In His Own Words: President Reagan, “The Great Communicator”
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RONALD REAGAN: Thank you and good evening.
KWAME HOLMAN: October 1964, the speech that launched Ronald Reagan’s political career: A televised address on behalf of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
RONALD REAGAN (Oct. 27, 1964): I have spent most of my life as a democrat. I recently have seen fit to follow another course. I believe that the issues confronting us cross party lines. This idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except to sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man.
This is the issue of this election. You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well, I would like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down: Man’s old-age dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order; or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.
KWAME HOLMAN: October 1980, the GOP candidate debating then- President Jimmy Carter:
RONALD REAGAN: Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?
RONALD REAGAN: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear…
KWAME HOLMAN: January 1981, the inaugural address:
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: As we begin, let us take inventory. We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the earth. Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work– work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back.
SPOKESPERSON: President Reagan…
KWAME HOLMAN: April 1981, after surviving an assassination attempt:
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: The warmth of your words, the expression of friendship and, yes, love, meant more to us than you can ever know. You have given us a memory that we will treasure forever. And you’ve provided an answer to those few voices that were raised, saying that what happened was evidence that ours is a sick society. The society we heard from is made up of millions of compassionate Americans and their children, from college age to kindergarten. As a matter of fact, as evidence of that I have a letter with me.
The letter came from Peter Sweeney. He’s in the second grade in the Riverside School in Rockville Center, and he said, “I hope you get well quick or you might have to make a speech in your pajamas.” (Laughter) (Applause) And he added a postscript. “P.S., If you have to make a speech in your pajamas, I warned you.” ( Laughter )
KWAME HOLMAN: March 1983, a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals and a message about the Soviet threat and nuclear arms:
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: The truth is, that a freeze now would be a very dangerous fraud, for that is merely the illusion of peace. The reality is that we must find peace through strength. (Applause) I would agree to a freeze if only we could freeze the Soviets’ global desires. (Applause)
Let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world. So in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all, and label both sides equally at fault; to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire; to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding, and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.
KWAME HOLMAN: June 1984, the 40th anniversary of the d-day invasion at Normandy:
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Some who survived the battle of June 6, 1944, are here today. Others who hoped to return never did.
“Someday, Liz, I’ll go back,” said Private First Class Peter Robert Zanatta of the 37th engineer combat battalion, and first assault wave to hit Omaha Beach. “I’ll go back and I’ll see it all again. I’ll see the beach, the barricades and the graves.” Those words of Private Zanatta come to us from his daughter, Lisa Zanatta Henn, in a heartrending story about the event her father spoke of so often.
Private Zanatta’s daughter wrote to me: “I don’t know how or why I can feel this emptiness, this fear, or this determination, but I do. Maybe it’s the bond I had with my father. All I know is that it brings tears to my eyes to think about my father as a 20-year-old boy having to face that beach.”
Through the words of his loving daughter, who is here with us today, a D-Day veteran has shown us the meaning of this day far better than any president can. It is enough for us to say about Private Zanatta and all the men of honor and courage who fought beside him four decades ago: We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared so we may be always free. (Applause)
SPOKESPERSON: T-minus ten, nine, eight…
KWAME HOLMAN: January 1986, after the “Challenger” disaster that killed seven astronauts:
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: The families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, “Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.”
The crew of the space shuttle “Challenger” honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good- bye and “slipped the surly bonds of Earth” to “touch the face of God.” Thank you.
KWAME HOLMAN: June 1987, at the Berlin Wall:
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. (Cheers and applause)
Mr. Gorbachev… Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. (Cheers and applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: And January 1989, Ronald Reagan’s farewell from the Oval Office:
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN (Jan. 11, 1989): I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.
That’s how I saw it, and see it still. And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. We’ve done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends, we did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad– not bad at all. And so, good-bye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
GWEN IFILL: In November 1994, President Reagan revealed he had Alzheimer’s Disease. In a letter to the American people he wrote in part” Let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President…I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”