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Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address to the ’88 Republican National Convention

“Our party speaks for human freedom, for the sweep of liberties that are at the core of our existence. . . . Together we’ve fought for causes we love. But we can never let the fire go out or quit the fight, because the battle is never over. Our freedom must be defended over and over again — and then again.”

by Scott L. Vanatter

At the end of a Super Bowl the winning head coach can rightly point to the day’s game plan, key plays, and stats. All these and more contributed to what was accomplished by the team – led by the coach.

At the end of his time in office, a successful two-term president can rightly point to the administration’s fundamental principles and key policies. All these and more produced the real-world accomplishments – led by the president. After eight years of concrete success and indisputable accomplishment President Reagan reported to the 1988 Republican National Convention. Prior to being elected Reagan had carefully and overtly taught — yes, taught — the country the key principles on which the Founders based the U.S. Constitution and preserved American culture. Now, after eight years, Reagan offered a succinct summary of what had improved, and also urged us on to maintain and expand our rights and freedoms and accomplishments.

He ended with these simple but critical words, “We can never let the fire go out or quit the fight, because the battle is never over. Our freedom must be defended over and over again — and then again.”

More than most presidents, Reagan sought the executive office to accomplish important things, not just to inhabit the executive seat — as though it was a prize to be won, or a way to validate his life’s ambition. He knew what he wanted to accomplish prior to taking office. He did not just react to the facts on the ground. He proactively imprinted his deeply held beliefs on the country’s policies and the country’s people. Not to mention the country’s renewed future.

At the Superdome in New Orleans on August 15, 1988 Reagan stepped off the world stage. Before he did he left the following list of challenges, goals, accomplishments, heartfelt advice, and commentary. A brief summary of only a few…

CHALLENGES FACED

Economic challenges — Reagan took office in “a time when America was in economic chaos . . . and international distress.” And he left office in “a time of economic promise . . . and global hope.”

Rates — “Interest rates had jumped to over 21 percent. . . Industrial production was down, and productivity was down . . . . The average weekly wage plunged . . . . The median family income fell . . . . Facts are stubborn things. . . . Auto loans . . . went up to 17 percent, so our great factories began shutting down. Fuel costs jumped through the atmosphere, more than doubling. . . . Then people waited in gas lines as well as unemployment lines.”

Misery Index — “And then there was the misery index. . . . unemployment and inflation rates. . . . it had become almost 21 percent. . . .”

Foreign policy challenges — “Our national defense had been so weakened, the Soviet Union had begun to engage in reckless aggression. . . . Our NATO allies were under the threat of Soviet intermediate-range missiles, and NATO had no equivalent deterrent. . . . We had military aircraft that couldn’t fly for lack of spare parts and ships that couldn’t leave port for the same reason or for lack of a crew. Our Embassy in Pakistan was burned to the ground, and the one in Iran was stormed and occupied with all Americans taken as hostages. . . . The world began to question the constancy and resolve of the United States. Our leaders answered not that there was something wrong with our government but that our people were at fault because of some malaise. Well, facts are stubborn things.”

GOALS, VISION

Rescue America — “It was our dream that together we could rescue America and make a new beginning, to create anew that shining city on a hill. The dream we shared was to reclaim our government, to transform it from one that was consuming our prosperity into one that would get out of the way of those who created prosperity. It was a dream of again making our nation strong enough to preserve world peace and freedom and to recapture our national destiny. And on the night of July 17th, 1980, we left with a mutual pledge to conduct a national crusade to make America great again.”

The Sweep of Liberty — “And what ideals those have been. Our party speaks for human freedom, for the sweep of liberties that are at the core of our existence. We do not shirk from our duties to preserve freedom so it can unfold across the world for yearning millions. We believe that lasting peace comes only through strength and not through the good will of our adversaries.”

