Ronald Reagan Speech
Creators of the Future
March 8, 1985
Thank you all very much. Thank you Vice Chairman [of} the American Conservative Union James
A.] Linen, for those very kind words. I'm grateful to the American Conservative Union,
Young Americans for Freedom, National Review, Human Events, for organizing this wonderful
evening. When you work in the White House, you don't get to see your old friends as much
as you'd like. And I always see the Conservative Political Action Conference speech as my
opportunity to "dance with the one that brung ya."
There's so much I want to talk about tonight. I've been thinking, in the weeks since the
inauguration, that we are at an especially dramatic turning point in American history. And
just putting it all together in my mind, I've been reviewing the elements that have led to
Ever since F.D.R. and the New Deal, the opposition party, and particularly those of a
liberal persuasion, have dominated the political debate. Their ideas were new; they had
momentum; they captured the imagination of the American people. The left held sway for a
long time. There was a right, but it was, by the '40s and '50s, diffuse and scattered,
without a unifying voice.
But in 1964 came a voice in the wilderness-Barry Goldwater; the great Barry Goldwater, the
first major party candidate of our time who was a true-blue, undiluted conservative. He
spoke from principle, and he offered vision. Freedom-he spoke of freedom: freedom from the
government's increasing demands on the family purse, freedom from the government's
increasing usurpation of individual rights and responsibilities, freedom from the leaders
who told us the price of world peace is continued acquiescence to totalitarianism. He was
ahead of his time. When he ran for President, he won six states and lost 44. But his
candidacy worked as a precursor of things to come.
A new movement was stirring. And in the 1960's Young Americans for Freedom is born;
National lVezriew gains readership and prestige in the intellectual community; Human
lEvents becomes a major voice on the cutting edge. In the '70s the antitax movement
begins. Actually, it was much more than an antitax movement, just as the Boston Tea Party
was much more than an anti-tax initiative. In the late '70s Proposition 13 and the
Sagebrush Rebellion; in 1980, for the first time in 28 years, a Republican Senate is
elected; so, may I say, is a conservative President. In 1984that conservative
administration is reselected in a 49-state sweep. And the day the votes came in, I thought
of Walt Whitman: "I hear America singing."
This great turn from left to right was not just a case of the pendulum swinging-First, the
left hold sway and then the right, and here comes the left again. The truth is,
conservative thought is no longer over here on the right; it's the mainstream now.
And the tide of history is moving irresistibly in our direction. Why? Because the other
side is virtually bankrupt of ideas. It has nothing more to say, nothing to add to the
debate. It has spent its intellectual capital, such as it was, and it has done its deeds .
Now, we're not in power because they failed to gain electoral support over the past 50
years. They did win support. And the result was chaos, weakness, and drift. Ultimately,
though, their failures yielded one great thing-us guys. We in this room are not simply
profiting from their bankruptcy; we are where we are because we're winning the contest of
ideas. In fact, in the past decade, all of a sudden, quietly, mysteriously, the Republican
party has become the party of ideas.
We became the party of the most brilliant and dynamic young minds. I remember them, just a
few years ago, running around scrawling Laffer curves on table napkins, going to symposia
and talking about how social programs did not eradicate poverty, but entrenched it;
writing studies on why the latest weird and unnatural idea from the social engineers is
weird and unnatural. You were there. They were your ideas, your symposia, your books, and
usually somebody else's table napkins.
All of a sudden, Republicans were not defenders of the status quo but creators of the
future. They were looking at tomorrow with all the single-mindedness of an inventor. In
fact, they reminded me of the American inventors of the 19th and 20th centuries who filled
the world with light and recorded sound.
The new conservatives made anew the connection between economic justice and economic
growth. Growth in the economy would not only create jobs and paychecks, they said; it
would enhance familial stability and encourage a healthy optimism about the future. Lower
those tax rates, they said, and let the economy become the engine of our dreams. Pull back
regulations, and encourage free and open competition. Let the men and women of the
marketplace decide what they want.
But along with that, perhaps the greatest triumph of modern conservatism has been to stop
allowing the left to put the average American on the moral defensive. By average American
I mean the good, decent, rambunctious, and creative people who raise the families, go to
church, and help out when the local library holds a fundraiser; people who have a stake in
the community because they are the community.
