Ronald Reagan Speech
On The Frontier of Freedom
February 11, 1988
Thank you very much. It's great to be here tonight, and I'm delighted to see so many old
friends. And now let's get right to it. First, there's the INF treaty. How do you think I
felt when Gorbachev called a week and a half ago and asked me if our first group of
on-site inspectors could be the Denver Broncos' pass defense? (Laughter.) And then along
came the House vote on Contra aid-I felt so terrible, I nearly called Dan Reeves and John
Faway to tell them what a rough week I'd had.
But seriously, while the Denver Broncos are all terrific athletes and people, each one of
us has to congratulate the Washington Redskins. Believe me, the House action on the Contra
vote was a missed chance at a victory for peace in Central America. It's great to know
there are some people in Washington who play to win. And believe me, I'll be getting back
to that topic in a few minutes.
By the way, something odd happened just before I got here tonight that I think you should
know about. I got a message from Dave Keane reminding me that this was the eve of
Lincoln's birthday-and suggesting I go upstairs and check on the ghost in Lincoln's
bedroom. I did. And what do you know, there was Stan Evans dressed as Abe Lincoln. And he
kept saying, "Listen to Jesse Helms."
Actually, I do want to thank you for that warm welcome, but I hope tonight isn't going to
be like what happened to that fellow I knew back in Hollywood in those movie days-and, oh,
how I hope I have't told you this one before.
We had an actor that was in Hollywood, and he was only there long enough to get enough
money to go to Italy, because he aspired to an operatic career. And then after some time
there, in Milan, Italy, where he was studying, he was invited to sing at La Scala-the very
spiritual fountainhead of opera. They were doing Pagliacci, and he sang the beautiful
aria, Vesti La Giuba. And he received such thunderous and sustained applause from the
balconies and the orchestra seats that he had to repeat the aria as an encore. And again
the same sustained, thunderous applause. And again he sang Vesti La Giuba. And this went
on until finally he motioned for quiet, and he tried to tell them how full his heart was
at that reception-his first time out. But he said," I have sung Vesti La Giuba nine
times now. My voice is gone. I cannot do it again." And a voice from the balcony
said, "You'll do it 'till you get it right." Well, let's get it right tonight.
And let's start where we should start.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the state of our Union, and tonight I'd like to talk
about something that I think in many ways is synonymous: the state of our movement. During
the past year, plenty of questions have been asked about the con-servative movement by
some people who were surprised to find out back in 1980 that there was such a thing. I
mean a powerful new political movement capable of running a victorious na-tional campaign
based on an unabashed appeal to the American people for conservative ideas and principles.
Well, we conservatives have been in Washington now for a while and we occasionally need to
remind ourselves what brought us here in the first place: our unshakable, root-deep,
all-encompassing skepticism about the capital city's answer to the UFO, that bizarre,
ever-tottering but ever-flickering saucer in the sky called "The Prevailing
And, right now, some of the Potomac seers are saying we con-servatives are tired; or
they're saying we don't have a candi-date, some of those candidates in the other party
saying how easy it's going to be to win the presidency for their liberal agenda because
they can run on, of all things, this administra-tion's economic record. Boy, have I got
news for them. They're seeing flying saucers again. I've even got a quote for them. It's
from Napoleon-the morning of Waterloo-at breakfast with his generals. This is true. He
said, " 1 tell you what-Wellington is a bad general. The English are bad trips. We'll
settle the matter by lunchtime."
Well, my fellow conservatives, I think that's exactly what this year is about-settling the
matter by lunchtime. Letting the liberals in Washington discover once again the lesson
they refuse to learn. Letting them know just how big our election year will be because of
booming economic growth and indi-vidual opportunity; and how big an election year ball and
chain they've given themselves with a seven-year record of opposition to the real record.
But, most of all, letting them know that the real friends of the conservative movement
aren't those en-trenched in the capital city for 50 years; the real friends of the
conservative movement are an entity that gets heard from in a big way every four years and
who, I promise you, are going to be heard from this year. I'm talking about those who, if
the case is aggressively put before them, will vote for limited government, family values,
and a tough, strong foreign policy every single time. I'm talking about those believers in
common sense and sound values, your friends and mine, the American people.
You see, those who underestimate the conservative move-ment are the same people who always
underestimate the Amer-ican people. Take the latest instance. As I mentioned, in recent
months some people-and I'm not mentioning any names because I don't want to build up any
candidacies before New Hampshire but you know who they are-have actually taken it upon
themselves to prove to the American people that they've been worse off under this
administration than they were back in the Carter years of the '70s.
