Ronald Reagan Speech
We Will Not Be Turned Back
February 18, 1983
10th Annual CPAC Conference
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Chairman, [Representative Mickey Edwards, ACU Chairman],
reverend clergy, I thank you very much for those very kind words, and I thank you all for
certainly a most hearty and warm welcome.
I'm grateful to the American Conservative Union, Young Americans for Freedom, National
Review and Human Events for organizing this third annual memorial service for the
Democratic platform of 1980. Someone asked me why I wanted to make it three in a row.
Well, you know how the Irish love wakes. [Laughter]
But I'm delighted to be back here with you, at your 10th annual conference. In my last two
addresses, I've talked about our common perceptions and goals, and I thought I might
report to you here tonight on where we stand in achieving those goals - a sort of
"State of the Reagan Report," if you will.
Now, I'm the first to acknowledge that there's a good deal left unfinished on the
conservative agenda. Our cleanup crew will need more than two years to deal with the mess
left by others for over half a century. But I'm not disheartened. In fact, my attitude
about that unfinished agenda isn't very different from that expressed in an anecdote about
one of my favorite Presidents, Calvin Coolidge. [Laughter]
Some of you may know that after Cal Coolidge was introduced to the sport of fishing by his
Secret Service detail, it got to be quite a passion with him, if you can use that word
about "Silent Cal." Anyway, he was once asked by reporters how many fish were in
one of his favorite angling places, the River Brule. And Coolidge said the waters were
estimated to carry 45,000 trout. And then he said: "I haven't caught them all yet,
but I sure have intimidated them."
Well, it's true we haven't brought about every change important to the conscience of a
conservative, but we conservatives can take a great deal of honest pride in what we have
achieved. In a few minutes I want to talk about just how far we've come and what we need
to do to win further victories. But right now, I think a word or two on strategy is in
order. You may remember that in the past, I mentioned that it was not our task as
conservatives to just point out the mistakes made over all the decades of liberal
government, not just to form an able opposition, but to govern, to lead a nation. And I
noted this would make new demands upon our movement, upon all of us.
For the first time in half a century, we've developed a whole new cadre of young
conservatives in government. We've shown that conservatives can do more than criticize;
we've shown that we can govern and move our legislation through the Congress.
Now, I know there's concern over attempts to roll back some of the gains that we've made.
And it seems to me that here we ought to give some thought to strategy - to making sure
that we stop and think before we act. For example, some of our critics have been saying
recently that they want to take back the people's third-year tax cut and abolish tax
indexing. And some others, including members of my staff, wanted immediately to open up a
verbal barrage against them. Well, I hope you know that sometimes it's better if a
President doesn't say exactly what's on his mind. There's an old story about a farmer and
a lawyer that illustrates my point.
It seems that these two got into a pretty bad collision, a traffic accident. They both got
out of their cars. The farmer took one look at the lawyer, and walked back to his car, got
a package, brought it back. There was a bottle inside, and he said, "Here, you look
pretty shook up. I think you ought to take a nip of this, it'll steady your nerves."
Well, the lawyer did. And the farmer said, "You still look a bit pale. How about
another?" And the lawyer took another swallow. And under the urging of the farmer, he
took another and another and another. And then, finally, he said he was feeling pretty
good and asked the farmer if he didn't think that he ought to have a little nip, too. And
the farmer said, "Not me, I'm waiting for the state trooper."
I wonder if we can't learn something from that farmer. If our liberal friends really want
to head into the next election under the banner of taking away from the American people
their first real tax cut in nearly 20 years; if, after peering into their heart of hearts,
they feel they must tell the American people that over the next six years they want to
reduce the income of the average family by $3,000; and if they want to voice these deeply
held convictions in an election year - well, fellow conservatives, who are we to stifle
the voices of conscience?
Now, in talking about our legislative agenda, I know that some of you have been disturbed
by the notion of standby tax increases in the so-called "out years." Well, I
wasn't wild about the idea myself. But the economy is getting better, and I believe these
improvements are only the beginning. And with some luck, and if the American people
respond with the kind of energy and initiative they've always shown in the past, well,
maybe it's time we started thinking about some standby tax cuts, too.
But you know, with regard to the economy, I wonder if our political adversaries haven't
once again proved that they're our best allies. They spent the last 16 months or so
placing all the responsibility for the state of the economy on our shoulders. And with
some help from the media, it's been a pretty impressive campaign. They've created quite an
image - we're responsibile for the economy.
