The Reagan Speech Preservation Society

The Great Myth of the Great Society

Modified: Saturday, 14 March 2020 16:40 by admin - Categorized as: Speeches
In 1966, shortly before announcing his candidacy for governor of California, Ronald Reagan gave this speech. It was only recently posted to Youtube by the Reagan Presidential Library, so research into the date of the speech will be needed. The video indicates it took place at Patton Center New York. (A footnote in What's Fair on the Air? indicates the Patton Center is/was in the Bronx.)

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[Music]

[Applause]

Thank you.

I haven't even announced yet, you make me think I've been elected. Ladies and gentlemen, you have given me a welcome that is so heartwarming it's something I will remember always. In addition, if I had no such reasons at all to be happy about the... the form of the greeting and the introductions and all here tonight, I could be grateful because, every once in a while being introduced I get self-conscious when they begin to introduce me and start mentioning the pictures that I've been in. Now I don't mean that I'm ashamed of them, but everyone who's been around Hollywood for any length of time has been in some movies that the studio didn't want them good, it wanted them Thursday. And I've had my share, but at the ye... in the old times you usually could count on the passing years making you forget those pictures. Now you just stay up late enough at night in front of the TV set they all come back to haunt us. Sometimes I think it's like looking at a son you never knew you had.

[Laughter and Applause]

That takes a second doesn't it. I have a friend in the business who stays up late to look at his old movies just to watch his hairline recede.

But you know I've been protesting the growth of government for a number of years. I've had a concern, lest the permanent structure of government become so big that it would become beyond the control of Congress and beyond the will of the people and I have believed that this is a problem that crosses party lines. I've seen an interesting development down through the years, when I first suggested the danger of government control inherent in so many federal handouts there were people who denied vehemently that every... any such thing could ever take place. And yet before too long the same people were saying, "What's wrong with government control?" and in the recent days we've heard representatives in the higher echelons of government asked us "Well, are you afraid of your own government?" Well, to tell you the truth I am and all of us should be.

[Applause]

And I speak not in a partisan sense of an administration or individuals. I'm talking of the institution of government. Wasn't this the admonition of the founding fathers? That government tends to grow, to take on power until freedom eventually is lost. The fact is and we can't escape it, only government is capable of tyranny. Now, I realize this is a controversial subject, particularly as we approach an election year, but then if you didn't take up things that were controversial you'd never talk at all. There was a man knocked on a door one day and a small boy answered and the man said "Son is your father home?" and the boy said "No." he said "Is your mother home?" and the boy said "No." and finally he said, "Well son, I'm your uncle on your father's side." and the kid said, "Well I guess you can come in but I'll tell you right now you're on the wrong side."

[Laughter]

In 1772 the Boston Committee of Correspondence proclaimed the right to life, liberty, and property. Two years later, in Philadelphia, the First Continental Congress declared that Americans were entitled to life, liberty, and property. In June of 1776, the Virginia Bill of Rights asserted that all men were equally free and independent with a means of possessing and the right to possess and acquire property. And three weeks later came the Declaration of Independence, a bloody war, victory, and then a new nation which would be based on a Constitution and a Bill of Rights. "Life, liberty, and property" had become "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." And seventy years would go by before England's Lord Acton would comment on the task of these men and what they had accomplished with this document. He would say they had solved two problems which had heretofore baffled the most enlightened nations. They had prodigiously increased the power of the national government and had founded it on the principle of equality without surrendering the security for freedom and property. And it's true our Constitution is a contract guaranteeing the most limited and equitable government in the long history of man's relation to man. Now, however, while the national power is prodigious, what has happened to security for freedom and our right to the ownership of the fruit of our toil. The French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville a hundred years ago said "The end of freedom comes when the party in power learns it can perpetuate itself through taxation." Well, what does happen to freedom when the executive branch of government can use the money taken from the people in order to coerce the people. A foolish fear? Representative Glenn Andrews introduced an amendment to the poverty program on the floor of Congress. It is almost inconceivable that such an amendment would be required. It is even more inconceivable that the amendment was overwhelmingly repudiated and defeated. It was a simple amendment that would prohibit poverty funds from being used for political purposes. Make no mistake about it, the party in power has legislated into existence a 1 billion, 800 million dollar campaign fund for 1966.

