September 29, 2017
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library has made available a video of President Reagan’s address to a 1986 dinner celebrating the 10th anniversary of EPPC. The dinner also honored William F. Buckley Jr., who was given EPPC’s Shelby Cullom Davis Award.
President Ronald Reagan’s Remarks at the Ethics and Public Policy Center Anniversary Dinner
November 18, 1986
I have to tell you, and I thank you, Charlton Heston, for that warm introduction. But I have to digress here for just a moment and say that I’ve been tempted beyond my strength. First, the remarks of the parallel careers of Chuck and myself, but then the story that he told — and I have to match it. [Laughter] We still have much in common. A sunny spring day, I was walking down Fifth Avenue, New York. And from about 30 feet away, a man says, “Ah, I know you. I see you all the . . . .” Well, he went on with all of that, and he started stalking me, coming toward me. Everybody else fell back and kind of just stood watching. And he’s fumbling in his pocket all the time. He gets to me, shoves a piece of paper and a pen out at me for an autograph, and says, “Ray Milland.” [Laughter] So, I signed Ray Milland. [Laughter]
But Father Baker and Pastor Richard John Neuhaus– and I thank you, Ernest Lefever and Jeane Kirkpatrick, Paul Nitze and Donald Rumsfeld and Sir James Goldsmith and Shelby Cullom Davis. And thank you, Bill Buckley. It’s wonderful to be here tonight with so many old friends. You know, originally, they had me following Bill on tonight’s program. Talk about a tough act to follow! But then, for more than three decades most of us have been following Bill, and we’ve been aspiring to his example of clarity in thought, wit in argument, and ethical purpose brought to life through right reason. All of which is an elaborate, and I suppose Buckleyesque, way of saying Bill Buckley is a patriot, a giant intellect, and an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere.
You know, I always appreciate the phone calls I get from Bill. I remember one just before Reykjavik. “Mr. President,” he said, “would you indulge me in a timeous moment of matutinal disquietude?” [Laughter] And I said, “Hold the line, Bill. I think my scrambler’s still on.” [Laughter] Well, good grammar and proper usage, celestial navigation, peanut butter, conservatism, National Review — Bill Buckley is persuasive in making his enthusiasms the country’s enthusiasms. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, in a few years, the whole Nation was sitting down in front of their television sets to watch “Monday Night Yachting.” [Laughter]
And with those enthusiasms, Bill has made life for all of us a lot more fun. And he’s done something else: He’s changed the course of history. Beginning at a time when it was out of fashion to do so, he reaffirmed the enduring values of our civilization. I can’t think of anyone whose life stands as a better example of what the Ethics and Public Policy Center itself stands for or who is a more fitting recipient of this year’s Shelby Cullom Davis Award. Now, Bill, this is the moment I’m supposed to say congratulations. But I think on behalf of all those who love freedom, I’d rather just say thanks.
Tonight we’re honoring both Bill and the 10th anniversary of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. It seems hard to believe that it’s been only 10 years since Ernest Lefever sent out his prospectus for the center, a center that was to focus on the political and international issues of our time in what should have been an ordinary, but was in fact a revolutionary, way. Yes, this wasn’t to be just another clever think tank, looking at — to use a term that’s received too much currency in this age — value-neutral strategies. No, it was to examine the issues of today in light of timeless moral principles, principles rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic.
Richard Weaver once reminded us that ideas have consequences. In his prospectus, Ernie Lefever said he would establish an institution for reminding us that values have consequences. No wonder that Bill Buckley took a few moments on a January day one decade ago to write Ernie and tell him that his proposal, as Bill said, “cheers me as much as any document that I have seen in months and months.” And no wonder that so many champions of freedom like Shelby Cullom Davis have come to support the center since. Ernie, as you know, I’ve been doing a little campaigning lately. And in many places there were people who were kind enough to say I should go for 4 more years. Well, the Constitution and Nancy have something else to say about that. [Laughter] But I know that everyone here tonight joins me in saying something like that to you and all of your colleagues at the center. And that’s just simply this: “Ten more years!”
Today, not just America but the world needs the center and its message that the central issue of our times, the question on which the future not just of our blessed nation but of all mankind turns, yes, the issue of ethics in public policy and, yes, the issue of our vision of man and the moral order, yes, the issue of values. Here in the United States a few years back, it seemed that too many had lost all sight of that enduring truth. And with no values to defend, they spoke as if nothing in this great nation were worth defending. Jeane Kirkpatrick called them the Blame America First crowd, and they had their day. But, ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to report to you tonight that that day has passed. In the last 2 years, Congress — including the Democratically controlled House of Representatives — has enacted aid to freedom fighters on three continents. It has supported — and the Nation has rallied around — striking hard in retaliation against terrorism by Qadhafi’s Libya, just as both rallied behind our mission in Grenada. And in just the last few months, support for our dream of a strategic defense against nuclear missiles has grown to embrace almost the entire Nation.