These people had held true to certain beliefs and principles that for 20 years the
intelligentsia were telling us were hopelessly out of date, utterly trite, and
reactionary. You want prayer in the schools? How primitive, they said. You oppose
abortion? How oppressive, how antimodern. The normal was portrayed as eccentric, and only
the abnormal was worthy of emulation. The irreverent was celebrated, but only irreverence
about certain things: irreverence toward, say, organized religion, yes; irreverence toward
established liberalism, not too much of that. They celebrated their courage in taking on
safe targets and patted each other on the back for slinging stones at a confused Goliath,
who was too demoralized and really too good to fight back.
But now one simply senses it. The American people are no longer on the defensive. I
believe the conservative movement deserves some credit for this. You spoke for the
permanent against the merely prevalent, and ultimately you prevailed.
I believe we conservatives have captured the moment, captured the imagination of the
American people. And what now? What are we to do with our success? Well, right now, with
conservative thought accepted as mainstream thought and with the people of our country
leading the fight to freedom, now we must move .
You remember your Shakespeare: "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at
the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows
and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when
it serves, or lose our ventures." I spoke in the -[applause]. It's typical, isn't it?
I just quoted a great writer, but as an actor, I get the bow. [Laughter]
I spoke in the State of the Union of a second American revolution, and now is the time to
launch that revolution and see that it takes hold . If we move decisively, these years
will not be just a passing era of good feeling, not just a few good years, but a true
golden age of freedom.
The moment is ours, and we must seize it. There's work to do. We must prolong and protect
our growing prosperity so that it doesn't become just a passing phase, a natural
adjustment between periods of recession. We must move further to provide incentives and
make America the investment capital of the world.
We must institute a fair tax system and turn the current one on its ear. I believe there
is natural support in our country for a simplified tax system, with still lower tax rates
but a broader base, with everyone paying their fair share and no more. We must eliminate
unproductive tax shelters. Again, there is natural support among Americans, because
Americans are a fair-minded people.
We must institute enterprise zones and a lower youth minimum wage so we can revitalize
distressed areas and teenagers can get jobs. We're going to take our revolution to the
people, all of the people. We're going to go to black Americans and members of all
minority groups, and we're going to make our case.
Part of being a revolutionary is knowing that you don't have to acquiesce to the tired,
old ideas of the past. One such idea is that the opposition party has black America and
minority America locked up, that they own black America. Well, let me tell you, they own
nothing but the past. The old alignments are no longer legitimate, if they ever were.
We're going to reach out, and we need your help. Conservatives were brought up to hate
deficits, and justifiably so. We've long thought there are two things in Washington that
are unbalanced-the budget and the liberals.
But we cannot reduce the deficit by raising taxes . And just so that every "i"
is dotted and every at" is crossed, let me repeat tonight for the benefit of those
who never seem to get the message: we will not reduce the deficit by raising taxes. We
need more taxes like John McLaughlin [Washington executive editor of National Reviews
needs assertiveness training.
Now, whether government borrows or increases taxes, it will be taking the same amount of
money from the private economy, and either way, that's too much. We must bring down
government spending. We need a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. It's
something that 49 states already require -no reason the federal government should be any
We need the line-item veto, which 43 governors have-no reason that the President
shouldn't. And we have to cut waste. The Grace commission has identified bilions of
dollars that are wasted and that we can save.
But the domestic side isn't the only area where we need your help. All of us in this room
grew up, or came to adulthood, in a time when the doctrine of Marx and Lenin was coming to
divide the world. Ultimately, it came to dominate remorselessly whole parts of it. The
Soviet attempt to give legitimacy to its tyranny is expressed in the infamous Brezhnev
doctrine, which contends that once a country has fallen into Communist darkness, it can
never again be allowed to see the light of freedom.
Well, it occurs to me that history has already begun to repeal that doctrine. It started
one day in Grenada. We only did our duty, as a responsible neighbor and a lover of peace,
the day we went in and returned the government to the people and rescued our own students.
We restored that island to liberty. Yes, it's only a small island, but that 's what the
world is made of-small islands yearning for freedom.
There's much more to do. Throughout the world the Soviet Union and its agents, client
states, and satellites are on the defensive-on the moral defensive, the intellectual
defensive, and the political and economic defensive. Freedom movements arise and assert
themselves. They're doing so on almost every continent populated by man-in the hills of
Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America. In making mention of freedom
fighters, all of us are privileged to have in our midst tonight one of the brave
commanders who lead the Afghan freedom fighters-Abdul Haq. Abdul Haq, we are with you .
