Remarks at a Campaign Rally for Senator Jeremiah A. Denton in Montgomery, Alabama
September 18, 1986
Thank you, Senator Denton, and thank all of you. I want you to know that the fellow you see standing before you considers himself one lucky man. You see, since becoming President, I've been able to visit Alabama not once or twice, but six times. I've been to this great State so often I've been thinking of having Air Force One wired to play "Sweet Home Alabama.'' And it's especially good to be here with your mayor and my old friend, Emory Folmer.
You know, one of the pleasures that I get in visiting you is that I get to tell stories that folks up in Washington don't always understand. [Laughter] Stories, for example, that might involve a little southern humor. For example, that incident where a Yankee from up North was down here driving on one of your highways and found himself in a collision with a car driven by one of the local citizens. They both got out of their cars, which were badly damaged, but neither one of them were hurt. And with true southern hospitality, the Southerner said to the Yankee, "You look a little upset. Wait just a minute.'' And he reached into the back end of his car and came out with a bottle. He says, ``Here, take a shot of this. I think it will calm your nerves.'' [Laughter] So, he did and started to hand the bottle back. He says, "No, no. Go ahead. You really are upset. This will help you. Take a couple of more drinks.'' [Laughter] And he did. Finally, the Yankee said,"Well, wait, a minute.'' He said, ``I'm drinking all this myself. Here, don't you want to drink it?'' He says,"No, I'll just stand here and wait until the police arrive.'' [Laughter]
But it's great to be here in Montgomery and great to get away from Washington and out among the people. Unfortunately, I can't stay too long. As Bill Dickinson, Sonny Callahan, and Jerry Denton know, Congress is still in session, and there's no telling what they're up to while the four of us are away. [Laughter] But I've come here today on serious business -- business that concerns all the people of Alabama and, indeed, all the people of the United States. Because what happens in this State on election day will have a direct effect on your lives and those of all Americans -- on the jobs you can get, on the taxes you pay, on the kinds of schools that your children are going to go to.
I have a feeling that you're tired of old-fashioned, out-of-touch politicians playing games with the democratic process. Am I right? [Applause] Well, this election will give you the chance to vote for candidates of integrity, candidates who'll put the people first and politics second. And I have the honor today to share this platform with candidates who can make that difference.
Through long and dedicated service in the House of Representatives, Bill Dickinson has risen to become the ranking Republican of the House Armed Services Committee. He's a man of decency and a man of honor. And there's no Member of the House that I've relied on more in rebuilding our nation's defenses. The people of Montgomery can be proud that their Representative in Washington -- for no less than 22 years -- has been this good man, Bill Dickinson, and I'd like to ask you to send Bill back.
Your candidate for Governor, Guy Hunt, has a long history of service to Alabama and the Nation. A dozen years as county probate judge, twice my Alabama campaign chairman, 5 years working for America's farmers in a position that I appointed him to in the Department of Agriculture -- again and again, Guy has demonstrated his willingness to serve. Guy believes in cutting government waste, not the family budget; in raising economic growth, not taxes. And Guy Hunt is utterly committed to the integrity of the democratic process. Doesn't Alabama deserve a Governor who believes in fair play?
And this brings me to a man who is truly a great American, Senator Jeremiah Denton. At a time when political shenanigans have sullied the electoral process, when the bad, old politics have besmirched the system, I know that Alabamians value Jerry Denton more than ever. He's a Senator second to none, a leader you can trust, a man who would never put personal considerations above principle and fair play. To my mind, Senator Denton is nothing less than a national treasure. Jerry and I have shared platforms many times, and I just have to tell you it always does something to me to stand next to a hero. Jerry, Nancy and I were in Sacramento on that day that a plane brought you out from over 7\1/2\ years of torture in North Vietnamese prison camps. And like millions of Americans, we watched that moment on television, and Nancy and I will always remember the way you walked to that microphone and spoke those three simple words -- three words that said everything: "God Bless America.''
