Oh my. Thank you so much ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you so much ladies and gentlemen, for that wonderful warm welcome, and John thank you so much for those very kind words of introduction. John Heubusch, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the finest professionals that I've ever had the privilege of working with, and the Reagan Foundation is fortunate indeed to have his leadership. Thank you John, God bless you.
And what a joy it is for me today, ladies and gentlemen, to join you to celebrate the life and leadership of my friend and freedom's hero, Ronald Wilson Reagan. What a joy to be with you on this occasion. Another American hero in my life, a certain man from Kansas, wishes he could be here alongside with me today, and he wanted me to greet you for him and also to give you this message: He will always be grateful for the high honor of taking part in the legislative achievements at the great American whose 99th birthday we celebrate today, so warmest wishes from Bob Dole.
You know it's strange to contemplate that Americans now in college have no living memory of President Ronald Reagan. For me and for many of my colleagues in the audience, that memory is as vivid as yesterday. As John said he gave me the honor of serving as the first female Secretary of Transportation, but more than that, he gave me the image, the model of all that a leader could be. He was determined and kind in that very American combination. He had a spine of steel and a heart of gold, and we loved him for both.
On the only occasion that I can recall when I was frustrated that the president overruled me on one of my pet projects, you know he was apologetic. I mean he was concerned about my feelings. I can still see him as he said oh Elizabeth, I am so sorry. He didn't change his mind. But he sure won my heart.
Ronald Reagan was many things, an activist, leader, president. But I'll always remember him for a characteristic our country needs a bit more of today. Ronald Reagan was a gentleman. He was a gentleman. And he loved humor.
Fact I bet a lot of you're thinking about the stories right now that you've heard him tell. He told a great story about a fellow who was on his way to a resort, it was a mountain resort, and a policeman stopped him and pulled him over, and said did you know that you're driving without tail lights? And the driver hopped out of the car and he was so badly shaken and so upset that the officer really felt some pity for him and he said now just calm down, wait a minute, take a deep breath. It's not that serious an infraction, and the driver said it may not mean that much to you, but for me it means I've lost my trailer, my wife and four kids.
Can't you just see him telling it? I mean really. And then just laughing. And some of you may remember President Reagan telling of a taxpayer with the guilty conscience who wrote to the IRS, and he said, enclosed is a check for a thousand dollars. I cheated on my taxes last year, and I can't sleep at night. PS: If I still can't sleep, I'll send you the rest of the money I owe you. He loved that one.
But as the decades pass, ladies and gentlemen, Ronald Reagan is becoming a part of history. We're now preparing for the 100th anniversary of his birth. Some leaders over time grow smaller, until they disappear into the fine print of the history books. Other leaders grow larger until they take their place on the Rushmore of our national memory.
The achievements of Ronald Reagan, the scale of his personality and his accomplishments grow ever-larger with time. Part of the evidence is the recent placement of President Reagan's statue in the rotunda at the United States Capitol. I loved Republican leader Mitch McConnell's words on that day: Ronald Reagan, he said, is remembered as one of the giants of the 20th century. He deserves our admiration, and he deserves this statue, but the real Ronald Reagan stood taller than any statute, and we know the source of that strength. She's here with us.
Nancy, together, you and President Reagan lifted our nation when we needed it most.
And ladies and gentlemen we've recently seen more evidence of President Reagan's enduring influence. About a year ago many in the media were declaring with relief that the Reagan Revolution had finally run its course. After the financial crisis and the election of a Democratic president and congress, one historian confidently wrote, the age of Reagan is over. Reagan's legacy of tax reductions and small government is coming to an end. Well ladies and gentleman, as recent events demonstrate, the idea of limited government is alive and well in America.
Just when the Reagan Revolution was declared over, millions are being inspired to repeat it, to insist on it and wo to the leaders in Washington today if they fail to respect it.
The problem is this: Many who criticize the Reagan Revolution simply do not understand it. It's not a political movement in the traditional sense. It is not the triumph of a personality or certain electoral coalition. The Reagan Revolution is really the enduring revolution of liberty and freedom in human affairs. Ronald Reagan described this revolution, he advanced this revolution, he embodied this revolution, but he did not invent its principles, and it continues wherever free people dare to oppose oppression and build a better life.
Now there are many good reasons to praise Ronald Reagan: For his integrity and character, for his optimistic temperament, for his wit and rhetorical skill, for his courage during an assassination attempt that almost took him early from among us, for the example of love and devotion that he and Nancy provided to us all, for the grace of his letter in 1994 disclosing a terrible disease. But Ronald Reagan, above all, was a believer in the power of ideas. All of the most recent collections of Reagan's writing is the enormous contribution of his diaries, his remarkable letters, radio commentaries, speeches reveal a man who was intellectually engaged in the public debates of his time. He was a man of wide reading and strong well-argued convictions. By these convictions, Reagan first shifted the thinking of his party, then his country, then even the other party. And it is these convictions that sustain his influence in our time.
First, he believed that freedom is not only the most efficient form of economic organization, it is the most just. Free markets not only build prosperity, they also fit the puzzle of our human nature as men and women who want to dream and build. We who live in free market societies, he said, believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment are created from the bottom up, not from the government down.
Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success, only then can societies remain economically live, dynamic, progressive and free. President Reagan faced, as we all know, a serious recession early on his watch. His response was to unleash the economy, not to attempt the hopeless task of managing our economy.
He reduced an index tax rates, lessened regulation and laid the foundations for a quarter-century of economic prosperity. Can you imagine where America would stand today if at that pivot of history taxes and regulations had been increased instead? Can you imagine?
President Reagan's optimism about the future of his country was not just a personal trade. He was a strong believer in the faith of democratic capitalism, the creed that potential -even greatness- can be found in each person. He said, I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life. This beautiful quote is enshrined forever not a hundred feet from where I stand, on the president's grave site. An economy without limits based on the belief that the human spirit has no limits, that is the Reagan Revolution, and it is needed more than ever.
In my world at the Department of Transportation, I saw President Reagan's commitment to free markets and deregulation first-hand. He sold three government owned railroads and two airports, gateways to the nation's capital, were transferred off the federal dole so they could be modernized and expanded. But I also saw something else, a story that should be told.
Ronald Reagan balanced a passion for deregulation with a passion for people. So his administration also promoted safety belts and airbags in automobiles, which totally changed the climate for automotive safety in America. Standards of airline and rail safety were improved and President Reagan fought for and signed the National age 21 drinking rule in till all as a result hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved and terrible injuries prevented.
This is the president I knew: Deeply committed to free markets and deregulation but also deeply concerned about safety and human lives. His beliefs were strong, but not rigid. He managed to be principled without being purely ideological, and that spirit is also needed today. First economic freedom, but second, Ronald Reagan believed that political freedom is the natural desire of every heart, and that this simple human hope could bring down the mightiest totalitarian empire in history. Many asserted that his belief was dangerous, unrealistic, even foolish. They were wrong, Reagan was right. He was right.
Without Ronald Reagan, the magnificent piece of the Berlin Wall just behind you might be standing in Berlin, still dividing the world into slave and free. Ronald Reagan's domestic and foreign policy convictions came from the same source. He believed that free nations grow stronger over time and so any system based on oppression is inherently weak. The Soviet Union, in his view had declared war on human nature. It could cause great suffering, but it could not prevail.
Communism, he insisted, was a sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written. The future, he continued, belongs to the free.
A number of consequences flowed from this vision. President Reagan's goal in the Cold War was not a stalemate; it was victory. Brutal leaders who enslaved whole nations were not only wrong, but also evil. They must be confronted with superior military strength, they must also be opposed by the confident assertion that freedom's cause, that cause that gave America birth, is good and just.
America in the 1970s had grown skeptical of its own mission in the world. American policy often reflected wariness or wishful thinking. Ronald Reagan's unapologetic patriotism prepared his nation for great purposes. It also reflected his deepest belief that America has been and will always be a city on a hill, a new order for the ages.
The struggle of our time is different, but how I wish Ronald Reagan were here.
The evil of our enemies is real. The need for American strength, courage, confidence and firm purpose is great. Here again, we need the Reagan Revolution more than ever. First, economic freedom, second, political freedom, third, Ronald Reagan believed that the deepest truths of life are spiritual. He believed in the power of prayer. The presence of God and the possibility of miracles. And it had an influence on his leadership.
There are some advantages to being a participant in the events of those times, to serving and knowing the man himself. During my years as assistant to the president at the White House, I remember being with President Reagan in the holding room before a major speech. Now normally there'd be four or five aides that could be standing around. Now I'm not sure how it happened, but the two of us were alone, just the president and me, and so I couldn't resist.
I said, Mister President, I just have to ask you: You've got the weight of the world on your shoulders, and yet you're always so kind and so gracious and so thoughtful, and you never seemed flustered or frustrated. How in the world do you do it?
I won't forget his response. He kind of leaned back in that way of his and said, Well Elizabeth, when I was governor of California, it seemed like every day yet another disaster would be placed on my desk, and I had the urge to hand it to someone behind me to help me. And he said one day I realized I was looking in the wrong direction. I looked up instead of back. And I'm still looking up.
And he said, I couldn't go another day in this office if I didn't know I could ask God's help and it would be given.
This I believe was a quiet, hidden key to Ronald Reagan's leadership. He was a man of faith, who trusted in God's provision. I've discussed President Reagan's firm belief in economic freedom, in political freedom, in spiritual faith and values.
Yet there's a critically important fourth area: Not so much what he believed but who he believed in and loved, Nancy Reagan. Again and again he attributed his success to her support and her love. We thank you, Nancy Reagan, and we thank you for serving Americans so many good causes and for being a stellar first lady.
In his farewell address to the nation, President Reagan summarized his achievement as the great rediscovery. A rediscovery about values and common sense. Indeed this is a revealing phrase, the greatest and highs truths are permanent and self-evident. It is our job to rediscover those truths in every generation. Ronald Reagan lead that rediscovery in the nineteen eighties, changing America and the world, but the principles of the Reagan Revolution are never mere nostalgia.
The same compass that guided him still points true, as it will in a hundred years and a hundred years beyond. Whenever government forgets its proper bounds, whenever America doubts her moral purpose, whenever Liberty requires defenders, we will need a great rediscovery as we need it today. The Reagan Revolution will never grow old, because the promise of freedom is always new. God bless you.
God bless each and every one of you. God bless this great land of the free America.