They are our brothers, these freedom fighters, and we owe them our help. I've spoken
recently of the freedom fighters of Nicaragua. You know the truth about them. You know who
they re fighting and why. They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave
men and women of the French Resistance. We cannot turn away from them for the struggle
here is not right versus left; it is right versus wrong.
Now I am against sending troops to Central America. They are simply not needed. Given a
chance and the resources the people of the area can fight their own fight. They have the
men and women. They re capable of doing it. They have the people of their country behind
them. All they need is our support. All they need is proof that we care as much about the
fight for freedom 700 miles from our shores as the Soviets care about the fight against
freedom 5 000 miles from theirs. And they need to know that the U.S. supports them with
more than just pretty words and good wishes. We need your help on this and I mean each of
you-involved active strong and vocal. And we need more.
All of you know that we re researching nonnuclear technologies that may enable us to
prevent nuclear ballistic missiles from reaching U.S. soil or that of our allies. I happen
to believe -logic forces me to believe-that this new defense system the Strategic Defense
Initiative is the most hopeful possibility of our time. Its primary virtue is clear. If
anyone ever attacked us Strategic Defense would be there to protect us. It could
conceivably save millions of lives.
SDI has been criticized on the grounds that it might upset any chance of an arms control
agreement with the Soviets. But SDI is arms control. If SDI is say 80 percent effective
then it will make any Soviet attack folly. Even partial success in SDI would strengthen
deterrence and keep the peace. And if our SDI research is successful the prospects for
real reduction in U.S. and Soviet offensive nuclear forces will be greatly enhanced.
It is said that SDI would deal a blow to the so-called East-West balance of power. Well
let s think about that. The Soviets already are investing roughly as much on strategic
defenses as they are on their offensive nuclear forces. This could quickly tip the
East-West balance if we had no defense of our own. Would a situation of comparable
defenses threaten us? No for we re not planning on being the first to use force.
As we strive for our goal of eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, each side would
retain a certain amount of deSensive-or of, I should say, destructive power-a certain
number of missiles. But it would not be in our interest, or theirs, to build more and more
Now, one would think our critics on the left would quickly embrace, or at least be
open-minded about a system that promises to reduce the size of nuclear missile forces on
both sides and to greatly enhance the prospects for real arms reductions. And yet we hear
SDI belittled by some with nicknames, or demagogued with charges that it will bring war to
They complain that it won't work, which is odd from people who profess to believe in the
perfectability of man-machines after all. And man-machines are so much easier to
manipulate. They say it won't be 100 percent effective, which is odd, since they don't ask
for 100 percent effectiveness in their social experiments. They say SDI is only in the
research stage and won't be realized in time to change things. To which, as I said last
month, the only reply is: then let's get started.
Now, my point here is not to question the motives of others. But it's difficult to
understand how critics can object to exploring the possibility of moving away from
exclusive reliance upon nuclear weapons. The truth is, I believe that they find it
difficult to embrace any idea that breaks with the past, that breaks with consensus
thinking and the common establishment wisdom. In short, they find it difficult and
frightening to alter the status quo.
And what are we to do when these so-called opinion leaders of an outworn philosophy are
out there on television and in the newspapers with their steady drumbeat of doubt and
distaste? Well, when all you have to do to win is rely on the good judgment of the
American people, then you're in good shape, because the American people have good
judgment. I know it isn't becoming of me, but I like to think that maybe 49 of our 50
states displayed that judgment just a few months ago.
What we have to do, all of us in this room, is get out there and talk about SDI. Explain
it, debate it, tell the American people the facts. It may well be the most important work
we do in the next few years. And if we try, we'll succeed. So, we have great work ahead of
us, big work. But if we do it together and with complete commitment, we can change our
country and history forever.
Once during the campaign, I said, "This is a wonderful time to be alive," and I
meant that. I meant that we're lucky not to live in pale and timid times. We've been
blessed with the opportunity to stand for something-for liberty and freedom and fairness.
And these are things worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to. And we have good
reason to be hopeful and optimistic.
We've made much progress already. So, let us go forth with good cheer and stout
hearts-happy warriors out to seize back a country and a world to freedom.
Thank you, and God bless you. Thank you very much.