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Ronald Reagan, “Our Noble Vision: An Opportunity For All”

“You cannot create a desert, hand a person a cup of water, and call that compassion. . . . And you cannot build up years of dependence on government and dare call that hope.” 

by Scott L. Vanatter

Before his first term was complete President Reagan restored the American economy and revived the American spirit. The power and focus of his words and his policies returned America to its true identity and destiny.

Soaring rhetoric must be supported by real accomplishment. Otherwise the words are empty, the sentiment is trite. Too often national leaders only give lip service to the lofty principles which Reagan carefully and continually taught. Worse, when some leaders overtly deprecate the Founding principles, America fails to preserve and advance our precious freedoms. Tyranny is never more than a generation away from falling on us. Americans need to continually self-inoculate against a creeping tyranny.

In a March 2, 1984 address to conservative leaders President Reagan summarized how and what was accomplished in his first term. He laid out (yet again) “our noble vision” of an Opportunity Society. Not only for Americans, but one for all nations.

Always the optimist, Reagan said that our mission “is a mission of principle: It is a mission of commitment, and it must and will be a mission of victory. Color our cause with courage and confidence.” He goes on, “We offer an optimistic society. More than 200 years after the patriots fired that first shot heard ’round the world, one revolutionary idea still burns in the hearts of men and women everywhere: A society where man is not beholden to government; government is beholden to man.”

Reagan quoted historian Bernard DeVoto asking, “what drove our ancestors to conquer the West, create a nation, and open up a continent.” His answer, “If you take away the dream, you take away the power of the spirit. If you take away the belief in a greater future, you cannot explain America — that we’re a people who believed there was a promised land; we were a people who believed we were chosen by God to create a greater world.”

Critical of those who want more government spending, Reagan said it was the “spendthrifts who mangled America with the nightmare of double-digit inflation, record interest rates, unfair tax increases, too much regulation, credit controls, farm embargoes, gas lines, no-growth at home, weakness abroad, and phony excuses about ‘malaise’ are the last people who should be giving sermonettes about fairness and compassion.”

Economic failure was “caused by misguided policies and misunderstanding human nature. Believe me, you cannot create a desert, hand a person a cup of water, and call that compassion. You cannot pour billions of dollars into make-work jobs while destroying the economy that supports them and call that opportunity. And you cannot build up years of dependence on government and dare call that hope.”

Reagan used to be a Democrat. Knowing the current mindset of his opponents, he said “Apparently nothing bothers our liberal friends. The same expertise that told them their policies must succeed convinced them that our program spelled economic Armageddon. Sunrise industries, such as computers, micro-electronics, robotics, and fiber optics — all are creating a new world of opportunities.”

His heartfelt “sympathies [were] with the taxpayers, not the tax-spenders.”

Commenting on his own more recent experience, he said, “I’m talking about simplification of the entire tax system. We can make taxes more fair, easier to understand and, more important, we can greatly increase incentives by bringing personal tax rates down.”

Basing his argument on the previous four years, Reagan said, “Just as America has always been synonymous with freedom, so, too, should we become the symbol of peace across the Earth. . . . Peace with freedom is our highest aspiration — a lasting peace anchored by courage, realism, and unity. We’ve stressed our willingness to meet the Soviets halfway in talks on strategic weapons. But as Commander in Chief, I have an obligation to protect this country, and I will never allow political expediency to influence these crucial negotiations.”

Reagan said that “defense is not just another federal program.” It is the “sole responsibility” of the federal government.

Summing up, Reagan said that “America’s foreign policy supports freedom, democracy, and human dignity for all mankind, and we make no apologies for it.” Further, he said, “The opportunity society that we want for ourselves we also want for others, not because we’re imposing our system on others but because those opportunities belong to all people as God-given birthrights and because by promoting democracy and economic opportunity we make peace more secure.”

