Remarks at a Campaign Rally for Senator Jeremiah A. Denton in Birmingham, Alabama


October 28, 1986


Thank you all very much -- our Republican State Chairman, Emory Folmer, and I thank you, Senator Denton, for that kind introduction. And a special thanks to the Berry High School Band, the Hewitt Trusville High School Band, the Fayette County High School Band, and the Cleveland High School Band. You know, I can't help but see the young people here in the audience, and I have a special message for all of you from my roommate. [Laughter] She said, ``When it comes to drugs, please -- for yourselves, for your families, for your future and your country -- just say no.''


Well, it's great to be here with Bill McFarland. Bill will make Alabama a great Congressman in the mold of Bill Dickinson and Sonny Callahan, and I hope you'll help him. And having been a Governor myself for some time, I think I recognize good Governor material when I see it, and believe me, Guy Hunt is the best. You send him and his teammate, Don McGriff, to the State capital. And that brings me to today's star and one of the all-star players in the U.S. Senate, a true American hero and a national treasure, Jerry Denton. You know, it's wonderful to be here in Alabama. And you know, I often say to my staff when we're taking off in Air Force One, it's great to get out of Washington and get back to where the real people are. You probably know I couldn't do this much traveling when Congress was in session, as Jerry Denton will tell you. That's because some of those folks need watching. [Laughter] Now, I'm not attacking the institution of the Congress, but among the Members of the Congress, there are some that they remind me -- in their actions and their outlook on government -- of the three fellows that came out of a building one day and found they'd locked themselves out of their car. And the first one said, ``Well, if somebody will get me a wire coathanger, I'll straighten that out, and I know how to trip the handle, and I can get the car open.'' And the second one says, ``We can't do that. Someone will think we're stealing the car.'' And the third one said, ``Well, we better do something pretty quick, because it's starting to rain and the top's down.'' [Laughter]


That story says so much about how the tax-and-tax and spend-and-spend policies left our country just a few years ago: negative growth, double-digit inflation, the highest interest rates since -- get ready -- the War Between the States. And so, as a part of the 1980 cleanup crew for the worst economic mess since the Great Depression, Jerry Denton and I headed for Washington. We cut government growth, slashed regulations, and cut income taxes almost 25 percent. And today we're enjoying one of the longest economic expansions in history, creating over 11\1/2\ million new jobs in the last 47 months -- more jobs than Western Europe and Japan combined have created in the past 10 years. Inflation has plummeted from more than 12 percent to 1.8 percent. The prime interest rate has fallen by two-thirds. Mortgage and auto loan rates are down. You know, all those people that were making fun of us and getting mad at us and so forth and saying that it wouldn't work -- I realized it was working when they stopped calling it Reaganomics. [Laughter]


Just days ago we learned that the figure that represents the country's economic growth, the gross national product, and some other indicators show our economy gathering momentum for even more growth, higher take-home pay, and more new jobs. In short, we're headed for a second boom. I'm determined to see that those who still are not sharing fully in our nation's prosperity do so. And I give you my pledge: Neither Jerry nor I will be satisfied until this expansion reaches every sector of our economy and until every American who wants a job has a job.


Now, to broaden our expansion, I signed into law last week the most sweeping reform of the tax code in our nation's history. For more than 80 percent of Americans, it means a top tax rate of 15 percent or less, and that's why I call it Tax Cut II. But wouldn't you know it, even before the fair share tax plan reached my desk, the Democratic leadership in Congress was saying that they wanted to break faith with the American people and turn tax reform into a tax hike. You know, the truth is those people never saw a tax they didn't like. [Laughter] And when it comes to spending your hard-earned money, they act like they've got your credit card in their pocket. And believe me, they never leave home without it. [Laughter] The American people know the truth: We don't have a deficit because we're taxed too little; we have a deficit because Congress spends too much. Isn't it about time the Congress started protecting the family budget instead of fattening the Federal budget?