[Applause]

Five years ago we reached a new frontier, and now we're face to face with a Great Society and along the way we've added 31 billion dollars to our depth, but we've decreased our gold holdings until concern is felt for the solvency of our currency. And very shortly the coins we jingle in our pocket will no longer have the ring of silver, but have no fear we reach something of the height of absurdity when in a press conference recently we were told that the government would stand behind those artificial coins and was prepared to exchange them anytime... for paper.

[Applause]

We've discovered that every family of and with an income of less than three thousand dollars a year is poverty-stricken. At the same time we learned that the cost of government prorates out to $3,300 per family. We reach an all-time high in food prices, as every housewife here knows, but the farmer who produces that food receives the lowest percentage of the market basket dollar he's ever received in history, and his debt in relation to income is at an all-time high, higher even than on the eve of the 1929 crash. Four and a half years ago... five years ago, there were no daily casualty lists, no wives and mothers receiving telegrams that began, "We regret to inform you..." The last campaign found our opponents presenting themselves as conservatives, in the sense that they would make no drastic change in our easy prosperous and affluent way. They would maintain the status quo. That's Latin for the mess we're in.

[Applause]

We, on the other hand, were presented as radicals who would bring about some cataclysmic upheaval.

Well, now the wraps are off the Great Society, and a multitude of messages and legislation has made it plain we're to have the welfare state with an unprecedented federalization of American Life. June 30th last, Congress raised the debt limit for the seventh time in five years but our government spends two hundred and sixty million dollars a day, ten million dollars more each day than we were spending just a year ago. We are told that we're enjoying an unprecedented prosperity but forty-two government agencies, the government has just informed us, are spending 70 billion dollars a year on public welfare, and serious discussion is given by men in high place in government, to the idea that there is no longer any necessity to connect work with income, and that a man simply by being born should be assured of an annual income, with no need to work. The ancient Hebrew book the Talmud tells us that, for a father to fail to teach his son to earn a living is the same as teaching him to steal, for that might be the inevitable result.

[Applause]

Our limited government, with its decentralized powers, has given way to planners and they've laid an increasingly heavy hand in every facet of our lives. To quote de Tocqueville again he warned that such a government would cover the face of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, and thus the will of man is not shattered, but softened and guided, until the nation is reduced to a flock of timid and industrious animals of which government is the shepherd. Well, the shepherd, the president, is fond of quoting in these days from the scriptures. His favorite seems to be first Isaiah, the eighteenth verse, "Come let us reason together." Now that has a sort of a warm and cozy sound, doesn't it? But let your eyes stray down a line or two into the next verses, the lines that are not quoted aloud, "If ye refuse, ye shall be devoured with the sword."

[Applause]

Freedom... freedom is very fragile. We've only known a few moments of it in all man's history and most of those moments have taken place here, in this land, under this constitutional system, and under our economic system of free enterprise. But freedom is also indivisible. It isn't spelled with an S. You can't elect to be partly free and partly slave. You're free or you're not free. If we ever decide we need a new Declaration of Independence, I hope we'll keep one line from the old, "He has sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. Today, for every 10,000 of us it only takes 12 doctors to keep us well and healthy. It only takes 40 mechanics and oil station attendants for every 10,000 of us to keep our automobiles running. 37 telephone employees to keep the vast network of telephones running in this country. But it takes a 130 federal employees for every 10,000 to administer the affairs of State.

