Remarks at the Fundraising Dinner of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly

September 14, 1983

Ambassador Gavin, Tirso del Junco, I thank you both for those magnificent words. Reverend clergy, the Members of the Congress who are here, other members of government, but especially all of you ladies and gentlemen of this Hispanic Assembly:

Let me welcome you to Washington, and I know that Nancy joins me in this. And welcome to the twilight zone. [Laughter] I should warn you that things in this city aren't often the way they seem. Where but in Washington would they call the department that's in charge of everything outdoors, everything outside, the Department of Interior. [Laughter]

You know, I know I've probably told some of you this little anecdote, but I'm going to tell it, dedicated to Tirso, here tonight again. You know, life not only begins at 40 but so does the tendency to tell stories over and over again to the same people. [Laughter] I know I have told some of you. It is said that Castro was making a speech to a large assembly, and he was going on at great length. And then a voice out in the crowd said, ``Peanuts, popcorn, crackerjack!'' And he went on speaking, and again the voice said, ``Peanuts, popcorn, crackerjack!'' And about the fourth time this happened, he stopped in his regular speech and he said, ``The next time he says that, I'm going to find out who he is and kick him all the way to Miami.'' [Laughter] And everybody in the crowd said, ``Peanuts, popcorn, crackerjack!'' [Laughter]

You know, some things in life, however, are exactly as they seem. I know that I can always count on the ideals and the convictions of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. Each of you should be congratulated for what you've done. But accomplishments also require leadership. And tonight I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Tirso del Junco for the great job that he's doing here with the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

I'm delighted that we could gather to share our hopes and dreams for America. I've always believed that this blessed land was set apart in a special way, that there was some divine plan that placed the two great continents here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a deep love for freedom and the courage to uproot themselves, leave home and friends, and come to a strange land.

You here tonight are part of this tradition. And whether your journey here began in the Caribbean Islands, or North or South or Central America, we came together, all, as Americans. That's the heritage of this Western Hemisphere. Now perhaps you are the first generation citizens of the United States of America, or the second, perhaps, or the third, or perhaps as far back as the United States herself goes. But there are no prouder, more patriotic Americans than are gathered here tonight in this room.

We all believe in America's mission. We believe that in a world wracked by hatred and crisis, America remains mankind's best hope. The eyes of history are upon us, counting on us to protect the peace, promote a new prosperity, and provide for a better tomorrow. This evening I want to talk to you as Republicans and Hispanics, and as Americans foremost of all, about these very values that we cherish so deeply.

In recent years, America's values almost seemed in exile. Just consider where our nation was or where it stood just 3 years ago. Our leaders were struggling and shrugging their shoulders and saying that we were in some kind of a malaise and that our problems were unsolvable. Pessimism, totally inconsistent with our national character, had spread across this land, and our leaders had forgotten the strength and determination that runs deep in our people. They'd forgotten that values, not programs and policies, serve as society's compass. They seemingly had forgotten what a decent, moral nation we are. We need make no apologies to the world. After all, we do not occupy any countries. We don't build walls to keep our people in. And we don't coldbloodedly open fire on aircraft loaded with innocent passengers.

Americans didn't accept the idea that our best days were behind us, and neither did the Republican Party. And today -- it's taken blood, sweat, and tears, and a few legislative victories -- but I am pleased to report to you tonight America's star is rising again, and it is the star of the future.

When we got to Washington, inflation was running at double-digit levels, as you remember, and it had been doing so for 2 straight years. It was the worst performance in 60 years in our country. And inflation was taking an especially serious toll on those citizens with low incomes. In the 2 years before we took office, inflation decreased the purchasing power of low-income people on a fixed income of $10,000 by over $2,000. Now, if that's what they call Democratic compassion, then the people can't stand too much of it. [Laughter]

But here's the good news. We reduced that inflation to 2.4 percent for the last 12 months, and that's the lowest 12-month rate in 17 years. Now, they told us that it would take years, possibly decades, before we could bring down inflation. But they forgot about something that we'd brought with us to Washington. It's called determination. And besides that, we didn't know that you couldn't do it, so we did it. [Laughter]

Today, a family of four on a fixed income of $20,000 has $2,000 more in purchasing power this year alone than it would have had if we hadn't slapped inflation down.