Healthy Skepticism — “We have a healthy skepticism of government, checking its excesses at the same time we’re willing to harness its energy when it helps improve the lives of our citizens. We have pretty strong notions that higher tax receipts are no inherent right of the Federal Government. We don’t think that inflation and high interest rates show compassion for the poor, the young, and the elderly.”

A Vision to Pass Forward — “When our children turn the pages of our lives, I hope they’ll see that we had a vision to pass forward a nation as nearly perfect as we could, where there’s decency, tolerance, generosity, honesty, courage, common sense, fairness, and piety. This is my vision, and I’m grateful to God for blessing me with a good life and a long one. But when I pack up my bags in Washington, don’t expect me to be happy to hear all this talk about the twilight of my life.”

ECONOMIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS

We Are the Change — “Ladies and gentlemen, another friendly reminder: We are the change. We rolled up our sleeves and went to work in January of 1981. We focused on hope, not despair. We challenged the failed policies of the past because we believed that a society is great not because of promises made by its government but only because of progress made by its people. And that was our change.”

Taxes: Something shocking — “We said something shocking: Taxes ought to be reduced, not raised. We cut the tax rates for the working folks of America. We indexed taxes, and that stopped a bracket creep. . . . And what do you know, the top 5 percent of earners are paying a higher percentage of the total tax revenue at the lower rates than they ever had before, and millions of earners at the bottom of the scale have been freed from paying any income tax at all. That was our change.”

Jobs — “Together we pulled out of a tailspin and created 17 and a half million good jobs. That’s more than a quarter of a million new jobs a month — every month — for 68 consecutive months. . . . America is working again. And just since our 1984 convention, we have created over 11 million of those new jobs. New homes are being built. New car sales reached record levels. Exports are starting to climb again. Factory capacity is approaching maximum use. As for inflation, well, that too has changed. We changed it from the time it hit 18 percent in 1980 down to between 3.5 and 4 percent. . . . Young families have finally been able to get some relief. These, too, were our changes.”

FOREIGN POLICY ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Rebuilt our Armed Forces — “We rebuilt our Armed Forces. . . . We struck a firm blow against Libyan terrorism. We’ve seen the growth of democracy in 90 percent of Latin America. The Soviets have begun to pull out of Afghanistan. The bloody Iran-Iraq war is coming to an end. And in the 2,765 days of our administration, not 1 inch of ground has fallen to the Communists. We’re working on the Strategic Defense Initiative to defend ourselves and our allies against nuclear terror.”

Not by accident — “None of our achievements happened by accident, but only because we overcame liberal opposition to put our programs in place.”

PARTING ADVICE, COMMENTARY

Would have failed — “[Without] the doers, the dreamers, and the lifebuilders . . . our glorious experiment in democracy would have failed.”

Republic, the mightiest among mankind — “[A] great Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, told Americans . . . ‘Our hearts lifted with the faith that to us and to our children it shall be given to make this Republic the mightiest among the peoples of mankind.’”

Budget deficit — “And it’s time for some more straight talk. This time it’s about the budget deficit. Yes, it’s much too high. But the President doesn’t vote for a budget, and the President can’t spend a dime. Only the Congress can do that. They blame the defense increases for the deficit, yet defense spending today, in real dollars, is almost exactly what it was 6 years ago. In a 6-year period, Congress cut defense spending authority by over $125 billion. And for every $1 reduction in defense outlays, they added $2 to domestic spending. Well, let me tell you something: The fact is, when they began their war on poverty in the middle sixties, from 1965 through 1980 — in just those 15 years, the budgets increased to five times what they had been, and the deficits went up to 52 times what they had been before their war on poverty. Now, don’t we know that if they’re elected their answer will be the one they’ve relied on in the past, and that is higher taxes.”

Majority in the House — “The other party has controlled the House of Representatives for 52 out of the last 56 years. They’ve controlled the Senate also for 46 of those years. Where we really need a change is to elect Republican majorities in both Houses. And then George Bush can have a team that will protect your tax cuts; keep America strong; hold down inflation and interest rates; appoint judges to preserve your rights; and, yes, reduce the budget deficit.”