Federal employees outnumber state employees in 30 of the 50 states. I don't know about yours, but that's true of California and in California that isn't easy. The businessman harassed and eaten out of our substance. The businessman spends 35 percent of his time filling out government forms and regulations. It has been estimated... [Applause] It has been estimated that this government paperwork costs American industry 20 billion dollars a year which must be added into the price tag and it costs another 7 billion dollars a year just to handle government's end of that paperwork and to store it and already it requires 25 million cubic million cubic feet. Sometime back, to show you how this can happen, there was a little New England town that decided to get in on the surplus food idea. Now this is a good idea. No one can quarrel with the fact that if we can raise a surplus rather than waste it should be distributed to those people who have need. So this little town got in on this and got its share of free federal surplus food. And then they woke up one day and discovered that they were being flooded under a great load of paperwork, demanded in connection with this handout, and they discovered finally they put on so many new city employees just to handle this that it was cheaper to get out of the program and buy the groceries retail at the corner market. Now, we've declared war on poverty. Now, no one, again, quarrels with the humanitarian aim I don't think any one of us want to be like the fella that heard about the war on poverty went right out and threw a hand grenade at a beggar. But in getting the program passed, we heard a great deal about one state, West Virginia. Oh this became a household word... this was the very center of poverty and distress and unemployment some of us thought that the whole war would be fought right there in West Virginia. Now the program is adopted, West Virginia gets $400,000, Texas gets 10 million.

[Applause]

We're winning the war though at least on one front... on their own bureaucratic home grounds... $19,000 a year is a good salary and it's a very high rate of pay in government salaries. As a matter of fact there's only one employee out of a thousand in the Department of Defense gets $19,000 a year. Only one out of 500 in the Department of Agriculture. But in the new poverty program, there's 1 out of 19. Gum Springs, Virginia was awarded seventy-four thousand dollars: fifty-four thousand for administrators salaries 20 thousand for the poor.

While...[Applause] while one voice in government tells us that we're enjoying this great prosperity, another voice tells us that one out of five in our country is suffering from poverty and destitution. Now, if that figure is true it shouldn't be too hard to find the people who need the help under this program. Well in my hometown of Dixon, Illinois a committee of ten, self-appointed, beholden to no voters, has established itself and asked the government for a thirty-eight thousand dollar grant so they can go on a search to find out if there's any poverty there. It breaks down... it breaks down to ten thousand two hundred dollars for the chairman and seventy two hundred dollars each for two assistants and the balance will go for secretaries, mailing, office expense, and travel. In another area more than two thousand college graduates have been hired as a part of the program to study the culture of poverty. Now no one disagrees with the youth portion of that program, the idea that we should salvage, if possible, those young people who, for whatever reason, have failed to fit themselves for the responsibilities of adult life. But we take over a hotel, and we install their young ladies who have been lifted from destitute families and now they're to be trained so they'll be self-reliant and can go out on their own and make a living, but while they're being retrained they're given maid service so they won't have to make their own beds. And the program pro-rates out to seven thousand dollars a year for each young lady we're going to help. There are a lot of families in this country raising fine productive citizens on less than seven thousand dollars a year.

[Applause]

I can think of no higher, more noble purpose than to take young men and to make sure that they get an equal chance in the start in life. But we have such a program now, and we put the young men in camps for retraining and we pay them a higher rate of pay than we give the young man who puts on a uniform and goes out to defend his country.

[Applause]

I am sure that all of us are agreed, every responsible citizen is agreed, that we should provide shelter for those people who through no fault of their own lack adequate housing. And for some time the government has provided public housing, but now those who administer the program of expressed concern after almost three decades of it. Concern because an entire generation has grown up raising children and a second and a third generation now are growing up taking it for granted that this is an acceptable way of life and there is no incentive for them to improve themselves, because to get a raise might destroy their eligibility for continuing to live on a subsidy in the public housing. And yet never does government accept that it might be responsible with some of its programs for this trend or this tendency. No, now we're going to have a program subsidizing rents and under the technicalities of the program people with incomes up to 11 or 12 thousand dollars a year will be eligible to live in a house or apartment or a neighborhood beyond their means with their thrifty new neighbors taxed to help pay the differential in their rent. A variety of programs have diluted private property rights so that public interest is anything the planners decide it should be. For generations we've had traditional laws of eminent domain. We have recognized the occasional need of government to take a citizen's property when there is a clear and present need for that particular piece of property in the public interest. But the citizen had his day in court first to establish that the government paid a fair price and second that the government should be forced to prove that there was a clear and present need. Now, urban renewal grants the government the right to force the sale of private property for resale by government to other private citizens who can then use that property to make profit, and we have average selling urban renewal properties to private citizens for 30% of the investment that we the taxpayers have in that property. Again I say, the purpose is noble, the idea of providing decent homes for every American and eliminating slums, but 1 million people have been displaced with a bulldozer and have wound up in new slums paying a higher rent. The law says the displaced must be offered standard housing, at rents they can afford, in convenient locations. But if standard housing at rents they could afford in convenient locations had been available they wouldn't have needed an urban renewal program they'd have moved there on their own.