Now I agree with you, this takes some doing. How do they manage it? Well, you see, any
statistical comparison of the two recent administrations would start with 1977 to 1981 as
the budget years of the last administration, and 1981 to 1987 as the pertinent years for
this one. Now, that sounds reasonable enough. But our opponents have a new approach, one
that would have embarrassed even the emperor's tailors. They take the years 1977, to up to
1983-and then they stop. So you see, not only do 1984 and 1985 not get counted in their
data base, but they include in this administration's economic record four years of the
last Democratic administration. As columnist Warren Brookes pointed out in an article
published in the Wash-ington Times, "all of the foreshortened Reagan gains are
nullified by the Carter losses, so they look like no gains at all, or, worse,
losses." Our successes, in short, are buried under the last administration's
But the truth is otherwise. Because under the last administra-tion real per capita
disposable income rose at only one percent annual rate, only half the two percent rate of
increase under this administrations gain that has totaled 12.4 percent in six years. Under
the last administration, median family income declined 6.8 percent while under this
administration it went up 9.1 percent. Or take the real after-tax labor income per hour,
If you use the approach adopted by our liberal critics, you see a 4. 5 percent decline.
But the truth is that that figure fell 8.5 percent under the last administration and we
turned this around and accounted for an 8.9 percent increase.
Under the last administration, the average weekly wage went down an incredible 10 percent
in real terms, which accounted for the worst drop in postwar history. Here again, we've
stopped the decline. And that's not to mention what all this has meant in terms of
opportunity for women, for blacks, and minorities, the very groups our opponents say they
most want to help.
Well, since the recovery began, 70 percent of the new jobs have been translated into
opportunities for women; and black and other minority employment has risen twice as fast
as all other groups. Minority family income has also increased at a rate over 40 percent
faster than other groups. In addition, since 1983, 2.9 million people have climbed out of
poverty, and the poverty rate has declined at the fastest rate in more than 10 years.
So, think for a moment on what these statistics mean and the kind of political nerve and
desperation it takes to try to sell the American people on the idea that in the 1980s they
never had it so bad. The truth is, we're in the 63rd month of this non-stop expansion.
Real Gross National Product growth for 1987 was 3.8 percent, defying the pessimists and
even exceeding our own forecast-which was criticized as being too rosy at the tirne-by
more than one half percent. Inflation is down from 13.5 per cent in 1980 to only around 4
percent or less this year. And there's over 15 million new jobs.
So, believe me, I welcome this approach by the opposition. And I promzse you, every time
they use it, I'Iljust tell the story of a friend of mine who was asked to a costume ball a
short time ago-he slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal econ-omist.
Now the reason I spell out these statistics and stress this eco-nomic issue should be very
clear. You know that some cynics like to say that the people vote their pocketbook. But
that's not quite the point. Economic issues are important to the people not simply for
reasons of self-interest. They know the whole body politic depends on economic stability;
the great crises have come for democracies when taxes and inflation ran out of control and
undermined social relations and basic institutions. The Amer-ican people know what limited
government, tax cuts, deregula-tion, and the move towards privatization have meant. It's
meant the largest peacetime expansion in our history, and I can guarantee you they won't
want to throw that away for a return to budgets beholden to the liberal special interests.
No, I think the economic record of conservatives in power is going to speak for itself.
But now let's turn to another area. For two decades we've been talking about getting
justices on the Supreme Court who cared less about criminals and more about the victims of
crime, justices who knew that the words "original intent" referred to something
more than New Year's resolu-tions and fad diets. And then, seven months ago a seat opened
on the Supreme Court. And even before our first nominee was announced, a campaign was
planned unlike any that has ever been waged for or against a judicial nominee in the
history of our country. And let me acknowledge once again my admiration for one of the
courageous defenders, not only in our time but in all time, of the principles of our
Constitution, yes, of its original intent-judge Robert Bork.
One of America's most cherished principles-the independ-ence and integrity of our
judiciary-was under siege. And the American people, who have always been with the ultimate
guar-antors of the Constitution, began to say with clarity and finality, it must never
happen again. So when I nominated a judge who could as easily have been my first nominee,
there was hardly a peep of protest. And judge Kennedy is now going to be justice Kennedy.
And since our opponents won't, I'll let you in on a secret-judge Kennedy will be just the
kind of justice that you and I've been determined to put on the Court, Anyway, any man who
teaches law school in a tri-corner hat and a powdered wig is okay by me on original
Let's look at how far and how successfully we've carried the battle into the lower courts.
just look at the statistics on criminal sentencing. In few places can you see more clearly
the collapse of the liberal stranglehold on our courts. The most recent statistics show
federal judges imposed prison sentences that averaged 32 percent longer than those handed
down during 1979. Robbery sentences were 10 percent longer; drug offenses 38 percent
longer; and weapons offenses 41 percent longer.
