Text of the speech:
It’s such an honor to be back at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, with friends old and new. I bring greetings and good wishes from the people of Texas.
It’s so nice to visit California, even when I’m not here recruiting businesses.
I’ve been in this beautiful state of yours quite a bit in recent years, and I freely admit my motive.
I’m the governor of a pro-jobs, low-regulation state with no income tax, and I want California companies to know about that.
So many Californians have been taking me up on the offer to pack up and move that I can hardly stop myself from making the pitch.
I knew I had a problem when I drove up to the Reagan Library just now and found myself thinking, “Man, would this place look great down in Texas.”
Of course, even I have to concede that this presidential center could be here and only here.
When you think Ronald Reagan, you think Southern California. And even more, when the man comes to mind, we think of Nancy, who is still so loved and admired across America.
She graced her husband’s life for so long, and she has always been so kind to Anita and me. I am very grateful to Mrs. Reagan, and to all of my hosts at the library, for the privilege of being here today.
While all of us tonight are thinking back fifty years, to the choices of another time, I can’t be the only one here who’s also thinking eight days ahead.
And the more I see in these closing days before November 4th, the more it feels to me like a wave of change is coming in.
From New Hampshire, to Colorado, to Alaska, Republican candidates are running strong. And if they finish strong and gain a Senate majority, then finally this president is going to get a little taste of checks and balances.
But we know this matter is in the hands of the American People, and I trust them to get it right.
The way events have transpired at home and abroad, this generation of Americans has arrived at its own time of choosing.
Our nation has arrived at a crossroads, and the choice we face is the well-worn path of entrusting more power to government, or the road less taken, of entrusting power with the people.
We have faced such decisions before: in 2008, in 1994, in 1980 and 1964.
As we remember the inspiring words of President Reagan 50 years ago tonight, in many respects, the world looks vastly different than it did 50 years ago.
The pace of technological change over the last half-century has been breathtaking.
Who could have conceived of wireless devices picking up a stream of your favorite movie, it was just enough back then to wish they were in color.
Technologies never heard of then are now obsolete. My children laugh at the idea of the fax machine, or calling someone for directions, or calling someone period when they can text them.
We no longer tune into our television at a specific hour to hear the news from a few trusted sources, we are bombarded by it 24-7, on cable, on the Internet, from blogs and Facebook.
The march of progress is fast-paced, furious, and inevitable. And yet many of the political challenges we face seem eerily familiar.
It was 50 years ago tonight that Ronald Reagan declared, “We’re at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it’s been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.”
The world has changed, but present events give us a glimpse of a previous era.
Who can watch the unchecked Russian aggression toward Ukraine, and the annexation of Crimea, and not think of a different place in time, when Soviet tanks rolled through Prague, or when Soviet soldiers executed the blockade of West Berlin?
When you see extremists in Iran pursue nuclear weapons – weapons that could be used to hold hostage the interests of the West and Israel – are you not taken back to an earlier time when extremists stormed our embassy to take our fellow citizens hostage for 444 days?
When you see the military buildup of China, and the depletion of our own military forces, with a reduction in spending of 21 percent over four years, how can you not think of a previous era, soon after the end of the war in Vietnam, and wonder if we are not once again inviting threats to our interests at home and overseas by hollowing out our military forces?
No, our enemy is no longer the Soviet Union. What we face today is not the march of communism and its godless ideology, but the spread of fanaticism cloaked in the name of religion, yet reflecting none of the virtues of the faith they claim.
But due to the fact we still have vast military superiority in terms of technology and a trained fighting force, and international alliances that serve as a force multiplier for the mission ahead.
The nearest threat we face is not foreign in nature: it is from within.
It is our own complacency. It is the view that events thousands of miles away are not our business.
Or the view of cultural relativism that, while acknowledging the systematic savagery of the enemy, is also quick to point to the shortcomings of Western democracies.
They’ve got bad guys over there, we’ve got a few of our own – what’s the difference?
The attitudes I’m describing reflect a deep confusion, at a time when moral clarity is at a premium.
And this confusion can weaken the confidence we need in our own values, the values of Western Civilization.
There is not a Middle Eastern cultural standard that allows for the atrocities committed by ISIS any more than there is some North Korean custom that allows for concentration camps or mass starvation.
And when the radical Islamists, or their apologists in the West, claim to speak for any respectable culture or creed, we should not indulge that lie for a moment.
It matters that we understand all of this, for one reason especially: without confidence in the truth and goodness of our own values – the great moral inheritance of our own culture – how are we going to deal with the falsehood of theirs?
It is imperative, at this moment in history, that the United States of America be a voice of clarity, that when our values are threatened, and our allies are endangered, we defend them.