[Applause]

Robert Weaver, the federal housing commissioner, has said in the beginning, he has made this statement public, the government gave the use of the land to the people to speed its development. Now I didn't remember history that way, I thought we were here and on the land and we created the government, but he says...[Applause] but he has announced now it is the policy of the government to seek to reclaim complete control of the use of the land. Planes equipped with surveying instruments fly over American farms. They survey from the air accurately to see whether the farmer has violated his planting allotment, and if he has, he's guilty as charged. No day in court and he's fined and if he can't pay the fine the regulations prescribed the government can seize his farm and sell it at auction to enforce the payment of that fine.

For 30 years we've had a farm program we've spent billions to make the farmer more prosperous and to remove unneeded surplus land from farm production to reduce the surplus and during that same period the national income has tripled, but the farmers income is smaller than it was 30 years ago and we've increased the number of acres in cultivation by 50 million. Every dollar that we spent on price stabilization in 1948 we are today spending twenty-five dollars. We've reduced the number of farms by half and the government says another two and a half million farmers are unneeded and must be retrained and moved to city jobs. Meanwhile, at the same time, the Appalachian program provides millions of dollars to reclaim marginal land so that the unemployed can be made farmers in that area and add to the present farm surplus. And an ominous question remains unanswered, who will decide which citizens must leave the land and how will the decision be made. How also will we explain that the same government that says that we need only 1 million large commercial farms now, that there is no need for the small family farmer, is still the government that tells us with another voice that no farm of over 160 acres can receive water from federal irrigation projects. Somehow one suspects that government, in all of its involvement in the farm program, will turn out to be something less and a Jolly Green Giant.

[Laughter]

Meanwhile the network of rules grows more minute and more uniform, as de Tocqueville warned. Down on the Mason-Dixon line, on a highway that is used by northerners taking vacations in the south is an oil station. Very enterprising fella running it. A little triangular ground, you know, between the sidewalk and the driveway that so often is covered with gravel or paved over. He planted a few cotton bushes there. Now when a tourist stops in from the north he gives him... picks a cotton ball off the bush right there in front of them and hands it to them as a souvenir of their trip to the South. He's just been fined by the federal government for planting cotton without an allotment.

The Post Office just recently... the Post Office was exposed as been... having, for the last couple of years, taken mail... letters addressed to citizens from the mail and turning them over the Internal Revenue Service if those citizens were... behind or delinquent in the paying of their income tax.

And now we learn that Washington is going to subsidize art and literature. The plan calls for two czars with millions of dollars which way they will apportion on the basis of what they consider is meaningful in art and literature. Well now, if they follow the pattern of some of the government-sponsored scientific research programs there is reason for concern. I'm not a scientist, but I sometimes have a suspicion that the government is subsidizing just plain intellectual curiosity, when I see thousands of dollars spent on "Research in phylogeny and faunal affinities of fossil Bryozoa in the middle Ordovician through Silurian." Now the only thing I understand in that is that phrase "in the middle" there I know who they're talking about.

[Applause]

But nothing is too small for the government to overlook. The government in Washington is now concerned with our ability to enjoy ourselves in the great outdoors, recreational facilities. They've just issued 134 page booklet on the subject. It's full of profundities I wonder how we managed to get along without it up 'til now. For example, if you lay out a campsite, you should provide drinking fountains at such a height that the drinking level is convenient for the persons using the fountain. But wait 'til you get... wait 'til you get to the exciting chapter on wildlife. Insects crawling into the ears of outdoorsmen sometimes create painful conditions. I got news for them, it's no fun when it happens indoors.

[Applause]

That isn't all they have to say about wildlife. If your recreational area has a bathhouse intended for the use of both men and women, it should be divided into two parts by a tight partition. Now you know we'd have never thought of that one by ourselves.