Well, I assume that we're responsible then for inflation which, after back-to-back years
in double digits before we got here, has now been reduced to 3.9 percent in 1982. And for
the last three months of the year, it ran at only 1.1 percent. In 1982 real wages
increased for the first time in three years. Interest rates, as you've already been told,
have dropped dramatically, with the prime rate shrinking by nearly 50 percent. And in
December, the index of leading indicators was a full 6.3 percent above last March's low
point and has risen in eight of the last nine months. Last month housing starts were up 95
percent and building permits 88 percent over the last year at this time. New home sales
are up to by 54 percent since April, and inventories of unsold homes are at the lowest
levels in more than a decade. Auto production this quarter is scheduled to increase by 22
percent, and General Motors alone is putting 21,400 of their workers back on the jobs.
Last month's sharp decline in the unemployment rate was the most heartening sign of all.
It would have taken a $5 billion jobs bill to reduce unemployment by the same amount - and
it didn't cost us anything.
It's time to admit our guilt, time we admitted that our liberal critics have been right
all the time. And they should go right on telling the American people that the state of
economy is precisely the fault of that wicked creature, Kemp-Roth and its havoc-wreaking
Let's confess, let's admit that we've turned the corner on the economy. And we're
especially proud of one thing: when we hit heavy weather, we didn't panic, we didn't go
for fast bromides and quick fixes, the huge tax increases or wage and price controls
recommended by so many. And our stubborness, if you want to call it that, will quite
literally pay off for every American in the years ahead.
So, let me pledge to you tonight: Carefully, we have set out on the road to recovery. We
will not be deterred. We will not be turned back. I reject the policies of the past, the
policies of tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect. The lesson of these failed
policies is clear; I've said this before: you can't drink yourself sober or spend yourself
rich, and you can't prime the pump without pumping the prime - as somebody did, like to 21
1/2 percent in 1980.
And a word is in order here on the most historic of all the legislative reforms we've
achieved in the last two years - that of tax indexing. You can understand the terror that
strikes in the heart of those whose principal constituency is big government. Bracket
creep is government's hidden incentive to inflate the currency and bring on inflation, and
indexing will end that. It will end those huge, hidden subsidies for bigger and bigger
government . In the future, if we get indexing planted firmly as a law of the land, the
advocates of big government who want money, more money for their social spending, their
social engineering schemes, will have to go to the people and say right out loud: "We
want more money from your weekly paycheck, so we're raising your taxes." Do that
instead of sneaking it out by way of inflation, which they have helped bring on.
So, all the professional Washingtonians, from bureaucrats to lobbyists to the special
interest groups, are frightened - plain scared - and they're working overtime to take this
one back. Well, I think I speak for all conservatives when I say tax indexing is
non-negotiable. It's a fight we'll take to the people, and we'll win.
But I think you can see how even this debate shows things are changing for the better. It
highlights the essential differences between two philosophies now contending for power in
American political life. One is the philosophy of the past - a philosophy that has as its
constituents an ill-assorted mix of elitists and special-interest groups who see
government as the principal vehicle of social change, who believe that the only thing we
have to fear is the people, who must be watched and regulated and superintended from
On the other hand, our philosophy is at the heart of the new political consensus that
emerged in America at the beginning of this decade, one that I believe all - well, I
believe it will dominate American politics for many decades. The economic disasters
brought about by too much government were the catalysts for this consensus. During the
'70s, the American people began to see misdirected, overgrown government as the source of
many of our social problems - not the solution.
This new consensus has a view of government that's essentially that of our Founding
Fathers - that government is the servant, not the master; that it was meant to maintain
order, to protect our nation's safety, but otherwise, in the words of that noted political
philosopher, schnozzle Jimmy Durante: "Don't put no constrictions on da people. Leave
'em da heck alone."
The overriding goal during the past two years has been to give the government back to the
American people, to make it responsive again to their wishes and desires, to do more than
bring about a healthy economy or a growing gross national product. We've truly brought
about a quiet revolution in American government.
For too many years, bureaucratic self-interest and political maneuvering held sway over
efficiency and honesty in government. Federal dollars were treated as the property of
bureaucrats, not taxpayers. Those in the federal establishment who pointed to the misuse
of those dollars were looked upon as malcontents or troublemakers.