Now that Jerry Denton is in the Senate, courage and patriotism continue to distinguish all that he does. Jerry has become one of the preeminent leaders on Capitol Hill, a spokesman for Alabama and a statesman for America. And, by the way, I've seen Jerry's mother's TV testimony -- [laughter] -- and I want to add that, as Mrs. Denton knows, Jerry's always stood firm for Social Security. [Laughter] But Jerry and I were elected in the same year, and we've worked together to revive our country's economy, rebuild the national defenses, and restore the American spirit. Let me tell you a little bit about all that we've accomplished together.
Back in 1980, you'll remember, the American economy was in the worst mess since the Great Depression. Government was everywhere: running up taxes, causing inflation, raising interest rates, and taking bigger and bigger shares of your earnings. To get big government off your backs and out of your pockets, we slowed government growth, slashed needless regulations, and enacted an across-the-board personal income tax cut of nearly 25 percent. Then we indexed taxes, making it impossible for inflation to push you into higher and higher tax brackets anymore -- which inflation had been doing -- and those in Washington were getting a tax increase every year without having to pass any legislation.
Critics dubbed our plan Reaganomics and predicted economic ruin for the United States. What's actually happened? Inflation has fallen from more than 12 percent to 1.6 percent. Interest rates are down. Mortgage rates are down from last year, and housing starts are up, helping industries like timber. We've seen more than 3\1/2\ years of economic growth and the creation of more than 11.5 million new jobs -- more new jobs than Western Europe and Japan put together have created in the last 10 years. You know, I really discovered that what we were doing was working when they stopped calling it Reaganomics. [Laughter]
In the midst of this expansion, it's true, certain sectors of our economy have lagged behind -- for instance, natural resource industries like farming. But I pledge to you today that I'll not rest -- and I know Jerry won't rest -- until every region of our country and every sector of our economy shares in the national prosperity. Already, Jerry and I have worked to help Alabama farmers affected by this year's drought. Indeed, I've recently directed Secretary of Agriculture Lyng to provide emergency assistance to Alabama farmers all over the State. And last year Jerry won a long fight to create jobs at Tuscaloosa Steel through his effective leadership in Congress.
Perhaps most important, with his help we've worked to promote economic growth by giving our nation comprehensive tax reform, a tax reform that would make our entire tax system simpler and fairer and enable some 8 out of 10 Americans to pay Federal income taxes of 15 percent or less. That's right -- 15 percent or less, because several million at the lowest brackets of earnings in this country will be removed from the tax rolls entirely. Now, that sounds kind of like darn good news. Now, there's been some talk that once our tax reform program is in place, the rates will be raised to pay for more spending. Well, that would be an intolerable breach of faith with the American people. We didn't achieve this historic tax reform to have it undermined by the big taxers. And I pledge today to oppose any effort to raise the tax rates and negate the hard-fought progress we've made, and I'm calling on all Members of the Congress to take that same pledge. Ask them to do something I know Jerry's more than happy to do himself: Ask them to take that pledge on tax rates -- that they'll be held at 15 percent, 28 percent, and 34 percent for the corporations.
In foreign affairs, with Jerry and Bill's assistance we've rebuilt our nation's defenses and won new respect for America around the world. Among our men and women in uniform, we've seen morale soar as we've given them the pay and training that they've always deserved. And in Jerry's old service, the Navy, we've gone from fewer than 480 battle-ready ships to more than 540, and we're well on the way to the goal of 600. Jerry has worked especially hard on our home ports proposal, a measure that would bring new ships and jobs to places like Mobile. And Jerry was absolutely crucial in bringing back great battleships like the U.S.S. Iowa. And I haven't told even you this, Jerry, but when Nancy and I were on the Iowa up in New York Harbor during the Fourth of July -- and believe me, being on that magnificent ship and watching other vessels pass in review, well, nothing has ever made me prouder of being an American -- but on that great ship I couldn't help thinking, "Jerry Denton gave years of his life to the United States Navy, but this fine ship and all that he's done in the Senate may prove his greatest gift of all.''