[Applause]

Honestly though, I know that they only mean to be helpful. I know that it's really human nature... they're motivated by the most humanitarian of idealism. It's just natural for them to see the problems and see the immediate problem and to suggest, "Oh if we had a little more money a little more power of what we could do for the people."

Now in an atmosphere of emergency and excessive zeal for our welfare the federal government proposes to invade an area the traditional province of the local community and state. The finest public school system in all the world. With no real determination yet that the federal government is the best manager of our educational affairs. A suspicion prevails that they're not so much interested in speeding progress as they are in asserting authority in every conceivable aspect of the educational system. An educational system that has worked very well and has been responsive to parental opinion but Washington insists that it only wants to help solve the financial problems attended on our rapid growth. Well problems there are particularly because the federal government in recent years has dried up so many sources of revenue... of local revenue by usurping those sources for its own tax policies.

[Applause]

But that same government has figures that reveal that we at the local level in the last decade have increased school revenue by a hundred and fifty six percent. We have built in ten years thirty billion dollars worth of classrooms. We have reduced the ratio of pupil to teacher and pupil to classroom and we have increased the average teacher's salary by sixty five percent. And yet every suggestion that we make for earmarking tax money and allowing it to remain at the local level without running it through those puzzle palaces on the Potomac first, is met with great resistance. Already there are a hundred and thirty five separate federal agencies and officers doling out money at the college level.

Some time ago a group of distinguished college presidents, alarmed at the extent to which academic freedom has been compromised by these vast money grants, went to Washington and they had a proposal they'd worked out. A proposal for allowing the individual citizen to compute his income tax and then deduct a specified amount and contribute it to the college of his choice instead of paying it in income tax. And the government would... the government would be allowed to determine the proper amount that would solve the problem and yet not disrupted the government's own economy or need for revenue. And thus they would get around the question of church and state the separation of saying that an individual citizen chose to contribute his money to a church supported school. Over and over again in Washington they kept asking, "But why won't this system work?" and finally a Freudian slip occurred. Francis Keppel, United States Director of Education blurted out, "You don't understand, under the plan you proposed, we couldn't achieve our social objectives." Social objectives. And now we uncover a memorandum thanks to the press, actually, a memorandum in the community relations service of the poverty program has nothing really to do with education but the memorandum is very disturbing in this sentence. "We should conduct a systematic effort to contact all publishers and school boards to encourage their publication and adoption of textbooks conforming to established standards." Well if the government is going to build the schools, and buy the books, issue scholarships, make judgments and exert pressure, what if, one day, that pressure is of a political nature not to our liking?

Education is the bulwark of freedom but you remove it too far from the community and the parents control and education becomes the tool of tyranny.

[Applause]

Already here and there in our land, there are too many students that are studying from textbooks that devote a chapter to public welfare and not one line to Patrick Henry.

[Applause]

Sometimes when you look at the problem you think that governments like a baby. It's an alimentary canal with an appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other. We're taxed in our food and our drink and our shelter with the government taking a higher percentage from the productive free economy than any government has ever done in history without ruin. So-called tax reform when it is suggested whines up is the old shell game they just rearranged it shifted around and apply at someplace else as we discovered with the so-called tax cut we thought we had.

[Applause]

Our tax policy today is based in the idea that we're robbing Peter to pay Paul. Well we'd better take another look... we're robbing Paul to pay Paul and we're all named Paul... Peter went bankrupt a long time ago.

Inflation planned and deliberate over the last three decades has reduced the value of our dollar to thirty five and a half cents. Well, how did this come about? Well, mainly because we have perverted our constitution, perverted it with regard to a welfare clause that doesn't exist, perverted it with regard to the misuse of the taxation system, perverted with regard to the interpretation of the clauses on Interstate Commerce, and we've done it under such high sounding phrases as the "greatest good for the greatest number" or "one-man one-vote" forgetting that majority rule becomes mob rule unless there is a set of ground rules protecting the individual.

