one who lived through the Great Depression can ever 100k upon an unemp1oyed person with anything but compassion. To me, there is no greater tragedy than a breadwinner willing to work, with a job skill but unable to find a market for that job skill. Back in those dark depression days I saw my father on a Christmas eve open what he thought was a Christmas greeting from his boss. Instead, it was the blue slip telling him he no longer had a job. The memory of him sitting there holding that slip of paper and then saying in a half whisper, "That's quite a Christmas present"; it will stay with me as long as I live.
Other problems go unsolved. Take energy. Only a short time ago we were lined up at the gas station-- turned our thermostats down as Washington announced "Project Independence." We were going to become self- sufficient, able to provide for our own energy needs. At the time, we were only importing a small percentage of our oil. Yet, the Arab boycott caused half a million Americans to lose their jobs when plants closed down for lack of fuel.
Today, it's almost three years
later and "Project Independence" has become "Project Dependence." Congress
has adopted an energy bill so bad we were led to believe Mr. Ford would
veto it. Instead, he signed it. And, almost instantly, drilling rigs all
over our land started shutting down. Now, for the first time in our
history we are importing more oil than we produce. How many Americans will
be laid off if there's another boycott? The energy bill is a disaster that
never should have been signed.
An effort has been made in this campaign to suggest that there aren't
any real differences between Mr. Ford and myself. Well, I believe there
are, and these differences are fundamental. One of them has to do with our
approach to government. Before Richard Nixon appointed him Vice
President, Mr. Ford was a Congressman for 25 years. His concern, of
necessity, was the welfare of his congressional district. For most of his
adult life he has been a part of the Washington Establishment. Most of my
adult life has been spent outside of government. My experience in
government was the eight years I served as governor of California. If it
were a nation, California would be the 7th- ranking economic power in the
When I became governor, I inherited a state government that was in
almost the same situation as New York City. The state payroll had been
growing for a dozen years at a rate of from five to seven thousand new
employees each year. State government was spending from a million to a
million-and-a-half dollars more each day than it was taking in. The
State's great water project was unfinished and under-funded by a half a
billion dollars. My predecessor had spent the entire year's budget for
Medicaid in the first six months of the fiscal year. And, we learned that
the teacher's retirement fund was unfunded a $4 billion liability hanging
over every property owner in the state. I didn't know whether I'd been
elected governor or appointed receiver. California was faced with
insolvency and on the verge of bankruptcy. We had to increase taxes. Well,
this came very hard for me because I felt taxes were already too great a
burden. I told the people the increase in my mind was temporary and that,
as soon as we could, we'd return their money to them.
I had never in my life thought of seeking or holding public of office
and I'm still not quite sure how it all happened. In my own mind, I was a
citizen representing my fellow citizens against the institution of
government. I turned to the people, not to politicians for help. Instead
of a committee to screen applicants for jobs, I had a citizens' recruiting
committee, and I told this committee I wanted an administration made up of
men and women who did not want government careers and who'd be the first
to tell me if their government job was unnecessary. And I had that happen.
A young man from the aerospace industry dissolved his department in four
months, handed me the key to this office, and told me we'd never needed
the department. And to this day, I not only have never missed it I don't
know where it was.
There was a reason for my seeking people who didn't want government
careers. Dr. Parkinson summed it all up in his book on bureaucracy. He
said, "Government hires a rat-catcher and the first thing you know, he's
become a rodent control officer." In those entire eight years, most of us
never lost that feeling that we were there representing the people against
what Cicero once called the "arrogance of officialdom." We had a kind of
watchword we used on each other. "When we begin thinking of government as
we instead of they, we've been here too long." Well, I believe that
attitude would be beneficial in Washington.
We didn't stop just with getting our administration from the ranks of
the people. We also asked for help from expert people in a great many
fields, and more than 250 of our citizens volunteered to form into task
forces. They went into every department and agency of state government to
see how modern business practices could make government more efficient,
economical and responsive. They gave an average of 117 days apiece full
time, away from their own jobs and careers at no cost to the taxpayers.
They made eighteen hundred specific recommendations. We implemented more
than sixteen hundred of those recommendations.