The Gipper — “Just one personal request: Go out there and win one for the Gipper.”

Desire for victory need not overcome  devotion to ideals — “When I [became a Republican], I didn’t have to check my principles at the door. And I soon found out that the desire for victory did not overcome our devotion to ideals. Those are some of our principles. [Americans] are selfless and dedicated to a better world based on these principles. You aren’t quitters. You walk not just precincts but for a cause. You stand for something — the finest warriors for free government that I have known.”

Freedom here: A Magnet for the world — “I know I’ve said this before, but I believe that God put this land between the two great oceans to be found by special people from every corner of the world who had that extra love for freedom that prompted them to leave their homeland and come to this land to make it a brilliant light beam of freedom to the world. It’s our gift to have visions . . . . That’s America, everyone with his or her vision of the American promise. That’s why we’re a magnet for the world: for those who dodged bullets and gave their lives coming over the Berlin Wall and others, only a few of whom avoided death, coming in tiny boats on turbulent oceans. This land, its people, the dreams that unfold here and the freedom to bring it all together — well, those are what make America soar, up where you can see hope billowing in those freedom winds.”

Freedom must be defended over and over again — and then again — “Twilight? Twilight? Not in America. Here, it’s a sunrise every day — fresh new opportunities, dreams to build. Twilight? That’s not possible, because I confess there are times when I feel like I’m still little Dutch Reagan racing my brother down the hill to the swimming hole under the railroad bridge over the Rock River. You see, there’s no sweeter day than each new one, because here in our country it means something wonderful can happen to you. And something wonderful happened to me. We lit a prairie fire a few years back. Those flames were fed by passionate ideas and convictions, and we were determined to make them run all — burn, I should say, all across America. And what times we’ve had! Together we’ve fought for causes we love. But we can never let the fire go out or quit the fight, because the battle is never over. Our freedom must be defended over and over again — and then again.”

We did all that could be done, never less – “Twilight, you say? Listen to H.G. Wells. H.G. Wells says: ‘The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.’ Well, that’s a new day — our sunlit new day — to keep alive the fire so that when we look back at the time of choosing, we can say that we did all that could be done — never less.”

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

Please see below for key excerpts.

REPUBLICAN IS A PROUD WORD; AMERICA IS A PROUD NATION ONCE AGAIN

[We] made “Republican” a proud word once again and America a proud nation again.

PRESIDENCY A SACRED TRUST

Having temporary custody of this office has been for me a sacred trust and an honor beyond words or measure. That trust began with many of you in this room many conventions ago. Many’s the time that I’ve said a prayer of thanks to all Americans who placed this trust in my hands. And tonight, please accept again our heartfelt gratitude, Nancy’s and mine, for this special time that you’ve given in our lives.

WITHOUT THE DOERS, THE DREAMERS, AND THE LIFEBUILDERS OUR GLORIOUS EXPERIMENT WOULD FAIL

The American people . . . endured the great challenge of lifting us from the depths of national calamity, renewing our mighty economic strength, and leading the way to restoring our respect in the world. They are an extraordinary breed we call Americans. . . . [There are] heroes everywhere in this land who make up the doers, the dreamers, and the lifebuilders without which our glorious experiment in democracy would have failed.

[A] great Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, told Americans not to hold back from dangers ahead but to rejoice: “Our hearts lifted with the faith that to us and to our children it shall be given to make this Republic the mightiest among the peoples of mankind.”

OUR DREAM: RECLAIM OUR GOVERNMENT, TRANSFORM IT FROM ONE THAT CONSUMES PROSPERITY

It was our dream that together we could rescue America and make a new beginning, to create anew that shining city on a hill. The dream we shared was to reclaim our government, to transform it from one that was consuming our prosperity into one that would get out of the way of those who created prosperity. It was a dream of again making our nation strong enough to preserve world peace and freedom and to recapture our national destiny.

