Farewell Address to the Nation
My fellow Americans:
This is the 34th time I'll speak to you from the Oval Office and the last. We've been together 8 years now, and soon it'll be time for me to go. But before I do, I wanted to share some thoughts, some of which I've been saving for a long time.
It's been the honor of my life to be your President. So many of you have written the past few weeks to say thanks, but I could say as much to you. Nancy and I are grateful for the opportunity you gave us to serve.
One of the things about the Presidency is that you're always somewhat apart. You spend a lot of time going by too fast in a car someone else is driving, and seeing the people through tinted glass -- the parents holding up a child, and the wave you saw too late and couldn't return. And so many times I wanted to stop and reach out from behind the glass, and connect. Well, maybe I can do a little of that tonight.
ask how I feel about leaving. And the fact is, ``parting is such sweet sorrow.''
The sweet part is
know, down the hall and up the stairs from this office is the part of the White
House where the President and his family live. There are a few favorite windows
I have up there that I like to stand and look out of early in the morning. The
view is over the grounds here to the
been thinking a bit at that window. I've been reflecting on what the past 8
years have meant and mean. And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a
nautical one -- a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor. It
was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people. And the
sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the
A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn't get out of his mind. And, when I saw it, neither could I. Because that's what it was to be an American in the 1980's. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again -- and in a way, we ourselves -- rediscovered it.
It's been quite a journey this decade, and we held together through some stormy seas. And at the end, together, we are reaching our destination.
fact is, from
that happened to me a few years ago reflects some of this. It was back in 1981,
and I was attending my first big economic summit, which was held that year in
Two years later, another economic summit with pretty much the same cast. At the big opening meeting we all got together, and all of a sudden, just for a moment, I saw that everyone was just sitting there looking at me. And then one of them broke the silence. ``Tell us about the American miracle,'' he said.
Well, back in 1980, when I was running for President, it was all so different. Some pundits said our programs would result in catastrophe. Our views on foreign affairs would cause war. Our plans for the economy would cause inflation to soar and bring about economic collapse. I even remember one highly respected economist saying, back in 1982, that ``The engines of economic growth have shut down here, and they're likely to stay that way for years to come.'' Well, he and the other opinion leaders were wrong. The fact is, what they called ``radical'' was really ``right.'' What they called ``dangerous'' was just ``desperately needed.''
And in all of that time I won a nickname, ``The Great Communicator.'' But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation -- from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I'll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.
Common sense told us that when you put a big tax on something, the people will produce less of it. So, we cut the people's tax rates, and the people produced more than ever before. The economy bloomed like a plant that had been cut back and could now grow quicker and stronger. Our economic program brought about the longest peacetime expansion in our history: real family income up, the poverty rate down, entrepreneurship booming, and an explosion in research and new technology. We're exporting more than ever because American industry became more competitive and at the same time, we summoned the national will to knock down protectionist walls abroad instead of erecting them at home.
sense also told us that to preserve the peace, we'd
have to become strong again after years of weakness and confusion. So, we
rebuilt our defenses, and this New Year we toasted the new peacefulness around
the globe. Not only have the superpowers actually begun to reduce their
stockpiles of nuclear weapons -- and hope for even more progress is bright --
but the regional conflicts that rack the globe are also beginning to cease. The
The lesson of all this was, of course, that because we're a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours. And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there's no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.
Countries across the globe are turning to free markets and free speech and turning away from the ideologies of the past. For them, the great rediscovery of the 1980's has been that, lo and behold, the moral way of government is the practical way of government: Democracy, the profoundly good, is also the profoundly productive.
When you've got to the point when you can celebrate the anniversaries of your 39th birthday you can sit back sometimes, review your life, and see it flowing before you. For me there was a fork in the river, and it was right in the middle of my life. I never meant to go into politics. It wasn't my intention when I was young. But I was raised to believe you had to pay your way for the blessings bestowed on you. I was happy with my career in the entertainment world, but I ultimately went into politics because I wanted to protect something precious.
Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: ``We the People.'' ``We the People'' tell the government what to do; it doesn't tell us. ``We the People'' are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world's constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which ``We the People'' tell the government what it is allowed to do. ``We the People'' are free. This belief has been the underlying basis for everything I've tried to do these past 8 years.
But back in the 1960's, when I began, it seemed to me that we'd begun reversing the order of things -- that through more and more rules and regulations and confiscatory taxes, the government was taking more of our money, more of our options, and more of our freedom. I went into politics in part to put up my hand and say, ``Stop.'' I was a citizen politician, and it seemed the right thing for a citizen to do.
I think we have stopped a lot of what needed stopping. And I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.
is less free than pure communism -- and yet we have, the past few years, forged
a satisfying new closeness with the
this time, so far, it's different. President Gorbachev has brought about some
internal democratic reforms and begun the withdrawal from
life has a way of reminding you of big things through small incidents. Once,
during the heady days of the
must keep up our guard, but we must also continue to work together to lessen
and eliminate tension and mistrust. My view is that President Gorbachev is
different from previous Soviet leaders. I think he knows some of the things
wrong with his society and is trying to fix them. We wish him well. And we'll
continue to work to make sure that the
I've been asked if I have any regrets. Well, I do. The deficit is one. I've been talking a great deal about that lately, but tonight isn't for arguments, and I'm going to hold my tongue. But an observation: I've had my share of victories in the Congress, but what few people noticed is that I never won anything you didn't win for me. They never saw my troops, they never saw Reagan's regiments, the American people. You won every battle with every call you made and letter you wrote demanding action. Well, action is still needed. If we're to finish the job, Reagan's regiments will have to become the Bush brigades. Soon he'll be the chief, and he'll need you every bit as much as I did.
Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in Presidential farewells, and I've got one that's been on my mind for some time. But oddly enough it starts with one of the things I'm proudest of in the past 8 years: the resurgence of national pride that I called the new patriotism. This national feeling is good, but it won't count for much, and it won't last unless it's grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.
informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job
teaching our children what
now, we're about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger
parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation
we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important
-- why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30
let me offer lesson number one about
that's about all I have to say tonight, except for one thing. The past few days
when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the ``shining
city upon a hill.'' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men
and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across
so, goodbye, God bless you, and God bless the
Note: The President spoke at from the Oval Office at the White House. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio and television.