This was government-by-the-people, proving that it works when the
people work at it. When we ended our eight years, we turned over to the
incoming administration a balanced budget, a $500 million surplus, and
virtually the same number of employees we'd started with eight years
before even though the increase in population had given some departments a
two-thirds increase in work load. The water project was completed with
$165 million left over. Our bonds had a triple A rating, the highest
credit rating you can get. And the teachers' retirement program was fully
funded on a sound actuarial basis. And, we kept our word to the taxpayers
we returned to them in rebates and tax cuts, $5 billion, $761 million.
I believe that what we did in California can be done in Washington if
government will have faith in the people and let them bring their common
sense to bear on the problems bureaucracy hasn't solved. I believe in the
people. Now, Mr. Ford places his faith in the Washington Establishment.
This has been evident in his appointment of former Congressmen and
longtime government workers to positions in his Administration. Well, I
don't believe that those who have been part of the problem are necessarily
the best qualified to solve those problems.
The truth is, Washington has taken over functions that don't truly
belong to it. In almost every case it has been a failure. Now,
understand, I'm speaking of those programs which logically should be
administered at state and local levels. Welfare is a classic example.
Voices that are raised now and then urging a federalization of welfare
don't realize that the failure of welfare is due to federal interference.
Washington doesn't even know how many people are on welfare how many
cheaters are getting more than one check. It only knows how many checks
it's sending out. Its own rules keep it from finding out how many are
getting more than one check.
Well, California had a welfare problem. Sixteen percent of all welfare
recipients in the country were drawing their checks in our state. We were
sending welfare checks to families who decided to live abroad. One family
was receiving its check in Russia. Our caseload was increasing by 40,000
people a month. Well, after a few years of trying to control this runaway
program and being frustrated by bureaucrats here in California and in
Washington, we turned again to a citizens' task force. The result was the
most comprehensive welfare reform ever attempted. And in less than three
years we reduced the rolls by more than 300,000 people, saved the
taxpayers S2 billion, and increased the grants to the truly deserving
needy by an average of 43 percent. We also carried out a successful
experiment which I believe is an answer to much of the welfare problem in
the nation. We put able- bodied welfare recipients to work at useful
community projects in return for their welfare grants.
Now, let's look at housing. Washington has tried to solve this problem
for the poor by building low-cost houses. So far it's torn down three and
a half homes for every one it's built.
Schools in America we created at the local level and administered at
the local level for many years the greatest public school system in the
world. Now through something called federal aid to education, we have
something called federal interference, and education has been the loser.
Quality has declined as federal intervention has increased. Nothing has
created more bitterness, for example, than forced busing to achieve racial
balance. It was born of a hope that we could increase understanding and
reduce prejudice and antagonism. And I'm sure we all approved of that
goal. But busing has failed to achieve the goal. Instead, it has increased
the bitterness and animosity it was supposed to reduce. California's
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Wilson Riles (himself a Black),
says, "The concept that Black children can't learn unless they are sitting
with white children is utter and complete nonsense. " Well, I agree. The
money now being wasted on this social experiment could be better spent to
provide the kind of school facilities every child deserves. Forced busing
should be ended by legislation if possible by constitutional amendment if
necessary. And, control of education should be returned to local school
The other day Mr. Ford came out against gun control. But back in
Washington, D.C., his Attorney General has proposed a seven-point program
that amounts to just that: gun control. I don't think that making it
difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain guns will lower the crime
rate not when the criminals will always find a way to get them. In
California I think we found an answer. We put into law what is practical
gun control. Anyone convicted of having a gun in his possession while he
committed a crime: add five to fifteen years to the prison sentence.
Sometimes bureaucracy's excesses are so great that we laugh at them.
But they are costly laughs. Twenty-five years ago the Hoover Commission
discovered that Washington files a million reports a year just reporting
there is nothing to report. Independent business people, shopkeepers and
farmers file billions of reports every year required of them by
Washington. It amounts to some 10 billion pieces of paper each year, and
it adds $50 billion a year to the cost of doing business. Now, Washington
has been loud in its promise to do something about this blizzard of
paperwork. And they made good. Last year they increased it by 20 percent.
