It was 30 years ago tonight that Ronald Reagan accepted the GOP presidential nomination. The nation was in a crisis. Interest rates would hit 21%, inflation was 13.5%, and unemployment was 7%. The so-called “Misery Index,” which Jimmy Carter used effectively in his 1976 campaign, was then an unprecedented 20.5%.
Reagan told the delegates how Carter’s policies had resulted in low economic growth and national decline. America also had to cope with gas lines, an energy crises, and hostages were held in Iran. As the situation became bleaker, Carter sharply boosted government spending.
When that did not work, he blamed both the American people and his cabinet. Carter fired half of his cabinet the previous summer, and his “malaise speech” indicated the President saw the nation as heading downward.
President Carter said: “I think it’s inevitable that there will be a lower standard of living than what everybody had always anticipated. The only trend is downward. But it’s impossible to get people to face up to this.”
Ronald Reagan would go on to win 489 electoral votes compared to Carter’s 49. Republicans would win control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in 28 years.
In his convention speech, Reagan called for an American global leadership role, peace through strength, and outlines what would become his freedom agenda.
It is the exact opposite of Ron Paul’s isolationism and massive defense cuts. Ronald Reagan totally rejected the foreign policy and national security agenda advocated by liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans. Excerpts from the foreign policy section of Reagan’s speech appear below:
When we move from domestic affairs and cast our eyes abroad, we see an equally sorry chapter on the record of the present administration.
– As Soviet combat brigade trains in Cuba, just 90 miles from our shores.
– A Soviet army of invasion occupies Afghanistan, further threatening our vital interests in the Middle East.
– America’s defense strength is at its lowest ebb in a generation, while the Soviet Union is vastly outspending us in both strategic and conventional arms.
– Our European allies, looking nervously at the growing menace from the East, turn to us for leadership and fail to find it.
– And, incredibly more than 50 of our fellow Americans have been held captive for over eight months by a dictatorial foreign power that holds us up to ridicule before the world.
Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve, but we are given weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness.
The Carter Administration lives in the world of make-believe. Every day, drawing up a response to that day’s problems, troubles, regardless of what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.
The rest of us, however, live in the real world. It is here that disasters are overtaking our nation without any real response from Washington.
This is make-believe, self-deceit and — above all — transparent hypocrisy.
For example, Mr. Carter says he supports the volunteer army, but he lets military pay and benefits slip so low that many of our enlisted personnel are actually eligible for food stamps. Re-enlistment rates drop and, just recently, after he fought all week against a proposal to increase the pay of our men and women in uniform, he helicoptered to our carrier, the U.S.S. Nimitz, which was returning from long months of duty. He told the crew that he advocated better pay for them and their comrades! Where does he really stand, now that he’s back on shore?
I’ll tell you where I stand. I do not favor a peacetime draft or registration, but I do favor pay and benefit levels that will attract and keep highly motivated men and women in our volunteer forces and an active reserve trained and ready for an instant call in case of an emergency.
There may be a sailor at the helm of the ship of state, but the ship has no rudder. Critical decisions are made at times almost in comic fashion, but who can laugh? Who was not embarrassed when the administration handed a major propaganda victory in the United Nations to the enemies of Israel, our staunch Middle East ally for three decades, and them claim that the American vote was a “mistake,” the result of a “failure of communication” between the president, his secretary of state, and his U.N. ambassador?
Who does not feel a growing sense of unease as our allies, facing repeated instances of an amateurish and confused administration, reluctantly conclude that America is unwilling or unable to fulfill its obligations as the leader of the free world?
Who does not feel rising alarm when the question in any discussion of foreign policy is no longer, “Should we do something?”, but “Do we have the capacity to do anything?”
The administration which has brought us to this state is seeking your endorsement for four more years of weakness, indecision, mediocrity and incompetence. No American should vote until he or she has asked, is the United States stronger and more respected now than it was three-and-a-half years ago? Is the world today a safer place in which to live?
It is the responsibility of the president of the United States, in working for peace, to insure that the safety of our people cannot successfully be threatened by a hostile foreign power. As president, fulfilling that responsibility will be my number one priority.