And on the night of July 17th, 1980, we left with a mutual pledge to conduct a national crusade to make America great again.

Tom Paine knew what these Americans with character of steel could do when he wrote: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” And my fellow citizens, while our triumph is not yet complete, the road has been glorious indeed.

EIGHT YEARS AGO: ECONOMIC CHAOS. NOW, ECONOMIC PROMISE

Eight years ago, we met at a time when America was in economic chaos, and today we meet in a time of economic promise. We met then in international distress and today with global hope.

FACTS ARE STUBBORN THINGS

Before we came to Washington, Americans had just suffered the two worst back-to-back years of inflation in 60 years. Those are the facts, and as John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things.” Interest rates had jumped to over 21 percent, the highest in 120 years, more than doubling the average monthly mortgage payments for working families — our families. When they sat around the kitchen table, it was not to plan summer vacations, it was to plan economic survival. Facts are stubborn things.

Industrial production was down, and productivity was down for 2 consecutive years. The average weekly — you missed me. [The President referred to a background noise.] [Laughter] The average weekly wage plunged 9 percent. The median family income fell 5 and a half percent. Facts are stubborn things.

Auto loans, because of their [Democrat] policies, went up to 17 percent, so our great factories began shutting down. Fuel costs jumped through the atmosphere, more than doubling. Then people waited in gas lines as well as unemployment lines.

MISERY INDEX

And then there was the misery index. That was an election year gimmick they designed for the 1976 campaign. They added the unemployment and inflation rates. And it came to 13.4 percent in 1976 [under Pres. Ford] . . . . Four years later . . . it was no longer 13.4 percent? In those 4 years it had become almost 21 percent.

DEFENSE HAD BEEN WEAKENED

Our national defense had been so weakened, the Soviet Union had begun to engage in reckless aggression, including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. . . . And in those years, on any given day, we had military aircraft that couldn’t fly for lack of spare parts and ships that couldn’t leave port for the same reason or for lack of a crew. Our Embassy in Pakistan was burned to the ground, and the one in Iran was stormed and occupied with all Americans taken as hostages. The world began to question the constancy and resolve of the United States. Our leaders answered not that there was something wrong with our government but that our people were at fault because of some malaise. Well, facts are stubborn things.

WE ARE THE CHANGE: CHALLENGED THE FAILED POLICIES, PROGRESS MADE BY PEOPLE — AND THAT WAS OUR CHANGE

Now we hear talk that it’s time for a change. Well, ladies and gentlemen, another friendly reminder: We are the change. We rolled up our sleeves and went to work in January of 1981. We focused on hope, not despair. We challenged the failed policies of the past because we believed that a society is great not because of promises made by its government but only because of progress made by its people. And that was our change.

SOMETHING SHOCKING: CUT AND INDEXED TAXES, TOP 5% PAYING HIGHER PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL REVENUE – THAT WAS OUR CHANGE

We said something shocking: Taxes ought to be reduced, not raised. We cut the tax rates for the working folks of America. We indexed taxes, and that stopped a bracket creep . . .

And what do you know, the top 5 percent of earners are paying a higher percentage of the total tax revenue at the lower rates than they ever had before, and millions of earners at the bottom of the scale have been freed from paying any income tax at all. That was our change.

AMERICA IS WORKING AGAIN

So, together we pulled out of a tailspin and created 17 and a half million good jobs. That’s more than a quarter of a million new jobs a month — every month — for 68 consecutive months.

America is working again. And just since our 1984 convention, we have created over 11 million of those new jobs.

New homes are being built. New car sales reached record levels. Exports are starting to climb again. Factory capacity is approaching maximum use.