The great legal debates of the past two decades over criminal justice have, at their root,
been debates over a strict versus expansive construction of the Constitution. The
Constitution, as originally intended by the framers, is itself tough on crime, and
protective of the victims of crime. For so long the liberal message to our national
culture was tune in, turn on, let it all hang out. And now they see conservatives taking
the lead as our nation says "no" to drugs, and "yes" to family, and
"abso-lutely" to schools that teach basic skills, basic values, and basic
discipline. And it's no wonder that our nation admires a man who believes in teaching
values in education, and talks turkey to teachers, parents, and educators such as our
Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett.
And so I say to you tonight that the vision and record that we will take aggressively to
the American people this November is a vision that all Americans, except a few on the
left, share. A vision of a nation that believes in the heroism of ordinary people living
ordinary lives; of tough courts and safe streets, of a drug-free America where schools
teach honesty, respect, love of learning and, yes, love of country; a vision of a land
where fam-ilies can grow in love and safety and where dreams are made with opportunity.
This is the vision; this is the record; this is the agenda for victory this year.
Well, that's the record then on the economy and the social issues. Now, let's turn to
I want to be clear tonight about the vote on Contra aid. It was a setback to the national
security interests of the United States, and a sad moment for the cause of peace and
freedom in Central America. Until now the carrot-and-stick approach has worked in forcing
a communist regime to relax some of its repression. But now, the action by the House of
Representatives rerooves one part of that formula and goes only with the carrot. The
effect of this vote then was to thrust the promises of democracy of the Sandinista
communists-the kind of i)romises that no commu-nist regime in history has ever carried
out, and that this regime was likely to carry out only under continued pressure. The
effect of this vote was to rest the hopes for peace and democracy in Central America
purely and simply on the word of the commu-nist regime in Managua. This course is, and I
repeat, a risk to America's national security.
But you know, I read something the other day and it's worth a note here. One of those
opposing aid to the freedom fighters said it was important to get a 20-vote margin. Well,
as you know, it was nothing like that-if we could have turned around four or five votes,
we would have won. Last week's vote was not the final word, only a pause. Last week, the
bad news was the lost vote in the House. But the good news was our support in the Senate
and the overwhelming number of House Republicans who voted with us and those 47 Democrats
who braved the threats of reprisals to vote for Contra aid.
So, let me make this pledge to you tonight: we're not giving up on those who are fighting
for their freedom-and they aren't giving up either. I'll have more to say on this in a few
weeks. For now, I'll leave it at this: get ready-the curtain hasn't fallen, the drama
While we're on foreign policy, let me turn forjust a moment to what I said in that
December interview while Mr. Gorbachev was here. You know, Ben Wattenberg was one of the
journalists there, and he brought up a speech I made back in 1982 to the British
Parliament. And he asked me if what I really was saying was what I said in England: that
if the West remained resolute, the Soviets would have to, at some point, deal with their
own internal problems and crises, that the tides of history are shifting in favor of the
cause of freedom. Well, I believed then, and I believe now, that we must consider what
we're seeing-or the steps in that direction. This hardly means accepting the Soviets at
face value. Few of us can forget what that has led to in the past. FDR was quoted as
saying during his dealings with Stalin -with the Soviets in '44: "Stalin doesn't want
anything but security for his country and I think that if I give him everything I possibly
can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything
and will work with me for a world democracy and peace."
Well, no, there is no room for illusion. Our guard is up, our watch is careful. We shall
not be led by-or misled by atmo-spherics. We came to Washington with a common-sense
message that the world is a dangerous place where the only sure route to peace and the
protection of freedom is through American strength. In no place has this thesis of peace
through strength been tested more than on the matter of intermediate-range nuclear forces
(INF). In deploying over 400 SS-20s, with over 1,200 warheads, against our friends and
allies in Europe and Asia over the past decade, the Soviets were playing a highstakes game
of geopolitical blackjack. The prize was Europe-the strategy, discredit America's
deterrence and undermine the NATO alliance. But we and our allies turned over a winning
hand, deploying in Europe Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles that provided an
effective counter to the new Soviet missiles, and Moscow finally stopped upping the
What I would like to see is for some of those who've been praising our INF treaty to show
they've learned its true lesson and vote to maintain an adequate defense budget, our work
on a strategic defense against ballistic missiles, and, yes, aid to the freedom fighters
And while we're on the subject of our nation's defense-you know, there's a man I want to
talk about tonight who said once that "the definition of happiness was service to a
noble cause." No one has done that better, and tonight I salute Cap Wein-berger for
all he's done for America.
