Remarks at a Senate Campaign Fundraising Reception for Pete Dawkins of New Jersey


April 19, 1988


Senators, distinguished guests, you know, more than half a century ago, there was a halfback at the University of Chicago who was so powerful, so skilled, and so dashing that he became a hero to millions of football-loving Americans, including a certain young fellow named Dutch Reagan. In 1935 this great halfback, Jay Berwanger, received a new award, and the tradition of the Heisman Trophy was born. Jay Berwanger is with us here tonight, and I couldn't begin without telling him and all the Heisman Trophy winners who are gathered here what a great honor it is to be in their presence.


College football has certainly come a long way since the day when President White of Cornell refused to permit his football team to play against the University of Michigan. President White said -- this was back in the 1870's -- and I quote: ``I will not permit men to travel 400 miles merely to agitate a bag of wind.'' [Laughter] You know, I told President White I thought he was overreacting. [Laughter]


But, Pete, Judi [Mrs. Dawkins], and everyone, we're here this evening less to celebrate Pete Dawkins' past as an athlete than to show our support for his future as, yes, the next United States Senator from the great State of New Jersey. Athlete, scholar, soldier, businessman -- Pete Dawkins is one of the finest candidates to compete in the elections of 1988. But I'll go even further: Pete Dawkins is one of the finest candidates I've ever known. The reason goes beyond Pete's extraordinary competence and skill. It has to do with his deepest values -- with his fierce belief in freedom, in the family, in economic opportunity for all.


On the issues, Pete has already staked out forthright positions. He stands with me in wanting to keep your taxes low in order to keep our economy growing. He's staunch in his support of the Strategic Defense Initiative, which Pete has rightly called a step ``to reduce the threat of nuclear arms.'' And he understands the need to keep the pressure on Soviet-backed regimes by supporting those struggling for freedom around the world, especially in Afghanistan and, yes, in Nicaragua.


This election will determine whether we'll continue on the path we began in 1981 -- a growing, expanding economy at home and a strong and secure America abroad -- or whether we'll return to the failed policies of the past -- high taxes, increasing inflation and unemployment, a stifling bureaucracy, and weakness abroad. Our opponents are saying that America wants to return to the good old days of the 1970's. Well, I don't know about you, but I don't think that's what the public wants. [Laughter] We're prepared to move forward into the next decade and tackle the new challenges that it offers.


Pete Dawkins is running for the Senate because he believes in the new America, not the old; because he believes America should be strong, not weak; because he believes we should discipline the Federal budget, not the family budget; and because he knows that tax hikes in Washington are seldom used to cut the deficit, just to go on spending. If I could just add one personal note: As President, I've seen the Senate in Republican hands. It was during my first 6 years. And I've seen it run by the Democrats, as it is today. Believe me, this country needs Pete to come down here and help return the Senate to GOP control.


But to turn for a moment from the Nation as a whole to the State of New Jersey, the State so many of you serve and cherish. Under the outstanding leadership of Governor Kean, New Jersey has changed in recent years, changed dramatically. There was a time not too long ago when New Jersey was becoming thought of as one huge, unmanageable sprawl, as a State that was being taken over by the most unpleasant aspects of the big cities in neighboring States. Today New Jersey is rightly seen as a State that has made a comeback -- a State of economic growth, but of compassion for its less fortunate citizens; a State of reform and good government; a State where, for millions of Americans, life is good, very good. Today there's a new New Jersey. Isn't it time for New Jersey to have a new Senator? [Applause] I hope Governor Kean won't mind when he hears about this, but every time I think of Pete, there's a phrase that goes through my mind. ``Pete Dawkins and New Jersey -- perfect together.'' [Laughter]


Now, with all of these football greats here, if you'll permit me, I'd like to close with a football story. Back when I was in Hollywood, one day I picked up the Daily Variety and read where Warner Brothers was announcing that they were making the life story of Knute Rockne. Well, that's all I'd thought about from the time I -- hadn't been in Hollywood too long, and that was on my mind, having been a sports announcer. And all I ever wanted though, if they made the story, was to play the Gipper. And I approached Pat O'Brien, who intervened with the producer who was going to do the Rockne story. Well, he was, to put it mildly, unimpressed with my credentials. [Laughter] He started by telling me I didn't look big enough for the part. Well, I wasn't very polite because I told him, ``You're producing the picture and you don't know that George Gipp weighed 5 pounds less than I weigh right now. He walked with a kind of a slouch, almost a limp. He looked like a football player only when he was on the field.''


And then I went home because some cameramen, in those early days, had told me that the fellas in the front office only knew what they saw on film. And I dug down in the trunk and came up with my own pictures of myself playing football in college and brought them back and showed them to the producer. Well, believe it or not, he let me do the test. And Pat O'Brien, knowing of my nervousness and desire, graciously agreed to be a part of it. Normally, stars of that standing do not help someone out in a screen test. They leave that to someone of lesser importance.


But, of course, I had an advantage. I'd known George Gipp's story for years, and the lines were straight from Knute Rockne's diary. The test scene was one that I'll never forget, one that said something about what Rockne liked to see in his players. It was George Gipp's first practice. Rockne told him to carry the ball for the scrubs. And Gipp just looked back at Rockne, cocked an eyebrow, and said, ``How far?'' Well, he answered that question himself by carrying the ball 60 yards through the varsity the first time he got his hands on it. Incidentally, as he came back with the ball, having scored the touchdown -- came back with the ball, he tossed it to Rockne and said, ``I guess the boys are just tired.'' [Laughter]


Well, as I say, Knute liked that spirit in his ballplayers. Grantland Rice tells us that once when he was working with the four backfield stars who became known as the Four Horsemen, the fellow named Jimmy Crowley just couldn't get it right on one play. Now, you know, I never tell ethnic jokes anymore unless they're about the Irish. [Laughter] Rockne, who, by the way, was Norwegian, but was commonly called ``the Swede'' -- he finally got irritated after Crowley muffed a play again and hollered, ``What's dumber than a dumb Irishman?'' And without missing a beat, Crowley said, ``A smart Swede.'' [Laughter]


But to be serious, Pete Dawkins reminds me of George Gipp more than a little. Pete's a fine man, a likable man, a man who loves his country. And Pete is a man of determination. You don't go from being a polio victim at age 11 to winning the Heisman Trophy without lots and lots of determination. On the football field, in combat, in scholarship, in business, and yes, in the United States Senate, you can tell Pete Dawkins to carry the ball; and Pete will say, ``How far?''


Well, I'm very proud and pleased to be here. Never thought I'd be associating with that many Heisman Trophy winners -- [laughter] -- but also, I know where your hearts are with regard to this coming election. Do everything you can, and buttonhole those neighbors. The one big trouble today with a lot of people who think like us is that they just have forgotten to vote and think they can just go their way and everything will turn out all right.


Well, the thing to remind those that don't go to the polls anymore what Will Rogers once said. He said: ``The people you send to public office are no better and no worse than the people who send them there. But they're all better than those who don't vote at all.'' So, get out there, get out the vote, and I'll be waiting here to greet a new Senator from New Jersey. Thank you very much.


Note: The President spoke at 7:49 p.m. in the Promenade at the Grand Hotel.