Well, this administration has broken with what was a kind of a buddy system. There have
been dramatic turnabouts in some of the more scandal-ridden and wasteful federal agencies
and programs. Only a few years ago, the General Service Administration was racked by
indictments and report after report of inefficiency and waste. Today at GSA, Jerry Carmen
has not only put the whistleblowers back in charge, he's promoted them and given them new
responsibilities. Just listen to this little set of figures. Today, General Service
Administration work-in-progress time is down from 30 days to seven, even while the agency
has sustained budget cuts of 20 percent, office space reductions of 20 percent, and the
attrition of 7,000 employees.
At the Government Printing Office, under Dan Sawyer, losses of millions of dollars have
suddenly been ended as the workforce was cut through attrition and a hiring freeze, and
overtime pay was cut by $6 million in one year alone. The government publication program,
which ran a cumulative loss of $20 million over a three-year period, registered a Mi3 .9
million profit, and the GPO as a whole has experienced a profit of $4. 1 million last
It is said by some that this administration has turned a blind eye to waste and fraud at
the Pentagon while overzealously concentrating on the social programs. Well, at the
Pentagon, under Cap Weinberger's leadership and our superb service Secretaries, Jack
Marsh, John Lehman, and Verne Orr, we have identified more than a billion dollars in
savings on waste and fraud, and, over the next seven years, multiyear procurement and
other acquisition initiatives will save us almost $30 billion.
Now, these are only three examples of what we're attempting to do to make government more
efficient. The list goes on. We have wielded our inspectors general as a strike force
accounting for nearly $17 billion in savings in 18 months. With Peter Grace's help, we've
called on top management executives and experts from the private sector to suggest modern
management techniques for every aspect of government operations. And with an exciting new
project called Reform 88, we're going to streamline and reorganize the processes that
control the money, information, personnel, and property of the Federal bureaucracy - the
maze through which nearly $2 trillion passes each year and which includes 350 different
payroll systems and 1,750 personnel offices.
There is more, much more - from cutting down wasteful travel practices to reducing
paperwork, from aggressively pursuing the $40 billion in bad debts owed the federal
government to reducing publication of more than 70 million copies of wasteful or
unnecessary government publications.
But, you know, making government responsive again to the people involves more than
eliminating waste and fraud and inefficiency. During the decades when government was
intruding into areas where it's neither competent nor needed, it was also ignoring its
legitimate and constitutional duties such as preserving the domestic peace and providing
for the common defense.
I'll talk about that in a moment. I know you've already heard about that today, some of
you. But on the matter of domestic order, a few things need to be said. First of all, it
is abundantly clear that much of our crime problem was provoked by a social philosophy
that saw man as primarily a creature of his material environment. The same liberal
philosophy that saw an era of prosperity and virtue ushered in by changing man's
environment through massive federal spending programs also viewed criminals as the
unfortunate products of poor socioeconomic conditions or an underprivileged upbringing.
Society, not the individual, they said, was at fault for criminal wrongdoing. We are to
Now, we conservatives have been warning about the crime problem for many years, about that
permissive social philosophy that did so much to foster it, about a legal system that
seemed to specialize in letting hardened criminals go free. And now we have the means and
the power to do something. Let's get to work.
Drug pusher after drug pusher, mobster after mobster has escaped justice by taking
advantage of our flawed bail and parole system. Criminals who have committed atrocious
acts have cynically utilized the technicalities of the exclusionary rule, a miscarriage of
justice unique to our legal system. Indeed, one National Institute of Justice study showed
that of those arrested for drug felonies in Los Angeles County in 1981, 32 percent were
back out on the streets because of perceived problems with the exclusionary rule.
Now, the exclusionary rule - that isn't a law that was passed by Congress or a state
legislature, it's what is called case law, the result of judicial decisions. If a law
enforcement officer obtains evidence as the result of a violation of the laws regarding
search and seizure, that evidence cannot be introduced in a trial even if it proves the
guilt of the accused. Now, this is hardly punishment of the officer for his violation of
legal procedures, and its only effect, in many cases, is to free someone patently guilty
of a crime.
I don't know, maybe I've told you this before, but I have to give you a glaring example of
what I've taken too much time to explain here. [In] San Bernardino, California, several
years ago, two narcotics agents, based on the evidence they had, obtained a legal warrant
to search the home of a man and woman suspected of peddling heroin. They searched the
home. They didn't find anything. But as they were leaving, just on a hunch, they turned
back to the baby in the crib and took down the diapers, and there was the stash of heroin.
The evidence was thrown out of court and the couple went free because the baby hadn't
given permission for the violation of its constitutional rights.