One's right to life... one's right-to-life to Liberty to the freedom of worship, to speak, to assemble, in short, our god-given unalienable rights, may not be submitted to a vote. The very purpose of the Bill of Rights was to forever put them beyond reach of majority rule. A hundred years ago, the problem of the nation was a nation half-slave and half-free and whether such a nation could survive. And today it's a world half-slave and half-free and whether mankind himself can survive. We call out to the guard in the night and ask, "Does all go well?" and echoing back from the shores of the Potomac comes the word "There's nothing to fear." Nothing to fear but an evil enemy who since World War II has increased the enslavement from 8% of the world's population to near forty percent. Every lesson of history tells us that as a nation has grown in culture and refinement and advanced it has softened and when confronted by the barbarian, the less cultured, the barbarians have triumphed. You and I have come to our moment of truth.

Does men exist only by permission of and for the sake of the state, a group marching toward eternity in a super ant heap or does he control his own destiny? This is a question that must be answered by all of us regardless of party.

To those who are Democrats, ask yourselves if the leadership of your party still follows the precepts of Jefferson, Jackson, and Cleveland. Take the platform of 1932 on which Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected, with its demand for a 25% reduction in the cost of the federal government, for restoration of constitutional limits on the power of that government, for a return to the states and the local communities and the individuals of the rights that had been taken from them. Ask which party would be most at home today with those promises. I know that the bond of party loyalty is very strong. I was a Democrat most of my life. I know it is hard to to make a change from party loyalty and the party of your lifelong choice, without a feeling that you are being treasonable, or unfair. I say to you have no feeling of disloyalty if you have decided you no longer can follow the leadership of that party tonight because the leadership of that party has long since abandoned you.

[Applause]

And now to those of us of another party, to those who are Republicans. Today, the Republican Party is the vehicle we must use as the party of opposition... opposition to the misguided leadership at home and opposition to all the evil abroad that threatens the dignity and freedom of man in every land. And it's an awesome responsibility and you and I who are Republicans cannot meet it with a splintered party. For too long, we have been Republicans complete with descriptive adjectives and hyphens before the word Republican. Moderate-Republicans, Liberal-Republicans, Conservative-Republicans, whatever label we chose, the truth is we've been Sucker-Republicans.

[Applause]

Those adjectives and those hyphens were given to us by our opponents and the time has come to bundle them up and give them back.

[Applause]

If you have to hang on to the hyphen just be a Good or a Republican-Republican. We can cringe in the shadow of a philosophy we detest but fear to challenge or we can rise from a defeat and begin the second round of our struggle to restore the Republic. And now there are those among us, there are Republicans today who understandably so hungry to get back to the position that we once held, to re-establish some equality in this two-party system, restore the imbalance we now have, who has suggested, even somewhat cynically, that maybe we should start talking to voter blocks and making promises that perhaps we should even reshape our party in the image of the victorious party, on the basis that perhaps an imitation might get more votes than we've been attracting. Well I'd like to suggest there is a block we can appeal to. It's a voter bloc of millions and millions of people it crosses party lines, ethnic lines, religious and racial lines, economic lines. It's made up of millions of unsung heroes; people who get up in the morning send their kids to school and go to work they contribute to their church and their charity and their community. They believe that they were created in God's image and that God is the author of their rights and freedom and their disturbed because their children can no longer ask God's blessing in a schoolroom.

[Applause]

I say to you that bloc... that bloc of voters can be ours, not if we come to them with any imitation or air sets program but only if we're willing to stand on principle. Yes, let's be willing to tell them that we too want to solve and will solve as to the best of our ability the problems of poverty and hunger and health and old-age and unemployment, but we believe we can do that without resulting to undue compulsion and fiscal irresponsibility. That we believe we can put a floor beneath which no American will be asked to live in degradation but at the same time we will not erect a ceiling above which no citizen can fly without being penalized for his initiative in his effort.

[Applause]

And let us tell them that, hard though the problems may be that face us on the world scene, we will not buy our protection from the threat of the bomb by trading away the freedom of people in other lands not ours to give.

[Applause]

And let's tell them that if their sons are going to be asked to fight and die for their country, at the same time they'll be allowed to win.

[Applause]

To all Republicans today entrusted with this responsibility because it is ours, I say look deep in your own hearts and ask yourselves if you possibly can have any difference with any other Republican but is more important from this challenge that faces us tonight. If you have if you're unwilling to meet this challenge then you'd better start preparing... deciding what you'll tell your children it was that you found more important than freedom... they'll want to know.

[Applause]

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