I don't want to dredge up too painful a memory, but do you remember when interest rates were 21\1/2\ percent? That was the equivalent of pouring concrete onto the economy. The economy hardened and then began collapsing. Well, we cut the prime interest rate from 21\1/2\ percent. It's now 11 percent. And we're going to work so that those rates continue to decline, and I think they're going to start doing that soon, and our economy will become synonymous with economic growth.

When we took office, this America was suffering from years of uncontrolled spending and taxation. Federal spending was growing at a rate that was steep enough to make a mountain goat dizzy. And the problem was that the Democrats genuinely believed -- and poor, misguided things, they still believe -- [laughter] -- that money can buy happiness. Well, Federal tax money can't buy happiness. It can't buy our citizens real jobs and real opportunity. Ask the Democrats what it takes to get people back to work, and they won't answer that we need responsible and constant economic policies. No, they'll answer that we need billions of dollars more in Federal job programs.

Well, money alone can't buy our children quality education. I don't know how certain politicians, with a straight face, can tell taxpayers that simply more funds are needed to improve education. During the 20-year period between 1960 and 1980, spending on education was shooting up while college board scores were going down. If a 600-percent increase in 20 years in school spending could not make America smarter, how much more do we need? The Democrats' predictable answer is, ``Billions more,'' of course.

Well, Federal money doesn't buy happiness, except for the bureaucrats and the special interests that luxuriate in those programs. All it buys is a bigger debt. We haven't stopped the growth in Federal spending, but we've slowed it by almost 40 percent. And if the Congress acts responsibly -- and those who are present will -- we can bring it further under control. I only wish the majority of that illustrious body were as responsible as Manny Lujan.

Taxes were rising right along with spending, and paying for all those special interest programs doubled the Federal tax bite in just 5 years, between 1976 and 1981. You know, there's an old saying that in levying taxes, as in shearing sheep, it's best to stop when you get to the skin. [Laughter] By the end of 1980, the tax rates were skinning the American taxpayer, and we were paying with our hides. Average working people were being taxed at rates that only a short time before were reserved for the wealthy.

We've put into place a tax program that cut personal income tax rates across the board by 25 percent. Now that was a commitment we made to the working people of this country, and we have another protection waiting in the wings. Soon, beginning in 1985, America's taxes will be indexed, so that never again will government profit from inflation at the peoples' expense.

The cumulative effect of all our economic efforts is now being felt. That's why they don't call it Reaganomics anymore. [Laughter] As they say down at Cape Canaveral, we have liftoff. Our economy is lifting off, and it's because of the policies that we've been passing over the past 2\1/2\ years. Consumer confidence and spending are up. Productivity is up. Industrial production, retail sales, auto sales, housing and construction are all up since the beginning of the year. And last quarter, the economy grew at an annual rate of 9.2 percent, a much bigger jump than anyone had predicted.

Although unemployment is still too high, it's coming down rapidly, and we'll continue to chip away and knock that statistic down to size. As a matter of fact, last month it was the biggest single-month drop in unemployment in 23 years. Now, we must help those who, through no fault of their own, are without jobs, but let's be clear: Our goal isn't welfare or handouts, it's jobs and opportunity. And if I didn't believe that, I think you, the people in this room, would tell me that's what we need and what you want.

Just as we've been building a stronger economy, we've been building a stronger defense. I know that you'll recall a few years ago our military personnel were putting their uniforms in mothballs, and we had a lot of ships and planes that belonged there -- in mothballs. And this situation endangered our national security and the peace.

As Commander in Chief, I can say to you America is more secure than she was 3 years ago. I've heard it from generals and I've heard it from privates, that once again it's an honor to be in our military. We have an abundance of applicants with more education than ever before. Morale, discipline, and unit cohesion have improved dramatically. Training and retention are up. Maintenance backlogs are being reduced. Combat readiness rates have surged. New equipment is being added to our inventory. Our military is once more becoming shipshape.

In 1980 the people also made it clear that they wanted a new direction in foreign affairs. Well, we began by letting the world know what we stood for once again. For too long, our nation had been mute to the injustice of totalitarianism. So, we began speaking out against chemical warfare inflicted on the people of Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, against broken treaties, and against the denial of human liberties. We began speaking out for freedom and democracy and the values that all of us share in our hearts.