The contrast between us and the leaders of the other party is just as apparent when it comes to judicial appointments. Now, you realize that the President appoints the Federal judges, but they can't be a judge unless they are approved by the Senate. Well, since I began appointing Federal judges to be approved by people like Jerry Denton in the Republican Senate, the Federal judiciary has become tougher, much tougher, on criminals. Criminals are going to jail more often and receiving longer sentences. Over and over again, the Democratic leadership has tried in the Senate to torpedo our choices for judges. And that's where Jerry Denton can make all the difference. Without him and the Republican majority in the Senate, we'll find liberals like Joe Biden and a certain fellow from Massachusetts deciding who our judges are going to be. I just bet you'll agree: I'd rather have a Judiciary Committee headed by Strom Thurmond, as it is, than one run by Joe Biden or Teddy Kennedy. [Applause]


I don't know why, but around about here I always feel like telling a story. And maybe some of you have heard it, but then you've got to remember that after you pass 40, you begin telling stories over and over again. [Laughter] This is a story about a Democratic fundraiser in a downtown hotel. And when they started coming out of the fundraiser, there was a kid outside with a bunch of puppies. And he was holding them up, and he was saying, ``Buy a puppy, a Democrat puppy. Buy a Democrat puppy.'' Two weeks later the Republicans held a fundraiser there, and as they started coming out, here was the same kid with the puppies. And he was saying, ``Buy a Republican puppy. Buy a Republican puppy.'' And a newspaperman who was there and had been there 2 weeks before said, ``Wait a minute, kid. You were here 2 weeks ago with those puppies, and you were calling them Democrat puppies. Now you are calling them Republican puppies. How come?'' Kid says, ``Now they've got their eyes open.'' [Laughter]


But, ladies and gentlemen, we've come now to an issue that transcends in importance even all the other crucial issues that I've mentioned: My most solemn duty as President is the safety of the American people and the security of these United States. Here, too, because of the support of men like Jerry Denton, we've been able to restore America's strength. There's nothing I'm prouder of than the 2 million young men and women who make up the Armed Forces of the United States. And let me tell you: If we must ever ask them to put their lives on the line for the United States of America, then they deserve to have the finest weapons and equipment that money can buy. And with Jerry Denton's help, we're going to see that they get them.


Because of our young men and women in uniform, things have really changed around the world. You know, America used to wear a ``Kick Me'' sign around its neck. We threw that sign away. Now it reads, ``Don't Tread on Me.'' 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 I just have to believe that with Jeremiah Denton chairing the Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism every nickel-and-dime dictator around the world knows that if he tangles with the United States of America, he will have a price to pay. Another thing I'm especially proud of: After 6 years of this administration, not 1 square inch of territory has been lost to communism, and one small country, Grenada, has been set free.


And finally, there's another special accomplishment. We must never forget that it was our decision to move ahead with SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative, against ballistic missiles, that brought the Soviet Union to the bargaining table. Now, today we're dealing with the Soviet Union from a position of strength. And let me pledge to you today: Our goal is to save the West from mutual nuclear terror, to make ballistic missiles obsolete, and ultimately to remove them from the face of the Earth. I think it's a travesty that we should be engaged in what was called mutual assured destruction, the MAD policy. And this meant that, well, we'll both have so many weapons pointed at each other and no defense against them that maybe we'll be scared to shoot at each other first. That doesn't make me sleep easier at night.


In Iceland we came closer to real arms reduction than ever before, but Mr. Gorbachev decided to make progress hostage to demands that we kill SDI. I had to remind him that SDI is America's insurance policy to protect us from accidents or some madman who might come along, as a Hitler came along, or just in case the Soviets don't keep their side of the bargain. And I had to remind Mr. Gorbachev of my pledge to the American people to never abandon SDI and that in America when you give your word, you keep your word. So, that's all I did in Iceland was try to keep my word. What we need in Washington is a Congress that won't give away at the conference table what we refused to surrender at the negotiating table in Reykjavik, Iceland. No responsible President should rely solely on a piece of paper for his country's safety. The record on Soviet treaty violations is clear. We can either bet on American technology to keep us safe or on Soviet promises. Each has its own track record. And I'll bet on American technology any time.