Otherwise, we risk becoming what the esteemed speaker warned us about: “Those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.”
There is an urgency to this matter because our record on this score is not all that impressive in recent years.
We all remember the “red line” that the dictator in Syria was warned never to cross, and then did so with absolutely no consequences.
Vladimir Putin disregarding the sovereignty of Ukraine and the Chinese military buzzing our surveillance planes or intimidating their neighbors.
The regime in Iran drawing closer and closer to a nuclear weapon, and an army of jihadists tearing through Iraq only months after the president finally quit saying that we had the terrorists on the run.
On that last front, it is worth pointing out that the rise of ISIS can be directly attributed to the neglect of the president.
Whether it was a profound naïveté about the consequences of leaving no residual American force in Iraq, or worse yet, a political ploy to win an election.
We know that the inhuman acts of ISIS were allowed to occur because in the hour of decision the president chose a popular political path without concern for the real world consequences.
As for Iran, I would note that less than a week ago a senior advisor to the Iranian President called President Obama, “the weakest of presidents.” And the point is not that he said it, but that they believe it.
When malignant forces believe America is weak it invites all kinds of trouble that could otherwise be avoided.
And the opposite has been proven true. The very same day that Ronald Reagan became our 40th President, Iranian terrorists released our hostages.
They knew the price for defying American Power had just gone up. And they weren’t willing to pay it.
I wish I could say that the similarities to a previous era were confined to events overseas, that on the domestic front we have reaped a new prosperity unlike any previous era. But I am afraid that is not so.
Our debt is colossal, as is the bureaucracy. Government is once again pervasive in our lives.
More Americans are on food stamps than ever before, surely as true a barometer of the misery index as there ever was.
We were told by the Administration that jobs would be shovel-ready if money was poured into the bureaucracy in the form of stimulus.
That turned out to be as true as the idea that “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.”
We have a so-called recovery that is weighted down by government, not aided by it. No area demonstrates this more than energy policy.
When the people in charge of things now think of “energy policy,” they think of controls, restrictions, more studies, more delays, and all the other timetables and barriers that bureaucracies are always dreaming up.
Six years of study on the Keystone Pipeline, and still nothing happens.
Dozens of liquefied natural gas facilities awaiting federal approval, and they’ve gotten around to signing off on only a very small number.
The whole Obama energy policy amounts to a long list of projects we cannot begin, permits we cannot grant, studies we cannot conclude and resources we cannot use.
That’s a mindset we need to shake off in a hurry, and start thinking big again, just like President Reagan did after the energy crises of the 1970’s.
We now have the largest energy resource base in the world, greater than Saudi Arabia or Russia.
Our arsenal of energy can enhance our national security and free our allies from dependence on aggressor states if we have the will to deploy it.
But here the current president dithers. He seems content to play small ball with a political base instead of hitting a home run for the American People.
It’s no wonder Americans are frustrated. We have entrusted immense power in government and Americans have never had less faith in its institutions.
The issue is not merely an adversarial agenda enacted by another party it is far deeper than that. It is about basic competence.
When veterans return from war, they should receive the best care America has to offer. Instead they were left to die on waiting lists. It has become a national shame.
If you have any question about whether government-run health care works, ask a military veteran.
While some agencies cannot perform the most basic life-saving functions, others have been empowered with malignant intent.
The political targeting of citizens by the IRS is a terrible stain on this Administration. And the response to this crisis does not inspire confidence in our leadership that six hard drives of key figures mysteriously crashed.
In the last year we have witnessed government bungle healthcare for heroes, target our citizens under tax laws, fail to operate a website for the president’s signature initiative, trade five terrorists for a soldier who disappeared under questionable circumstances, and leave the front door of the White House open so a crazy man could walk in.
It’s no wonder the American People no longer have faith in the federal government!
If you ask me to name the number one issue confronting America, I would not say it is our porous border. I would not say it is the weakest recovery since the Great Depression. I would not even say it’s all the challenges that are adding up overseas.
The greatest problem of all is that in the face of these troubles so many serious challenges, we don’t have the leadership to deal with them. We are experiencing a crisis in competence in America, and the people know it.
What is needed at this moment in time is leadership that can usher in a new era of reform and renewal to restore trust in government.
The institutions of government are faltering. Americans have lost faith. And they see Washington engaged in the politics of sound bites when they should be seeking solutions.
The president who decried the smallness of Washington has come to embody it.
We have indeed come to our own time for choosing. And the experience of these years has framed the questions for us in the clearest of terms.
Are we going to accept as inevitable in this country the constant expansion of federal power at the expense of individual liberty?
Will we just learn to live with it, accepting as normal the willful neglect of duty at the border, the routine arrogance of the IRS and the EPA, the chronic incompetence of the VA, and all the rest?
