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Reagan’s 1976 campaign address, “To Restore America”

We’re Americans and we have a rendezvous with destiny. 

by Scott L. Vanatter

Ronald Reagan sought to dethrone a sitting president, though unelected, Gerald Ford. He laid out his case in a major televised campaign address on March 31, 1976 entitled, “To Restore America.” While he failed to secure the nomination, he set the scene for success just four years later.

One of Reagan’s initial critiques of the politics of 1976 was the top line issue of what things the Federal government should tackle. Or not. His point is that there are some things which the Federal government does not do well, and some things it should not do at all. “The truth is, Washington has taken over functions that don’t truly belong to it. In almost every case it has been a failure. Now, understand, I’m speaking of those programs which logically should be administered at state and local levels.”

In the face of a still menacing Soviet Union, Reagan said, “But there is one problem which must be solved or everything else is meaningless. I am speaking of the problem of our national security. Our nation is in danger, and the danger grows greater with each passing day. Like an echo from the past, the voice of Winston Churchill’s grandson was heard recently in Britain’s House of Commons warning that the spread of totalitarianism threatens the world once again the democracies are ‘wandering without aim.’”

Reagan began his commentary on unemployment with this: “Before leaving this subject of our economic problems, let’s talk about unemployment. Ending inflation is the only long range and lasting answer to the problem of unemployment. The Washington Establishment is not the answer. It’s the problem. Is tax policies, its harassing regulation, its confiscation of investment capital to pay for its deficits keeps business and industry from expanding to meet your needs and to provide the jobs we all need. No one who lived through the Great Depression can ever look upon an unemployed person with anything by compassion. To me, there is no greater tragedy than a breadwinner willing to work, with a job skill but unable to find a market for that job skill.”

He poignantly drove home his point with this story from his father’s own history. “Back in those dark depression days I saw my father on Christmas eve open what he thought was a Christmas greeting from his boss. Instead, it was the blue slip telling him he no longer had a job. The memory of him sitting there holding that slip of paper and then saying in a half whisper, ‘That’s quite a Christmas present’; it will stay with me as long as I live.”

He concluded with one of his most earnest appeals to a true patriotism and secure America’s place in world history. “Well, I don’t believe the people I’ve met in almost every State of this Union are ready to consign this, the last island of freedom, to the dust bin of history, along with the bones of dead civilizations of the past. Call it mysticism, it you will, but I believe God had a divine purpose in placing this land between the two great oceans to be found by those who had a special love of freedom and the courage to leave the countries of their birth. From our forefathers to our modern-day immigrants, we’ve come from every corner of the earth, from every race and every ethnic background, and we’ve become a new breed in the world. We’re Americans and we have a rendezvous with destiny. We spread across this land, building farms and towns and cities, and we did it without any federal land planning program or urban renewal.”

Reagan then describes America in a new way, but one which was as old as the general principle of freedom, “Indeed, we gave birth to an entirely new concept in man’s relation to man. We created government as our servant, beholden to us and possessing no powers except those voluntarily granted to it by us. Now a self-anointed elite in our nation’s capital would have us believe we are incapable of guiding our own destiny. They practice government by mystery, telling us it’s too complex for our understanding. Believing this, they assume we might panic if we were to be told the truth about our problems.”

Click here to see the full transcript of this important speech.

Please see below for key excerpts.

Tonight, I’d like to talk to you about issues. Issues which I think are involved—or should be involved in this primary election season. I’m a candidate for the Republican nomination for president. But I hope that you who are Independents and Democrats will let me talk to you also tonight because the problems facing our country are problems that just don’t bear any party label. . . .

DEBT

The fact is, we’ll never build a lasting economic recovery by going deeper into debt at a faster rate than we ever have before. It took this nation 166 years until the middle of World War II to finally accumulate a debt of $95 billion. It took this administration just the last 12 months to add $95 billion to the debt. And this administration has run up almost one-fourth of the total national debt in just these short 19 months.

Ah, but they tell us, 80 percent of the budget is uncontrollable. It’s fixed by laws passed by Congress. Well, laws passed by Congress can be repealed by Congress. And, if Congress is unwilling to do this, then isn’t it time we elect a Congress that will? . . .

Then came a White House proposal for a $28 billion tax cut, to be matched by a $28 billion cut in the proposed spending – not in present spending, but in the proposed spending in the new budget. Well, my question then and my question now is, if there was $28 billion in the new budget that could be cut, what was it doing there in the first place? . . .

UNEMPLOYMENT

Before leaving this subject of our economic problems, let’s talk about unemployment. Ending inflation is the only long range and lasting answer to the problem of unemployment. The Washington Establishment is not the answer. It’s the problem. Is tax policies, its harassing regulation, its confiscation of investment capital to pay for its deficits keeps business and industry from expanding to meet your needs and to provide the jobs we all need.

