Many campaign slogans and speeches read more like museum pieces than modern calls to action. But Ronald Reagan’s 1980 acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention, given 32 years ago today, holds up surprisingly well.
“Never before in our history have Americans been called upon to face three grave threats to our very existence, any one of which could destroy us,” Reagan warned in Detroit. “We face a disintegrating economy, a weakened defense and an energy policy based on the sharing of scarcity.” Sounds familiar.
Today, unemployment is stuck at 8.2 percent. Pending defense cuts are “casting a dark shadow on the future readiness and responsiveness of America’s defense industrial base.” And our nation’s energy policy includes “a regulation that threatens to create an America with no new coal-fired power plants, where existing energy producers might have to close their doors, snuffing out jobs and making electricity dramatically more expensive.”
That’s the bad news. The good news is that, under Reagan’s leadership in the 1980s, the U.S. overcame all those threats and generated an economic boom that lasted for decades. There’s no reason we can’t do the same thing again if we’re willing to follow a similar path.
For starters, take Reagan’s economic boom. It hinged on tax policy. He told the convention in 1980:
When I talk of tax cuts, I am reminded that every major tax cut in this century has strengthened the economy, generated renewed productivity and ended up yielding new revenues for the government by creating new investment, new jobs and more commerce among our people.
Yet today, the country is cruising toward a massive tax increase known as “Taxmageddon.” As Reagan foresaw, the road ahead requires spending restraint, not tax increases.
Then there’s defense. “I do favor pay and benefit levels that will attract and keep highly motivated men and women in our volunteer forces and an active reserve trained and ready for an instant call in case of an emergency,” Reagan said in 1980. He restored faith and confidence in the American military by investing in weapons and people. We won the Cold War without firing a shot.
Today, as Heritage’s Steve Bucci and Owen Graham have written, “Unless the President and Congress change current law, the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces will soon face an indiscriminate, across-the-board cut of more than $500 billion over the next decade.” President Obama’s own Secretary of Defense has warned that these cuts would be “devastating” to national defense.
Finally, consider energy policy. “America must get to work producing more energy. The Republican program for solving economic problems is based on growth and productivity,” Reagan said then. “Large amounts of oil and natural gas lay beneath our land and off our shores, untouched because the present administration seems to believe the American people would rather see more regulation, taxes and controls than more energy.”
Thanks to hydraulic fracking, there’s more American energy available today than ever. Yet today’s environmentalists are still using regulations to try to block the country’s pending oil and gas boom. Instead, as Heritage’s Nick Loris writes, the country should follow Reagan’s prescription.
My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties. I pledge to you a government that will not only work well, but wisely; its ability to act tempered by prudence willingness to do good balanced by the knowledge that government is never more dangerous than when our desire to have it help us blinds us to its great power to harm us.
He achieved the goals he laid out in 1980, and we can achieve them again today.