But there is one problem which must be solved or everything else is
meaningless. I am speaking of the problem of our national security. Our
nation is in danger, and the danger grows greater with each passing day.
Like an echo from the past, the voice of Winston Churchill's grandson was
heard recently in Britain's House of Commons warning that the spread of
totalitarianism threatens the world once again and the democracies are
wandering without aim."
"Wandering without aim" describes the United States' foreign policy.
Angola is a case in point. We gave just enough support to one side to
encourage it to fight and die, but too little to give them a chance of
winning. And while we're disliked by the winner, distrusted by the loser,
and viewed by the world as weak and unsure. If detente were the two-way
street it's supposed to be, we could have told the Soviet Union to stop
its trouble-making and leave Angola to the Angolans. But it didn't work
out that way.
Now, we are told Washington is dropping the word "detente, " but
keeping the policy. But whatever it's called, the policy is what's at
fault. What is our policy? Mr. Ford's new Ambassador to the United Nations
attacks our longtime ally, Israel. In Asia, our new relationship with
mainland China can have practical benefits for both sides. But that
doesn't mean it should include yielding to demands by them, as the
administration has, to reduce our military presence on Taiwan where we
have a longtime friend and ally, the Republic of China.
And, it's also revealed now that we seek to establish friendly
relations with Hanoi. To make it more palatable, we're told that this
might help us learn the fate of the men still listed as Missing in Action.
Well, there's no doubt our government has an obligation to end the agony
of parents, wives and children who've lived so long with uncertainty. But,
this should have been one of our first demands of Hanoi's patron saint,
the Soviet Union, if detente had any meaning at all. To present it now as
a reason for friendship with those who have already violated their promise
to provide such information is hypocrisy.
In the last few days, Mr. Ford and Dr. Kissinger have taken us from
hinting at invasion of Cuba, to laughing it off as a ridiculous idea.
Except, that it was their ridiculous idea. No one else suggested it. Once
again what is their policy? During this last year, they carried on a
campaign to befriend Castro. They persuaded the Organization of American
States to lift its trade embargo, lifted some of the U.S. trade
restrictions. They engaged in cultural exchanges. And then, on the eve of
the Florida primary election, Mr. Ford went to Florida, called Castro an
outlaw and said he'd never recognize him. But he hasn't asked our Latin
American neighbors to reimpose a single sanction, nor has he taken any
action himself. Meanwhile, Castro continues to export revolution to
Puerto Rico, to Angola, and who knows where else?
As I talk to you tonight, negotiations with another dictator go
forward negotiations aimed at giving up our ownership of the Panama Canal
Zone. Apparently, everyone knows about this except the rightful owners of
the Canal Zone you, the people of the United States. General Omar
Torrijos, the dictator of Panama, seized power eight years ago by ousting
the duly-elected government. There have been no elections since. No civil
liberties. The press is censored. Torrijos is a friend and ally of Castro
and, like him, is pro-Communist. He threatens sabotage and guerrilla
attacks on our installations if we don't yield to his demands. His foreign
minister openly claims that we have already agreed in principle to giving
up the Canal Zone.
Well, the Canal Zone is not a colonial possession. It is not a
long-term lease. It is sovereign United States Territory every bit the
same as Alaska and all the states that were carved from the Louisiana
Purchase. We should end those negotiations and tell the General: We bought
it, we paid for it, we built it, and we intend to keep it.
Mr. Ford says detente will be replaced by "peace through strength."
Well now, that slogan has a a nice ring to it, but neither Mr. Ford nor
his new Secretary of Defense will say that our strength is superior to all
others. In one of the dark hours of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano
Roosevelt said, "It is time to speak the truth frankly and boldly." Well,
I believe former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger was trying to
speak the truth frankly and boldly to his fellow citizens. And that's why
he is no longer Secretary of Defense.