Now, you know, in a crowd like this and in this place, there must be many Democrats. I want you to know that during these past 6 years as President I've relied again and again upon the support of Democrats like you who are here today, and I thank you. As you may know, I used to be a Democrat myself until I learned that the liberal leadership of that party had become completely out of step with the hard-working and patriotic men and women who make up the Democratic Party across this nation. I know how tough it can be to break with tradition. As a matter of fact, after I had decided that I could no longer follow that leadership and I began campaigning for Republican candidates, I still hadn't gotten around to reregistering. And then one night I was speaking to a Republican fundraiser. And a woman stood up right in the middle of my speech, out there in the audience, and she said, ``Have you reregistered?'' And I said, ``Not yet, but I'm going to.'' She said, ``I'm a registrar.'' She came right down the center aisle -- [laughter] -- put it on the podium, and I signed up and then said, ``Now, where was I?'' Well, we have to remember what Winston Churchill said. He was in the British Parliament, and he changed parties. And he was criticized for that. And he said, ``Some men change principle for party, others change party for principle.''


Ladies and gentlemen, the eyes of America are on you and your great State. Will you choose the Democratic leaders who in 1980 weakened our nation and nearly brought its economy to its knees, who raised your taxes and have announced their plans to do so again, who oppose our efforts to rebuild or build a defense to protect us from attack by nuclear ballistic missiles? Or will you choose to give the cleanup crew of 1980 a chance to finish the job?


You know, my name will never appear on a ballot again, but if you'd like to vote for me one more time, you can do so by voting for Jerry. But important as this election will be to me, it'll be even more important to you, and especially to you young people, because it's going to shape our nation's future. And every poll shows that the age group from 18 to 24 has the highest percentage of that group on our side. But every poll shows just as clearly that in that same age group, 18 to 24, you have the lowest voter turnout. So, to you young people here: Not only go out prepared to vote, but go out as missionaries and buttonhole your friends and tell them to get on the ball and vote. That's the only way you're going to have a voice in what kind of a country you're going to live in. Now, exercise your sacred right as Americans and participate in shaping history itself. And, as I say, do it by casting your vote.


And you know something? I goofed a little while ago when I started in. I forgot to mention the Oak Grove High School Band. [Applause] All right. You know, you young people -- and I knew a time when I was a Governor of California when I couldn't have said what I'm going to say now. I've been all over the country. I've been on campuses. I've been in schools. I've been visiting with our young men and women in uniform in our military bases. Back in the beginning of World War II, General George C. Marshall was the Chief of Staff of our Army. And someone asked him, as we went into that terrible war, did we have a secret weapon, and if so, what? And George C. Marshall said: ``Yes, we have a secret weapon. It's just the best blankety-blank kids in the world.'' And after all that I've seen crisscrossing this country about your generation, if George Marshall was around, he'd say you're the best blankety-blank kids in the world.


Well, it's coming on time to go now. But before leaving, I'd just like to say that people my age deeply believe that it's our duty to turn over to you young Americans the same freedom and opportunity that our parents and grandparents handed on to us when it came our turn. And when we look at you and when we see your openness, your enthusiasm for America and for life itself, it gives us heart.


I just want to close by saying a few words about this man I'm honored to call my friend, Jerry Denton. It makes you proud to be in government when you can work with someone like Jerry. And whenever I'm with him, I can't help but think back to that time when, after unimaginable suffering in a North Vietnamese prison camp, Jerry stepped from his plane onto U.S. soil for the first time in nearly 8 years. And then when I saw you, Jerry, that morning on television in Sacramento, with no idea that we'd be standing together now -- but today I think we can all say with you what those of us who were watching and saw you say then -- the simplest and truest words ever spoken by a human being, after all of that misery -- he said, ``God bless America.''


Thank you. God bless you all, and God bless America.


Note: The President spoke at 1:24 p.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. He was introduced by Senator Denton. Following his remarks, the President met with major donors to the Alabama State Republican Party at the center. He then traveled to Charlotte, NC.