Will we look to that same establishment in Washington as the decider and director of economic activity: regulating, controlling, and slowly destroying the productive power of free enterprise?
We’ve been through years of slow growth, static wages, scarce jobs, an expansion of entitlements, and a narrowing of possibilities for the working people of this country.
Does anyone really believe this is the best that the United States of America can do?
Don’t we have an obligation to aim higher, so that our children can have lives of opportunity at least as good as ours?
And having borne witness to the fact that military decline, idle talk, and looking the other way only heighten the threats we face, will we simply continue on that path and hope for the best?
Or can our country be counted on again to meet challenges only we can meet and deter threats only we can deter, and lead as only America can lead?
Thinking on the next two years, I doubt very much that after this season of disappointment, mediocrity, and decline a slow correction of course is what voters will be looking for.
I believe that come 2016, if the American people are given that choice, they will be ready for a clean break from the Obama agenda or anything like it.
To consider just the American economy today, it is nowhere near what this country is capable of achieving.
We have the potential and the resources to grow and create jobs at far higher levels, and anyone who tells you otherwise is making excuses.
I know this because the people of Texas are showing how it’s done.
Instead of taking private enterprise for granted, as government can so easily do, we respect the freedom that it needs.
We respect work, which in practice should mean that government doesn’t tax wages too much, or tax companies so much that they quit hiring people.
And finally, in my state, we’ve learned to respect the facts of economic life, including this fact: capital moves, and it tends to go where it is most welcome.
By limiting the size and scope of government, we have created unlimited opportunity.
That helps explain why one-third of all new private-sector jobs in America have been created in Texas since I became governor.
In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, for the period starting in December of 2007 and ending in September of this year, we see two different trends.
Texas has experienced a net job increase of 1.32 million jobs, a 12 percent increase in our state. Minus Texas, America has experienced a decline of 993,000 jobs nationwide, or nearly one percent.
If you have been to Texas, you know we like to think we are unique, because we tend to tell you so.
But the principles of economic recovery are not unique to Texas. Texas is not experiencing a miracle anymore than California did in the days of Governor Reagan.
The reason I say this is that miracles cannot be replicated, but economic recovery can.
It can happen anywhere in America. Growth and job creation far beyond what Americans have gotten used to these past six years all across this country, from Massachusetts to California, it is just waiting to happen.
It is just a matter of whether we will continue on the path of the last six years or choose a different course for our future.
50 years ago, Ronald Reagan summed it up well when he said, “This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government, or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
What shall it be my fellow Americans? Shall we continue to place trust in the levers of the bureaucratic machinery, or in the hands of the American worker?
I have never believed that the goodness of America is rooted in our government, but our people.
Government works best when it respects those values like hard work, personal freedom and individual responsibility.
None of that is to say that government is bad, it is simply misdirected in its present state.
At most it can only be a partner in prosperity. It cannot replace the industriousness of the individual worker, or assume the responsibility of our families.
For too long it has expanded into our lives, and played too central of a role.
But a simple fact remains: the larger government grows, the smaller our circle of freedoms.
In recent weeks I have traveled to Tokyo, London and Warsaw. And I have found America is admired for its freedoms.
I have met those who once lived under the yoke of Communism who are trying to emulate America and wondering why in the world our leaders would seek to emulate Western Europe.
They also know a strong America, with a vibrant economy, is central to a safer world.
I don’t sense any desire among America’s friends and allies to see this country less engaged in their security, or less involved in their future.
They still believe that there is no substitute for the good and peaceful influence of the United States.
And if they hold to that conviction about America, is it asking too much that our own leaders believe the same?
If such questions have a familiar ring, it is because they are so fundamental.
They are questions about our country, our national character, and our duties, leaving us with choices like those that Ronald Reagan put to America fifty years ago tonight.
For all his conviction and eloquence, it’s worth recalling that the great majority, one week after Reagan’s speech chose a different course.
Barry Goldwater, so gallant in his own right, lost 44 states.
And not until 16 years later did Reagan become president, by winning 44 states.
Great changes in direction are often like that – slow in coming.
And you and I in these years have done our own share of waiting, wondering when the moment will come again for the cause we believe in.
As that chance draws closer, let us be as clear in our purposes, as confident in our principles, and as cheerful in the contest of ideas as Ronald Reagan was all through the journey that began on that October night in 1964.
He liked to remind us that “the American dream lives” – not only here, but in other free nations, in oppressed nations, and everywhere that people look to America for leadership.
“As long as that dream lives,” he said, “as long as we continue to defend it, America has a future, and all mankind has reason to hope.”
Thank you very much.
This speech was given on October 27, 2014 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.