Well, this administration has proposed vital reforms of our bail and parole systems and
criminal forfeiture and sentencing statutes. These reforms were passed by the Senate 95 to
1 last year. Our anti-crime package never got out of committee in the House of
Representatives. Do you see a target there? The American people want these reforms, and
they want them now. I'm asking tonight that you mobilize all the powerful resources of
this political movement to get these measures passed by the Congress.
On another front, all of you know how vitally important it is for us to reverse the
decline in American education, to take responsibility for the education of our children
out of the hands of parents and teachers. That's why the Congress must stop dithering. We
need those tuition tax credits. We need a voucher system for the parents of disadvantaged
children. We need education savings accounts, a sort of IRA for college. And finally - and
don't think for a moment I've given up - we need to eliminate that unnecessary and
politically engendered Department of Education.
There are other steps we're taking to restore government to its rightful duties, to
restore the political consensus upon which this nation was founded. Our Founding Fathers
prohibited a federal establishment of religion, but there is no evidence that they
intended to set up a wall of separation between the state and religious belief itself.
The evidence of this is all around us. In the Declaration of Independence, alone, there
are no fewer than four mentions of a Supreme Being. "In God We Trust" is
engraved on our coinage. The Supreme Court opens its proceedings with a religious
invocation. And the Congress opens each day with prayer from its chaplains. The
schoolchildren of the United States are entitled to the same privileges as Supreme Court
Justices and Congressmen. Join me in persuading the Congress to accede to the overwhelming
desire of the American people for a constitutional amendment permitting prayer in our
And finally, on our domestic agenda, there is a subject that weighs heavily on all of us -
the tragedy of abortion on demand. This is a grave moral evil and one that requires the
fullest discussion on the floors of the House and Senate. As we saw in the last century
with the issue of slavery, any attempt by the Congress to stifle or compromise away
discussion of important moral issues only further inflames emotions on both sides and
leads ultimately to even more social disruption and disunity.
So, tonight, I would ask that the Congress discuss the issue of abortion openly and freely
on the floors of the House and Senate. Let those who believe the practice of abortion to
be a moral evil to join us in taking this case to our fellow Americans. And let us do so
rationally, calmly, and with an honest regard for our fellow Americans.
Speaking for myself, I believe that once implications of abortion on demand are fully
aired and understood by the American people, they will resolutely seek its abolition. Now,
I know there are many who sincerely believe that limiting the right of abortion violates
the freedom of choice of the individual. But if the unborn child is a living entity, then
there are two individuals, each with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. Unless and until someone can prove the unborn is not alive - and all medical
evidence indicates it is - then we must concede the benefit of the doubt to the unborn
But whether it's cutting spending and taxing, shrinking the size of the deficit, ending
overregulation, inefficiency, fraud and waste in government, cracking down on career
criminals, revitalizing American education, pressing for prayer and abortion legislation,
I think you can see that the agenda we've put before America these past two years has been
a conservative one. Oh, and there are two other matters that I think you'd be interested
in. First, as part of our federalism effort, next week we will be sending to the Congress
our proposal for four megablock grants that will return vital prerogatives to the states
where they belong. And second, the Office of Management and Budget will press ahead with
new regulations prohibiting the use of federal tax dollars for purposes of political
And these important domestic initiatives have been complemented by the conservative ideas
we've brought to the pursuit of foreign policy. In the struggle now going on for the
world, we have not been afraid to characterize our adversaries for what they are. We have
focused world attention on forced labor on the Soviet pipeline and Soviet repression in
Poland and all the other nations that make up what is called the "fourth world"
- those living under totalitarian rule who long for freedom.
We publicized the evidence of chemical warfare and other atrocities in Cambodia, which
we're now supposed to call Kampuchea, and Afghanistan. We pointed out that totalitarian
powers hold a radically different view of morality and human dignity than we do. We must
develop a forward strategy for freedom, one based on our hope that someday representative
government will be enjoyed by all the people and all the nations of the earth.
We've been striving to give the world the facts about the international arms race. Ever
since our nearly total demobilization after World War II, we in the West have been playing
catchup. Yes, there's been an international arms race, as some of the declared Democratic
candidates for the Presidency tell us. But let them also tell us, there's only been one
side doing the racing.
Those of you in the frontline of the conservative movement can be of special assistance in
furthering our strategy for freedom, our fight against totalitarianism. First of all,
there is no more important foreign policy initiative in this administration, and none that
frightens our adversaries more, than our attempts through our international radios to
build constituencies for peace in nations dominated by totalitarian, militaristic regimes.