But at the same time we must not look at any single step alone -we must see not just the
INF treaty but also the advance of SDI and, most important, the growing democratic
revolution around the globe against totalitarian regimes. We should engage the Soviets in
negotiations to deter war and keep the peace. But at the same time, we must make clear our
own posi-tion, as I have throughout these negotiations. In sitting down to these
negotiations, we accept no moral equivalency between the cause of freedom and the rule of
And we understand that the most important change of all is this: that containment is no
longer enough, that we no longer can be satisfied with an endless stalemate between
liberty and repression. That arms reduction negotiations, development and testing of SDI,
and our help for freedom fighters around the globe must express the clear goal of American
foreign policy. To deter war, yes. To further world peace, yes. But, most of ail, to
advance and protect the cause of world freedom so that some day every man,. woman, and
child on this Earth has as a birth-right the full blessings of liberty.
We've seen dramatic change in these seven years. Who would have guessed seven years ago
that we would see tax rates drop from 70 percent to 28 percent, the longest peacetime
economic boom in our history, or a massive shift in world opinion toward the ideas of free
enterprise and political freedom?
I know some of you are impatient with the pace of this change. But if I might repeat a
story I told when I addressed you for the first time as President-I had the pleasure in
appearing before a Senate committee once while I was still Governor. And I was challenged
there because there was a Republican pres-ident in the White House at the time, who'd been
there for some tirne-and why hadn't we corrected everything that had gone wrong. And the
only way I could think to answer him is, I told him about a ranch many years ago that
Nancy and I acquired. It had a barn with eight stalls in it, in which they kept
cattle-cows. We wanted to keep horses. Well, the accumulation within the stalls had built
up the floor to the place that it wasn't even tall enough for horses in there. And so
there I was, day after day, with a pick and shovel, lowering the level of those stalls,
which had accumulated over the years. And I told this senator who'd asked that question
that I discovered that you didn't undo in a relatively short time what it had taken some
15 years to accum-ulate.
We have not only been undoing the damage of the past; we've put this nation on the upward
road again. And, in the process, the differences between the liberals and conservatives
have become clear to the American people. We want to keep taxes low, they want to raise
them; we send in budgets with spending cuts and they want to ignore them; we want the
balanced budget amendment and the line-item veto and they oppose them; we
want tough judges and tough anti-crime legislation, they hold them both up in the
You'd be surprised how many judges are waiting out there before they-so that they have to
pass on them before they can take their office, and they've been waiting for months. We
want a prayer amendment, they won't let it come to a vote in the House; we stress firmness
with the Soviets, they try to pass legis-lation that would tie our hands in arms
negotiations and endanger our defenses. But I say, we have a program and a plan for the
American people-a program to protect Amercian jobs by fighting the menace of
protectionism, to move forward at flank speed with SDI, to call America to conscience on
the issue of abortion on demand, to mention, as I did in my State of the Union Address,
the overwhelming importance of family life and family values.
That's a case to take to the American people. That's a fight-ing agenda. I intend to
campaign vigorously for whoever our nominee is, and tonight I ask each of you to join me
in this important crusade. Let's ask the American people to replenish our mandate. Let's
tell them if they want four more years of eco-nomic progress and the march of world
freedom, they must help us this year. Help us settle the matter before lunchtime. Help
make 1988 the year of the Waterloo liberal.
I just have to add here, when you look at the figures overall-that they have the nerve
even to still be out there and campaign-ing. (Laughter)
We mustn't just think that electing the president is enough. We've been doing that for
more than half-a-century. We have-in the 50 years between 1931 and 1980, only four years
in that period was there a Republican majority in both houses of the Congress-two years in
Eisenhower's regime, two years in Truman's. But for 46 of those 50 years, they controlled
the Con-gress. Every Democratic president, except for those two years, had a Democratic
Congress. Every Republican president had a Democratic Congress, except for those two years
in Eisen-hower's regime. And now, in the last seven years added to that-yes, for six of
those years we had one House. But except for the four years, for 58 years it will be our
opponents holding the House of Representatives, where so much legislation and
authorization for spending and so forth comes in. And in all those 58 years, there have
only been eight single years in which there was a balanced budget. So, who's at fault for
the deficit today?
Back when the great society-when the war on poverty began, which poverty won-from 1965 to
1980-in those 15 years, the federal budget increased to five times what it had been in
'65. And the deficit increased to 38 times what it had beenjust 15 years before. It's
built-in, it's structural. And you and I need to get representatives not only in the
Executive Branch, but out there in the legislature, so that we can change that structure
that is so built-in, and that threatens us with sc) much harm.
Well, I've gone on too long for all of you here, but I just wanted to-- I couldn't resist,
because you're the troops. You're out there on the frontier of freedom. One young soldier
over there in Korea-- one of our men-- saluted me when I visited there, and very proudly said,
"Mr. President, we're on the frontier of freedom." Well, so are you.
Thank you. God bless you all.