Both ceasing the moment, and inspiring continued diligence, Reagan said, “Let us go forward from here not with some faint hope that our cause is not yet lost; let us go forward confident that the American people share our values, and that together we will be victorious.”

Click here to read the full transcript.

See excerpts below.

AN OPTIMISTIC SOCIETY

[Our] mission . . .  is a mission of principle: It is a mission of commitment, and it must and will be a mission of victory. Color our cause with courage and confidence. We offer an optimistic society. More than 200 years after the patriots fired that first shot heard ’round the world, one revolutionary idea still burns in the hearts of men and women everywhere: A society where man is not beholden to government; government is beholden to man.

OPPORTUNITY VS COERCION

The difference between the path toward greater freedom or bigger government is the difference between success and failure; between opportunity and coercion; between faith in a glorious future and fear of mediocrity and despair; between respecting people as adults, each with a spark of greatness, and treating them as helpless children to be forever dependent; between a drab, materialistic world where Big Brother rules by promises to special interest groups, and a world of adventure where everyday people set their sights on impossible dreams, distant stars, and the Kingdom of God. We have the true message of hope for America. . . .

A BELIEF IN A GREATER FUTURE EXPLAINS AMERICA

Bernard DeVoto explained what drove our ancestors to conquer the West, create a nation, and open up a continent. If you take away the dream, you take away the power of the spirit. If you take away the belief in a greater future, you cannot explain America — that we’re a people who believed there was a promised land; we were a people who believed we were chosen by God to create a greater world. . . .

WE’VE STOPPED PLACING OUR FAITH IN MORE GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS

I think America is better off than we were three years ago because we’ve stopped placing our faith in more government programs. . . . It was you who said it is time to put earnings back in the hands of the people, time to put trust back in the hands of the people, time to put America back in the hands of the people. . . .

SERMONETTES ABOUT FAIRNESS AND COMPASSION

The spendthrifts who mangled America with the nightmare of double-digit inflation, record interest rates, unfair tax increases, too much regulation, credit controls, farm embargoes, gas lines, no-growth at home, weakness abroad, and phony excuses about “malaise” are the last people who should be giving sermonettes about fairness and compassion.

MISGUIDED POLICIES AND MISUNDERSTANDING HUMAN NATURE

Their failures were not caused by erratic weather patterns, unusual rotations of the moon, or by the personality of my predecessor. They were caused by misguided policies and misunderstanding human nature. Believe me, you cannot create a desert, hand a person a cup of water, and call that compassion. You cannot pour billions of dollars into make-work jobs while destroying the economy that supports them and call that opportunity. And you cannot build up years of dependence on government and dare call that hope.

TAX CUTS

Apparently nothing bothers our liberal friends. The same expertise that told them their policies must succeed convinced them that our program spelled economic Armageddon. . . .

OIL

[Our liberal friends] warned that decontrolling the price of oil would send the cost of gas at the pumps skyrocketing. We decontrolled, and the price is lower today than it was three years ago when we decontrolled.

RECOVERY

And then they said that recovery couldn’t come, or would be too feeble to notice. Well, from strong growth in housing to autos, construction, and high technology, from a rebirth of productivity to the fastest drop in unemployment in over 30 years, we have one of the strongest recoveries in decades. And we’ll keep it strong if they’ll get out of the way. . . .

FASTEST RECOVERY

How could real, fixed business investment increase by a 13-percent rate last year, the fastest rate in any recovery in the past 30 years? And how could funds raised in the equity markets zoom from $16.8 billion in 1983 — or in 1982, to $36.6 billion in 1983? Still another record. . . .

GROWTH, JOBS OPPORTUNITIES, COMPETITION

Well, the facts are — as Secretary [of the Treasury] Don Regan has pointed out — the dollar is strong because of people’s confidence in our currency, our low rate of inflation, and the incentives to invest in the United States. . . .