No one who lived through the Great Depression can ever look upon an unemployed person with anything by compassion. To me, there is no greater tragedy than a breadwinner willing to work, with a job skill but unable to find a market for that job skill. Back in those dark depression days I saw my father on Christmas eve open what he thought was a Christmas greeting from his boss. Instead, it was the blue slip telling him he no longer had a job. The memory of him sitting there holding that slip of paper and then saying in a half whisper, “That’s quite a Christmas present”; it will stay with me as long as I live.

ENERGY

Other problems go unsolved. Take energy. Only a short time ago we were lined up at the gas station – turned our thermostats down as Washington announced “project Independence.” We were going to become self-sufficient, able to provide for our own energy needs. At the time, we were only importing a small percentage of our oil. Yet, the Arab boycott caused half a million Americans to lose their jobs when plants closed down for lack of fuel. Today, it’s almost three years later and “Project Independence” has become “Project Dependence.” . . .

WASHINGTON’S PURPOSE

The truth is, Washington has taken over functions that don’t truly belong to it. In almost every case it has been a failure. Now, understand, I’m speaking of those programs which logically should be administered at state and local levels. Welfare is a classic example. . . .

FOREIGN POLICY

But there is one problem which must be solved or everything else is meaningless. I am speaking of the problem of our national security. Our nation is in danger, and the danger grows greater with each passing day. Like an echo from the past, the voice of Winston Churchill’s grandson was heard recently in Britain’s House of Commons warning that the spread of totalitarianism threatens the world once again the democracies are “wandering without aim.”

“Wandering without aim” describes the United States’ foreign policy. Angola is a case in point. We gave just enough support to one side to encourage it to fight and die, but too little to give them a chance of winning. And while we’re disliked by the winner, distrusted by the loser, and viewed by the world as weak and unsure. . . .

Mr. Ford says détente will be replaced by “peace through strength.” Well now, that slogan has a – a nice ring to it, but neither Mr. Ford nor his new Secretary of Defense will say that our strength is superior to all others. In one of the dark hours of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “It is time to speak the truth frankly and boldly.” Well, I believe former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger was trying to speak the truth frankly and boldly to his fellow citizens. And that’s why he is no longer Secretary of Defense. . . .

Mr. Ford traveled halfway ‘round the world to sign the Helsinki Pact, putting our stamp of approval on Russia’s enslavement of the captive nations? We gave away the freedom of millions of people – freedom that was not ours to give.

Now we must ask if someone is giving away our own freedom. Dr. Kissinger is quoted as saying that he thinks of the United States as Athens and the Soviet Union as Sparta. “The day of the U.S. is past and today is the day of the Soviet Union.” And he added, “…My Job as Secretary of State is to negotiate the most acceptable second-best position available.” Well, I believe in the peace of which Mr. Ford spoke – as much as any man. But peace does not come from weakness or from retreat. It comes from the restoration of American military superiority. . . .

LAST ISLAND OF FREEDOM

Well, I don’t believe the people I’ve met in almost every State of this Union are ready to consign this, the last island of freedom, to the dust bin of history, along with the bones of dead civilizations of the past. Call it mysticism, it you will, but I believe God had a divine purpose in placing this land between the two great oceans to be found by those who had a special love of freedom and the courage to leave the countries of their birth. From our forefathers to our modern-day immigrants, we’ve come from every corner of the earth, from every race and every ethnic background, and we’ve become a new breed in the world. We’re Americans and we have a rendezvous with destiny. We spread across this land, building farms and towns and cities, and we did it without any federal land planning program or urban renewal.

Indeed, we gave birth to an entirely new concept in man’s relation to man. We created government as our servant, beholden to us and possessing no powers except those voluntarily granted to it by us. Now a self-anointed elite in our nation’s capital would have us believe we are incapable of guiding our own destiny. They practice government by mystery, telling us it’s too complex for our understanding. Believing this, they assume we might panic if we were to be told the truth about our problems.

Why should we become frightened? No people who have ever lived on this earth have fought harder, paid a higher price for freedom, or done more to advance the dignity of man than the living Americans – the Americans living in this land today. There isn’t any problem we can’t solve if government will give us the facts. Tell us what needs to be done. Then, get out of the way and let us have at it.

Recently on one of my campaign trips I was doing a question-and-answer session, and suddenly I received a question from a little girl – couldn’t have been over six or seven years old – standing in the very front row. I’d heard the question before but somehow in her asking it, she threw me a little bit. She said, why do you want to be president? Well, I tried to tell her about giving government back to the people; I tried to tell her about turning authority back to the states and local communities, and so forth; winding down the bureaucracy. [It] might have been an answer for adults, but I knew that it wasn’t what that little girl wanted, and I left very frustrated. It was on the way to the next stop that I turned to Nancy and I said I wish I had it to do over again because I – I’d like to answer her question.

Well, maybe I can answer it now. I would like to go to Washington. I would like to be president, because I would like to see this country become once again a country where a little six-year old girl can grow up knowing the same freedom that I knew when I was six years old, growing up in America. If this is the America you want for yourself and your children; if you want to restore government not only of and for but by the people; to see the American spirit unleashed once again. To make this land a shining, golden hope God intended it to be, I’d like to hear from you. Write, or send a wire. I’d be proud to hear your thoughts and your ideas.