We've proposed to the Congress modest but vitally important expenditures for the Voice of
America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Marti. These proposals stalled last
year, but with your help we can get them through the Congress this year. And believe me,
nothing could mean more to the Poles, Lithuanians, Cubans, and all the millions of others
living in that fourth world.
Now, it would be also unconscionable during any discussion of the need for candor in our
foriegn policy not to mention here the tragic event that last year shocked the world - the
attack on His Holiness, Pope John Paul II - an act of unspeakable evil, an assault on man
and God. It was an international outrage and merits the fullest possible investigation.
Tonight, I want to take this opportunity to applaud the courage and resourcefulness of the
government of Italy in bringing this matter to the attention of the world. And, contrary
to what some have suggested, you can depend on it, there is no one on our side that is
acting embarrassed or feeling embarrassed because they're going ahead with that
investigation. We mean to help them.
And, now, Cap, you can breathe easy, because here we come. We must continue to revitalize
and strengthen our Armed Forces. Cap Weinberger's been waging an heroic battle on this
front. I'm asking you, the conservative leaders here tonight, to make support for our
defense buildup one of your top priorities.
But besides progress in furthering all of these items on the conservative agenda,
something else is occuring - something that someday we conservatives many be very proud
happened under our leadership. Even with all our recent economic hardships, I believe a
feeling of optimism is now entering the American consciousness, a belief that the days of
division and discord are behind us and that an era of unity and national revewal is upon
A vivid reminder of how our nation has learned and grown and transcended the tragedies of
the past was given to us here in Washington only a few months ago. Last November, on the
Mall, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, a new memorial was
dedicated - one of dark, lowlying walls inscribed with the names of those who gave their
lives in the Vietnam conflict. Soon, there will be added a sculpture of three infantrymen
representing different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
During the dedication ceremonies, the rolls of the missing and dead were read for three
days, morning till night, in a candlelight ceremony at the National Cathedral. And those
veterans of Vietnam who never were welcomed home with speeches and bands, but who were
defeated in battle and were heroes as surely as any who ever fought in a noble cause,
staged their own parade on Constitution Avenue.
As America watched them, some in wheelchairs, all of them proud, there was a feeling that
as a nation we were coming together, coming together again, and that we had at long last
brought the boys home.
"A lot of healing ... went on," said Jan Scruggs, the wounded combat veteran who
helped organize support for the memorial. And then there was this newspaper account that
appeared after the ceremonies. I'd like to read it to you.
"Yesterday, crowds returned to the memorial. Among them was Herbie Petit, a machinist
and former marine from New Orleans. ' Last night,' he said, standing near the wall, 'I
went out to dinner with some ex-marines. There was also a group of college students in the
restaurant. We started talking to each other, and before we left, they stood up and
cheered. The whole week,' Petit said, his eyes red, 'it was worth it just for that .'
It has been worth it. We Americans have learned again to listen to each other, to trust
each other. We've learned that government owes the people an explanation and needs their
support for its actions at home and abroad. And we've learned - and pray this time for
good - that we must never again send our young men to fight and die in conflicts that our
leaders are not prepared to win.
Yet, the most valuable lesson of all, the preciousness of human freedom, has been
relearned not just by Americans but all the people of the world. It is the "stark
lesson" that Truong Nhu Tang, one of the founders of the National Liberation Front, a
former Viet Cong minister and vice-minister of the postwar Vietnamese Communist
government, spoke of recently when he explained why he fled Vietnam for freedom. "No
previous regime in my country," he wrote about the concentration camps and boat
people of Vietnam, "brought such numbers of people to such desperation. Not the
military dictators, not the colonialists, not even the ancient Chinese warlords. It is a
lesson that my compatriots and I learned through witnessing and through suffering in our
own lives the fate of our countrymen. It is a lesson that must eventually move the
conscience of the world." This man who had fought on the other side learned the value
of freedom only after helping to destroy it and seeing those who had had to give it up.
The task that has fallen to us as Americans is to move the conscience of the world, to
keep alive the hope and dream of freedom. For if we fail or falter, there'll be no place
for the world's oppressed to flee to. This is not a role we sought. We preach no manifest
destiny. But like the Americans who brought a new nation into the world 200 years ago,
history has asked much of us in our time. Much we've already given; much more we must be
prepared to give.
This is not a task we shrink from; it's a task we welcome. For with the privilege of
living in this kindly, pleasant, greening land called America, this land of generous
spirit and great ideals, there is also a destiny and a duty, a call to preserve and hold
in sacred trust mankind's age-old aspirations of peace and freedom and a better life for
generations to come.
God bless you all, and thank you for what you're doing.