And in the campaign we’ve just finished, hardly a candidate in the other party dared to raise the Blame America First flag again. They’d all started to speak the way only we used to. And, no, that’s not a criticism; I’m all for it. I hope it’ll someday be said that one of the enduring legacies of our administration was that in these years America at last put in the past the divisions of more than a decade ago and united in a new bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. If there’s one thing all Americans can agree on, it’s that politics should stop at the water’s edge. Like the old consensus, this new one is not based on political strategy or special interest, but on the common values that we all share as Americans and that all free people share. We rediscovered those values in these last few years, and now all the democratic world is rediscovering them as well.
We’re here tonight to discuss the future of that democratic world, of the West and the Western alliance. And let me begin by repeating something I said 4 years ago in London when I told the British Parliament that “the ultimate determinant in the struggle that is now going on in this world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.” Yes, the alliance and the conflict between it and the Soviet Union can have no meaning, no justification, no reason at all, if we forget that what we are in is fundamentally a moral and ethical conflict. America and the other democracies did not seek this conflict. We’re a peaceful people, and so are our allies. We wish no nation or people anything but the best. But we face today, as we have for 40 years, a challenge that we cannot turn away from, a challenge to our Judeo-Christian ethic, to our belief that man is a creature of God and so precious in himself.
We must never let it be forgotten that what we’re fighting for, on our side, is not territory or privilege, but, in Churchill’s words, “the safety and welfare, the freedom and progress, of all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands.” Well, let’s not forget that, either: not some lands, not just our lands — all lands. We have no choice about the nature of the conflict, only about whether or not we recognize its nature. Thirty years ago this month Soviet troops swept into Budapest to snuff out the light of freedom in Hungary. With some of the most advanced tanks, troops, and guns in the world, they crushed an uprising of ordinary people, killing or wounding more than 30,000 of the brave as they did. Among the last words from those desperate freedom fighters were these broadcast from a clandestine radio station: “People of the world, listen to our call. Help us — not with advice, not with words, but with action, with soldiers, and arms. Please do not forget you may be the next victim.”
Well, some said at the time that there would be no next victims if we did not interfere. They said that it was not in our interest to hear this cry from out of the totalitarian night. But as we look back now over three decades of Soviet adventurism around the world, can anyone truly say it was in fact in our interest to stand by, hands folded, at the dying of the light in Hungary? And would it be today in our interest to stand by and watch the dying of the light in Afghanistan, the dying of the light in Angola, the dying of the light in Nicaragua? I say no. Not then. Not now. Not ever. Yes, it is in our interest to stand with those who would take arms against the sea of darkness. It is in our interest to stand with those who would light even a candle in the night of oppression. It is in our interest not simply because of what the Soviets are, but because of what we, the free peoples of the world, are.
You know, I like to tell the story about a giant patriotic rally some years ago. It was in Madison Square Garden, New York City. America had gone to war — World War II. There had been many speakers and entertainers, and many of them declared that we would win the war because God was on our side. And then a young man of few words but much wisdom was introduced. Madison Square Garden was well known to him. He was Joe Louis, heavyweight champion of the world. But on this night he was Private Joe Louis, United States Army. He stepped up to the microphone, spoke one simple line, and brought the crowd roaring to its feet. He said, “We will win, because we’re on God’s side.” Well, like that crowd so long ago, we Americans today are most united and most determined when we’re standing for the values of freedom and dignity not simply for ourselves, but for all who yearn to have them, when we’re reaffirming those values that gave birth to our nation and to all democracies, when we’re partners in extending the reach of freedom.
In these last 6 years, from El Salvador to the Philippines to Grenada, we have once again become true to our heritage of helping to hold out freedom’s hand. And in our talks with the Soviet Union, we have put aside the old, worn doctrine that relations between our countries have nothing to do with Soviet behavior throughout the world or with the Soviet treatment of its own peoples at home. We have said that greater respect for human rights in the Soviet Union is a fundamental condition of true peace between us, and that arms negotiations that reduce our arsenals but do nothing about the reasons they were built in the first place have little chance for lasting success. We have reaffirmed a rule as timeless as common sense: Nations do not have disagreements because they’re armed; they are armed because they have disagreements.