We are not a warlike people. Quite the opposite. We always seek to live in peace. We resort to force infrequently and with great reluctance–and only after we have determined that it is absolutely necessary. We are awed–and rightly so–by the forces of destruction at loose in the world in this nuclear era. But neither can we be naive or foolish.
Four times in my lifetime America has gone to war, bleeding the lives of its young men into the sands of beachheads, the fields of Europe and the jungles and rice paddies of Asia. We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak. It is then that tyrants are tempted.
We simply cannot learn these lessons the hard way again without risking our destruction.
Of all the objectives we seek, first and foremost is the establishment of lasting world peace. We must always stand ready to negotiate in good faith, ready to pursue any reasonable avenue that holds forth the promise of lessening tensions and furthering the prospects of peace.
But let our friends and those who may wish us ill take note: the United States has an obligation to its citizens and to the people of the world never to let those who would destroy freedom dictate the future course of human life on this planet. I would regard my election as proof that we have renewed our resolve to preserve world peace and freedom. This nation will once again be strong enough to do that.
This evening marks the last step–save one–of a campaign that has taken Nancy and me from one end of this great land to the other, over many months and thousands of miles. There are those who question the way we choose a president; who say that our process imposes difficult and exhausting burdens on those who seek the office. I have not found it so.
It is impossible to capture in words the splendor of this vast continent which God has granted as our portion of this creation. There are no words to express the extraordinary strength and character of this breed of people we call Americans.
Everywhere we have met thousands of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans from all economic conditions and walks of life bound together in that community of shared values of family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom. They are concerned, yes, but they are not frightened. They are disturbed, but not dismayed. They are the kind of men and women Tom Paine had in mind when he wrote–during the darkest days of the American Revolution–“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
Nearly 150 years after Tom Paine wrote those words, an American president told the generation of the Great Depression that it had a “rendezvous with destiny.” I believe that this generation of Americans today has a rendezvous with destiny.
Tonight, let us dedicate ourselves to renewing the American compact. I ask you not simply to “Trust me,” but to trust your values–our values–and to hold me responsible for living up to them. I ask you to trust that American spirit which knows no ethnic, religious, social, political, regional, or economic boundaries; the spirit that burned with zeal in the hearts of millions of immigrants from every corner of the Earth who came here in search of freedom.
Some say that spirit no longer exists. But I have seen it — I have felt it — all across the land; in the big cities, the small towns and in rural America. The American spirit is still there, ready to blaze into life if you and I are willing to do what has to be done; the practical, down-to-earth things that will stimulate our economy, increase productivity and put America back to work. The time is now to resolve that the basis of a firm and principled foreign policy is one that takes the world as it is and seeks to change it by leadership and example; not by harangue, harassment or wishful thinking.
The time is now to say that while we shall seek new friendships and expand and improve others, we shall not do so by breaking our word or casting aside old friends and allies.
And, the time is now to redeem promises once made to the American people by another candidate, in another time and another place. He said, “For three long years I have been going up and down this country preaching that government–federal, state, and local–costs too much. I shall not stop that preaching. As an immediate program of action, we must abolish useless offices. We must eliminate unnecessary functions of government…we must consolidate subdivisions of government and, like the private citizen, give up luxuries which we can no longer afford.”
“I propose to you, my friends, and through you that government of all kinds, big and little be made solvent and that the example be set by the president of the United State and his Cabinet.”
So said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention in July 1932.
The time is now, my fellow Americans, to recapture our destiny, to take it into our own hands. But, to do this will take many of us, working together. I ask you tonight to volunteer your help in this cause so we can carry our message throughout the land.
Yes, isn’t now the time that we, the people, carried out these unkempt promises? Let us pledge to each other and to all America on this July day 48 years later, we intend to do just that.
I have thought of something that is not part of my speech and I’m worried over whether I should do it.
Can we doubt that only a Divine Providence placed this land, this island of freedom, here as a refuge for all those people in the world who yearn to breathe freely: Jews and Christians enduring persecution behind the Iron Curtain, the boat people of Southeast Asia, of Cuba and Haiti, the victims of drought and famine in Africa, the freedom fighters of Afghanistan and our own countrymen held in savage captivity.
I’ll confess that I’ve been a little afraid to suggest what I’m going to suggest — I’m more afraid not to — that we begin our crusade joined together in a moment of silent prayer. God bless America.