INFLATION AND INTEREST RATED: DOWN – THESE TOO WERE OUR CHANGES

As for inflation, well, that too has changed. We changed it from the time it hit 18 percent in 1980 down to between 3.5 and 4 percent. . . . Young families have finally been able to get some relief. These, too, were our changes.

REBUILT ARMED FORCES: LIBERATE FROM COMMUNISTS

We rebuilt our Armed Forces. . . . We struck a firm blow against Libyan terrorism. We’ve seen the growth of democracy in 90 percent of Latin America. The Soviets have begun to pull out of Afghanistan. The bloody Iran-Iraq war is coming to an end. . . .

And in the 2,765 days of our administration, not 1 inch of ground has fallen to the Communists.

SDI

We’re working on the Strategic Defense Initiative to defend ourselves and our allies against nuclear terror.

STRAIGHT TALK ON BUDGET DEFICIT

And it’s time for some more straight talk. This time it’s about the budget deficit. Yes, it’s much too high. But the President doesn’t vote for a budget, and the President can’t spend a dime. Only the Congress can do that. They blame the defense increases for the deficit, yet defense spending today, in real dollars, is almost exactly what it was 6 years ago. In a 6-year period, Congress cut defense spending authority by over $125 billion. And for every $1 reduction in defense outlays, they added $2 to domestic spending.

ON SPENDING: BALANCED BUDGET AND LINE ITEM VETO

Now, if they had passed my first budget, my first spending plan in 1982, the cumulative outlays and deficits would have been $207 billion lower by 1986. Every single year I’ve been in office, I have supported and called for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, and the liberals have said no every year. I called for the line-item veto, which 43 Governors have, to cut fat in the budget, and the liberals have said no. Every year I’ve attempted to limit their wild spending sprees, and they’ve said no. They would have us believe that runaway budget deficits began in 1981 when we took office. Well, let me tell you something: The fact is, when they began their war on poverty in the middle sixties, from 1965 through 1980 — in just those 15 years, the budgets increased to five times what they had been, and the deficits went up to 52 times what they had been before their war on poverty. Now, don’t we know that if they’re elected their answer will be the one they’ve relied on in the past, and that is higher taxes.

The other party has controlled the House of Representatives for 52 out of the last 56 years.

They’ve controlled the Senate also for 46 of those years.

NEED A CHANGE: REPUBLICAN MAJORITIES IN BOTH HOUSES

Where we really need a change is to elect Republican majorities in both Houses. And then George Bush can have a team that will protect your tax cuts; keep America strong; hold down inflation and interest rates; appoint judges to preserve your rights; and, yes, reduce the budget deficit.

FOREIGN POLICY PROBLEM: NATO UNDER SOVIET MISSILE THREAT

Now early on, we had a foreign policy problem. Our NATO allies were under the threat of Soviet intermediate-range missiles, and NATO had no equivalent deterrent.

NONE OF OUR ACHIEVEMENTS HAPPENED BY ACCIDENT

None of our achievements happened by accident, but only because we overcame liberal opposition to put our programs in place.

GO OUT AND WIN ONE FOR THE GIPPER

George, I’m in your corner. I’m ready to volunteer a little advice now and then and offer a pointer or two on strategy, if asked. I’ll help keep the facts straight or just stand back and cheer. But, George, just one personal request: Go out there and win one for the Gipper.

I started out in the other party. But 40 years ago, I cast my last vote as a Democrat. It was a party in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised the return of power to the States. It was a party where Harry Truman committed a strong and resolute America to preserving freedom. F.D.R. had run on a platform of eliminating useless boards and commissions and returning autonomy and authority to local governments and to the States. That party changed, and it will never be the same. They left me; I didn’t leave them.

THE DESIRE FOR VICTORY NEED NOT OVERCOME OUR DEVOTION TO IDEALS

When I signed up for duty [as a Republican], I didn’t have to check my principles at the door. And I soon found out that the desire for victory did not overcome our devotion to ideals.