I was now going to ask you something, but I don't have to ask. You've made it plain already. Yes, we should keep Jerry in the Senate, where he can keep right on giving. And if I could interject something here, it occurred to me as we landed today at Maxwell Air Force Base that you here in Alabama have always treated our armed services with esteem, even when some in other parts of the country thought it was somehow unstylish or old fashioned. No, the people of Alabama have never been ashamed of the flag, and isn't it good to have the rest of the country join you in treating our men and women in uniform with respect?
It's still a difficult and dangerous world out there, but with Jerry's help we've made ourselves stronger and better prepared to deal with it. And something else, I just have to believe that with Jeremiah Denton chairing the Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism every nickel-and-dime fanatic and dictator knows that if he chooses to tangle with the United States of America, he'll have to pay a price.
Restored prosperity at home, renewed strength and self-assurance abroad -- this is the story of the past 6 years and the story in which Jerry Denton has played such an important part. Now, I know that Jerry's the first Republican Senator from Alabama in this century, and that with a lot of Democrats in Alabama -- good, hard-working, patriotic people -- that still just doesn't seem to, well, sit right. But to those Alabaman Democrats -- I used to be one myself, not an Alabaman, a Democrat -- [laughter] -- I must tell you from my heart that Jerry Denton represents -- those of you who are Democrats or were Democrats -- he represents your views far better than the liberals who run the Democratic Party in Washington and right here in Alabama.
We must never mistake the rank and file of the Democratic Party for the liberals who lead that party, the liberals who want to betray everyday Democrats by going back to the failed, old tax policies of tax and tax and spend and spend. So, I ask all Alabama Democrats to consider whether, just maybe, they ought to join the Republican Party as I did and as Alabamians like Sonny Callahan did. I know it isn't easy, but as Winston Churchill said, ``Some men change principle for party, and some men change party for principle.'' And even if you can't quite bring yourself to change parties, well, you can still send the liberals a message by voting for Jerry Denton, Bill Dickinson, Guy Hunt, and Sonny Callahan.
This election here in Alabama could determine which party controls the United States Senate. It could determine whether in the remaining time of my Presidency I see 2 more years of moving forward or 2 years of backsliding and stalemate. My friends, I don't believe you elected me because you wanted me to go forward for 6 years and stand still for 2. I believe you elected me because you wanted me to work with people like Jerry Denton to get America moving again and keep her moving for all 8 years.
You know, earlier today we were in Louisiana, and not long before that I spoke in California and Colorado. And everywhere I've gone, I've seen something that touched me, something that gives heart to all those who can still remember the self-doubt and the weakness abroad and at home that marked so much of the sixties and seventies. Today, here in Montgomery, I see it again. Call it confidence, self-assurance, what you will. It's a renewed understanding that, for all our faults, ours is a nation of goodness and greatness; that despite our mistakes in the world we've stood for human freedom with greater consistency and courage than any other nation in history; that if only we have faith, if only we look not to government, but to ourselves to create a new and lasting era of prosperity.
Come to think of it, what I've seen has a name, and it's what sustained Jerry Denton through all those long years of imprisonment and torture. And it's called love of country. This new confidence and self-respect, this love of country, this is what Senator Jeremiah Denton stands for. And so it is that I ask you to cast a vote that will help me to be the President you want me to be. But even more, I ask you to cast a vote for yourselves, for your children, and for your children's children. My friends, I ask you to send Jeremiah Denton back to the United States Senate.
You know, I can't quit without telling you something that I told those people over in Louisiana before I left. Every time I think about the leadership of the Democratic Party, marching down the road alone, not realizing that the rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party had turned to the right a long time ago. [Laughter] But when I think of them, I think of that little story about the three fellows that came out one day to get in their car and found that they were locked out and the keys were inside. And one of them said, ``Well, let's get a wire coathanger. I can straighten it out and I can . . .'' And the other one says, "We can't do that out here. They'll think we were stealing the car.'' And the third one says, ``Well, we'd better do something, because it's starting to rain and the top is down.'' [Laughter]
Thank you, and God bless you all.
Note: The President spoke at 4:23 p.m. in the Grand Hall of the Montgomery Civic Center. He was introduced by Senator Denton. Prior to the President's remarks, he attended a reception for major donors to Senator Denton's campaign at the center. Following his remarks, he returned to Washington, DC.