U.S. ENGINE OF WORLDWIDE RECOVERY

The U.S. economy is serving as an engine for worldwide recovery, and this will translate into greater demands for our own goods. But even with our current trade deficits, exports of goods and services have made a greater contribution to this recovery than to any previous recovery in the postwar period. . . .

POWER OF INCENTIVES

Now, those who deal in a world of numbers cannot predict the progress of the human mind, the drive and energy of the spirit, or the power of incentives. . . .

SUNRISE INDUSTRIES

Sunrise industries, such as computers, micro-electronics, robotics, and fiber optics — all are creating a new world of opportunities. . . .

SPACE

Visionaries see infinite possibilities for new economic growth in America’s next frontier — space. Our challenge of building a permanently manned space station, and of further exploration, can open up entire new industries. Products from metal alloys to lifesaving medicines — these can immensely improve our environment and life on Earth. . . .

I’ve asked Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole to start immediately promoting private sector investment in commercial, unmanned space boosters — the powerful rockets that carry satellites into orbit. . . .

AN OPPORTUNITY SOCIETY V OTHERS PUNISH SUCCESS

We see America not falling behind, but moving ahead; our citizens not fearful and divided, but confident and united by shared values of faith, family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom.

MY SYMPATHIES ARE WITH THE TAXPAYERS, NOT THE TAX-SPENDERS

An opportunity society begins with growth, and that means incentives. As I told the people of Iowa last week, my sympathies are with the taxpayers, not the tax-spenders. . . .

THOSE WHO WOULD BE HEROES TRYING TO REDUCE DEFICITS BY RAISING TAXES ARE NOT HEROES

As good conservatives, we were brought up to oppose deficits. But sometimes I think some have forgotten why. We were against deficit spending. Those who would be heroes trying to reduce deficits by raising taxes are not heroes. . . .

REDUCE GOVERNMENT SPENDING

We also seek a line-item veto to prevent pork barrel projects from passing just because they’re attached to otherwise good legislation. .  . .

SIMPLIFICATION OF ENTIRE TAX SYSTEM

Combining these spending restraints with another key reform will make America’s economy the undisputed leader for innovation, growth, and opportunity. I’m talking about simplification of the entire tax system. We can make taxes more fair, easier to understand and, more important, we can greatly increase incentives by bringing personal tax rates down. . . .

THIS IS THE NOBLE VISION WE SHARE: AMERICA IS SYNONYMOUS WITH FREEDOM (PEACE)

This is the noble vision we share, a vision of a strong and prosperous America, at peace with itself and the world. Just as America has always been synonymous with freedom, so, too, should we become the symbol of peace across the Earth. . . .

PEACE WITH FREEDOM: ANCHORED BY COURAGE, REALISM, AND UNITY

Peace with freedom is our highest aspiration — a lasting peace anchored by courage, realism, and unity. We’ve stressed our willingness to meet the Soviets halfway in talks on strategic weapons. But as Commander in Chief, I have an obligation to protect this country, and I will never allow political expediency to influence these crucial negotiations.

We should remember that our defense capability was allowed to deteriorate for many years. Only when our arms are certain beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be used. . . .

DEFENSE IS NOT JUST ANOTHER FEDERAL PROGRAM

I am open to suggestions for budget savings, but defense is not just another federal program. It is solely the responsibility of the federal government. . . .

WE WANT OPPORTUNITY SOCIETY FOR OTHER NATIONS

America’s foreign policy supports freedom, democracy, and human dignity for all mankind, and we make no apologies for it. The opportunity society that we want for ourselves we also want for others, not because we’re imposing our system on others but because those opportunities belong to all people as God-given birthrights and because by promoting democracy and economic opportunity we make peace more secure. . . .

ONE MIGHTY BANNER OF FREEDOM

Our time has come again. This is our moment. Let us unite, shoulder to shoulder, behind one mighty banner for freedom. And let us go forward from here not with some faint hope that our cause is not yet lost; let us go forward confident that the American people share our values, and that together we will be victorious. . . .

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