IDEALS: THE SWEEP OF LIBERTIES THAT ARE AT THE CORE OF OUR EXISTENCE, WHICH CAN UNFOLD ACROSS THE WORLD FOR YEARNING MILLIONS

And what ideals those have been. Our party speaks for human freedom, for the sweep of liberties that are at the core of our existence. We do not shirk from our duties to preserve freedom so it can unfold across the world for yearning millions. We believe that lasting peace comes only through strength and not through the good will of our adversaries.

IDEALS: A HEALTHY SKEPTICISM OF GOVERNMENT

We have a healthy skepticism of government, checking its excesses at the same time we’re willing to harness its energy when it helps improve the lives of our citizens. We have pretty strong notions that higher tax receipts are no inherent right of the Federal Government. We don’t think that inflation and high interest rates show compassion for the poor, the young, and the elderly.

FINEST WARRIORS FOR FREE GOVERNMENT: A BETTER WORLD

Those are some of our principles. [Americans] are selfless and dedicated to a better world based on these principles. You aren’t quitters. You walk not just precincts but for a cause. You stand for something — the finest warriors for free government that I have known.

I thank you for letting us be a part of your tireless determination to leave a better world for our children. And that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? A better world?

BETWEEN TWO GREAT OCEANS: EXTRA LOVE FOR FREEDOM, MAGNET TO THE WORLD

I know I’ve said this before, but I believe that God put this land between the two great oceans to be found by special people from every corner of the world who had that extra love for freedom that prompted them to leave their homeland and come to this land to make it a brilliant light beam of freedom to the world. It’s our gift to have visions….

That’s America, everyone with his or her vision of the American promise. That’s why we’re a magnet for the world: for those who dodged bullets and gave their lives coming over the Berlin Wall and others, only a few of whom avoided death, coming in tiny boats on turbulent oceans. This land, its people, the dreams that unfold here and the freedom to bring it all together — well, those are what make America soar, up where you can see hope billowing in those freedom winds.

DECENCY, TOLERANCE, GENEROSITY, HONESTY, COURAGE, COMMON SENSE, FAIRNESS, AND PIETY: THIS IS MY VISION

When our children turn the pages of our lives, I hope they’ll see that we had a vision to pass forward a nation as nearly perfect as we could, where there’s decency, tolerance, generosity, honesty, courage, common sense, fairness, and piety. This is my vision, and I’m grateful to God for blessing me with a good life and a long one. But when I pack up my bags in Washington, don’t expect me to be happy to hear all this talk about the twilight of my life.

TWILIGHT? NOT IN AMERICA

Twilight? Twilight? Not in America. Here, it’s a sunrise every day — fresh new opportunities, dreams to build.

Twilight? That’s not possible, because I confess there are times when I feel like I’m still little Dutch Reagan racing my brother down the hill to the swimming hole under the railroad bridge over the Rock River. You see, there’s no sweeter day than each new one, because here in our country it means something wonderful can happen to you.

SOMETHING WONDERFUL HAPPENED TO ME: WE LIT A PRAIRIE FIRE A FEW YEARS BACK – PASSIONATE IDEAS AND CONVICTIONS

And something wonderful happened to me. We lit a prairie fire a few years back. Those flames were fed by passionate ideas and convictions, and we were determined to make them run all — burn, I should say, all across America. And what times we’ve had! Together we’ve fought for causes we love.

OUR FREEDOM MUST BE DEFENDED OVER AND OVER AGAIN – AND THEN AGAIN

But we can never let the fire go out or quit the fight, because the battle is never over. Our freedom must be defended over and over again — and then again.

A TIME OF CHOOSING: WE DID ALL THAT COULD BE DONE – NEVER LESS

Twilight, you say? Listen to H.G. Wells. H.G. Wells says: “The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.” Well, that’s a new day — our sunlit new day — to keep alive the fire so that when we look back at the time of choosing, we can say that we did all that could be done — never less.