And you know, it's amazing. In my meetings with foreign leaders and their ministers, they've told me how good it is to know what the United States stands for once again. Now, they may not always agree with us, but they respect us. There's a growing recognition abroad that America once again will stand up for her democratic ideals. Our country is the leader of the free world, and we morally cannot shirk that responsibility.

We are providing democratic leadership in Central America. A ruthless power has set its sights on our neighbors in Central America and the Caribbean. The security aspect of this threat must be addressed, so we're helping our friends to defend themselves, and we will continue to stand by them in their hour of need.

But let's get one thing straight, and I don't know how many times we must repeat this before it sinks into the skulls of some in this town -- that $3 out of every 4 that we send down there is in the form of humanitarian and economic aid. The people in Central America and the Caribbean are our neighbors. They need our help, and we will not abandon them to indifference.

We're also pursuing peace through arms control. In our search for peace, we have more major negotiations underway with the Soviets than any administration in history. We've undertaken the most sweeping proposals for arms reductions since nuclear weapons became a threat. And for the first time the Soviet Union is willing to talk about actual reductions rather than just ceilings, as in previous administrations. In strategic nuclear forces, in intermediate-range nuclear forces, and in conventional forces, we want to lessen the danger to ourselves and our children. We remain flexible in our bargaining. But as Commander in Chief, I have an obligation to protect this country, and I will not let political expedience influence those crucial negotiations. We will restore equality of strength with the Soviet Union either one way or the other, and the choice is theirs.

I believe that we share a sacred responsibility, all of us, to maintain the opportunity and freedom we've enjoyed and to pass it on to future generations. Americans of Hispanic descent understand completely the traditional values of work, of family, of freedom, and of God. That's why I'm so supportive of VIVA 84, your grassroots Hispanic voter education and registration drive, conceived by Dr. del Junco.

Well, America needs the values of our Hispanic citizens. We need those values to be expressed at the polls and through our political system. And I urge you, the members of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, to run for public office, so that your values will carry even more influence. And nothing would please me more than to see the Republican National Hispanic Assembly become the voice of millions of Hispanics in our country.

As Republicans, we must work in unity toward 1984. We must pull together for the values we treasure. Hispanic Americans know the real meaning of this country. Those who fled oppression especially cherish America's freedom. Those who fled poverty especially cherish America's opportunity. And all of us deeply love this beautiful ideal that is America.

Every American has the right to dream great dreams. I want to keep the dreams of even the poorest, most powerless American great, because he and she are the hope and future and meaning of this nation. Tonight, my friends, I'm asking for your help, your commitment to preserving the American dream, and I have a hunch I know your answer already. Freedom -- siempre [always]. Opportunity -- ahora [now]. America -- fuerte [strong]. [Applause] Thank you all.

You know that this is Hispanic Heritage Week. Do you know that at the Pentagon, those great corridors over there are dedicated to various things that they want to keep before America and want to honor and remember, and one of those corridors is dedicated to those who have won that highest honor that our country can give, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and 37 of those who have won that honor since the Civil War are Hispanic Americans?

Friday -- I believe I have the day right -- Friday, the Pentagon is going to hold a ceremony there in honor of what Hispanic Americans have meant in arms and in preserving the peace in America by way of our military. And I have witnessed a little 12-minute film that was made, perhaps, in connection with that.

Now there's something in that film that I don't think you would know -- I didn't know it -- but it is something to be so proud of. In a little town in Illinois, there's a short street called Second Street in that town. There are 22 homes and families on that street, and those 22 families are all Hispanic Americans. And when war came, 85 sons of those 22 families went off to war for this country. Now, a number of them did not come back. And the people of that little town, for their Hispanic American neighbors, have taken down the street signs that say Second Street, and it now reads Hero Street. I felt that you would want to know that, and I wanted to share it with you.

But it is a proud record that you have. And I'm sure that you know what the creed is and the slogan is of your sons, your brothers, or your fathers and husbands who have gone and who've served this country in time of war, and that is, ``The first in and the last out.'' God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 9:21 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel in Arlington, Va.

In his opening remarks, the President referred to U.S. Ambassador to Mexico John A. Gavin and Tirso del Junco, national chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.