The Soviet Army outnumbers ours more than two-to-one and in reserves
four-to-one. They out-spend us on weapons by 50 percent. Their Navy
outnumbers ours in surface ships and submarines two-to-one. We're
outgunned in artillery three-to-one and their tanks outnumber ours
four-to-one. Their strategic nuclear missiles are larger, more powerful
and more numerous than ours. The evidence mounts that we are Number Two in
a world where it's dangerous, if not fatal, to be second best. Is this why
Mr. Ford refused to invite Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the White House? Or,
why Mr. Ford traveled halfway 'round the world to sign the Helsinki Pact,
putting our stamp of approval on Russia's enslavement of the captive
nations? We gave away the freedom of millions of people freedom that was
not ours to give.
Now we must ask if someone is giving away our own freedom. Dr.
Kissinger is quoted as saying that he thinks of the United States as
Athens and the Soviet Union as Sparta. "The day of the U.S. is past and
today is the day of the Soviet Union." And he added, ^. . . My job as
Secretary of State is to negotiate the most acceptable second-best
position available." Well, I believe in the peace of which Mr. Ford spoke
as much as any man. But peace does not come from weakness or from retreat.
It comes from the restoration of American military superiority. as much as
any man. But peace does not come from weakness or from retreat. It comes
from the restoration of American military superiority.
Ask the people of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Poland,
Hungary all the others: East Germany, Bulgaria, Romania ask them what it's
like to live in a world where the Soviet Union is Number One. I don't want
to live in that kind of world; and I don't think you do either. Now we
learn that another high official of the State Department, Helmut
Sonnenfeldt, whom Dr. Kissinger refers to as his "Kissinger," has
expressed the belief that, in effect, the captive nations should give up
any claim of national sovereignty and simply become a part of the Soviet
Union. He says, "their desire to break out of the Soviet straightjacket"
threatens us with World War III. In other words, slaves should accept
Well, I don't believe the people I've met in almost every State of
this Union are ready to consign this, the last island of freedom, to the
dust bin of history, along with the bones of dead civilizations of the
past. Call it mysticism, if you will, but I believe God had a divine
purpose in placing this land between the two great oceans to be found by
those who had a special love of freedom and the courage to leave the
countries of their birth. From our forefathers to our modern-day
immigrants, we've come from every corner of the earth, from every race and
every ethnic background, and we've become a new breed in the world. We're
Americans and we have a rendezvous with destiny. We spread across this
land, building farms and towns and cities, and we did it without any
federal land planning program or urban renewal.
Indeed, we gave birth to an entirely new concept in man's relation to
man. We created government as our servant, beholden to us and possessing
no powers except those voluntarily granted to it by us. Now a
self-anointed elite in our nation's capital would have us believe we are
incapable of guiding our own destiny. They practice government by mystery,
telling us it's too complex for our understanding. Believing this, they
assume we might panic if we were to be told the truth about our
Why should we become frightened? No people who have ever lived on this
earth have fought harder, paid a higher price for freedom, or done more to
advance the dignity of man than the living Americans the Americans living
in this land today. There isn't any problem we can't solve if government
will give us the facts. Tell us what needs to be done. Then, get out of
the way and let us have at it.
Recently on one of my campaign trips I was doing a question-and-answer
session, and suddenly I received a question from a little girl couldn't
have been over six or seven years old standing in the very front row. I'd
heard the question before but somehow in her asking it, she threw me a
little bit. She said, why do you want to be president? Well, I tried to
tell her about giving government back to the people; I tried to tell her
about turning authority back to the states and local communities, and so
forth; winding down the bureaucracy. [It] might have been an answer for
adults, but I knew that it wasn't what that little girl wanted, and I left
very frustrated. It was on the way to the next stop that I turned to Nancy
and I said I wish I had it to do over again because I I'd like to answer
Well, maybe I can answer it now. I would like to go to Washington. I
would like to be president, because I would like to see this country
become once again a country where a little six-year old girl can grow up
knowing the same freedom that I knew when I was six years old, growing up
in America. If this is the America you want for yourself and your
children; if you want to restore government not only of and for but by the
people; to see the American spirit unleashed once again; to make this land
a shining, golden hope God intended it to be, I'd like to hear from you.
Write, or send a wire. I'd be proud to hear your thoughts and your
Thank you, and good night.
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