This reclaiming of old values is why America is more united today than in two decades. It is why we’re seeing once again a bipartisan consensus emerge on foreign policy. It’s why our alliance is stronger today than it’s been in many years. And it’s why you might notice that, every now and then, Soviet leaders look nervously over their shoulders. You may remember that I had a little chat with Mr. Gorbachev a few weeks back. During it he told me that when I talk about how we Americans look forward to the day when the world knows the blessings of liberty — he told me the Soviets take this as a kind of threat. And, of course, there’s really only one answer to that: It’s no threat. We call it the American dream. And, yes, we do think it’s important. And, yes, we do believe that someday it will belong to every man, woman, and child on Earth. And let me say to you tonight: We must never let the need to talk with the Soviets lead us to forget that dream or our duty to it. And we must never forget, either, that this very dream, our Judeo-Christian ethic and all it means, is not only our reason for meeting the Soviet challenge but also our great advantage.
In getting ready for my meetings with Mr. Gorbachev, I asked many experts what role Communist ideology plays in the Soviet Union today. Some told me it’s irrelevant because nobody believes it anymore. After all, it failed to produce not only freedom but also food. Others told me that though no one believes it, everyone accepts it, because now, after almost 70 years, no one knows any better or has a choice, and everyone knows who has the guns. And still others said that, whatever people think of it, it’s put the Soviets in an ideological bind that will thwart their participation in the technological revolution that — with America in the lead — is now sweeping the world.
Well, that revolution is really a revolution of hope that will launch the West into a new age of productivity, prosperity, and growth; an age as far advanced over our own as the Industrial Age was over the preindustrial, an age in which statism and totalitarianism are left forever behind. And that’s why it’s so important for all of us here tonight to remember that this revolution of hope, this new position of strength for the West, is the backdrop for the talks we’ve been having with the Soviets. And that’s why we believe that we made more progress in our meeting in Iceland in 2 days than our negotiators in Geneva made in the last 2 years. Well, all of our proposals are still on the table, and we see no reason that our negotiating teams shouldn’t pick up where we left off. The Soviets have sent signals that they maybe believe this, too.
Well, this past weekend, as you know, I met with Prime Minister Thatcher. We agreed on priorities for arms reduction talks: 50-percent reductions in strategic offensive weapons, sweeping reductions in intermediate-range missiles, a ban on chemical weapons, addressing conventional force imbalances. America will go into those talks with the support of our allies and, I hope, the support of Congress as well. This should be a pillar of our new bipartisan consensus: We will not give away in Washington what we’re negotiating over in Geneva. The hopes of too many ride with us to do that.
My friends, it’s written that three things abide: faith, hope, and love. Faith, hope, and love are lamps that illuminate our civilization. And may I say that I believe that their light, particularly the light of hope, is the greatest gift we can offer to those who live in the darkness of oppression. When we give aid to freedom fighters around the world, we give hope to the oppressed, and we say that people, not iron laws, shape history. When we say that arms reduction and human rights must be talked about together, we give hope to the oppressed that freedom is still a living dream. And, yes, when we keep our pledge to go forward with research on our strategic defense against nuclear missiles, we give hope to all the world that even the night of nuclear terror may some day pass from this Earth. But most of all, when we proclaim our faith in God and the dignity of man, our love of freedom, and our fidelity to our Judeo-Christian values, when we do all this, we give hope to every freedom-loving soul that truth is strong and that the hollow shell of totalitarianism may one day crack and let its people go.
I keep something around me, something at my desk, that reminds me of how much millions depend on the hope we give. It is a letter, a full handwritten letter, and I treasure it very much. It’s written on a slip of paper only 4 inches long and 5/8 — or 4 inches wide, I should say, and 5/8 of an inch in height. But on that is penned a message which could only be read or written under a strong magnifying glass. It has 47 words plus the salutation, addressed to me. And in my case, it had to be translated, because it was written in Russian. That tiny letter then has 10 names affixed in that little 5/8-inch strip. It was smuggled out of a labor camp in the Soviet Union. It was signed by 10 women who have gone through hunger strikes in their desire for freedom. It was accompanied by a 4-inch square paper chart — the same fine small writing — the chart of the hunger strikes of the 10 women who from August 1983 through 1984 endured those hunger strikes. The reason they wrote me and got it smuggled out was to tell me that we in the United States represented to them the hope that one day there would be freedom throughout the world. I’m going to keep that letter as long as I live. I can never mention aloud — the situation still is — the names of those 10 brave women — because most of them are still in that prison camp, and we know what would happen to them.
But, my friends, that letter may have been addressed to me, but it wasn’t written to me alone. It was written also to each of you, to all Americans, and to our allies as well. It was written in thanks to all those who’ve joined in our bipartisan crusade to make America stronger. And it was written in thanks to all of those who have returned us to our values and reminded us of what they mean in this world. At the National Review dinner last December, I closed my remarks by saying thanks to Bill Buckley for “setting loose so much good in the world.” But tonight, Bill, Ernie, Paul, Don, Jeane, and everyone, others far away, thank you, too. Thank you, God bless you all.
Note: The President spoke at 7:32 p.m. in the International Ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel.