In farewell speech, Reagan stresses renewal of values
WASHINGTON -- Bidding farewell to the American people after eight years in the White House, President Reagan told the nation last night in a televised address that the "Reagan revolution" was "more like a great rediscovery -- a rediscovery of our values and our common sense." Reagan, who leaves office next week, sounded themes he has used in many of his previous 33 speeches from the Oval Office. He said he was turning over the reins of government to George Bush with the nation in far better shape than it was when he assumed office in 1981.
The country, Reagan said in passing on credit to the people who gave him two national landslide victories, was "more prosperous, more secure and happier than it was eight years ago." The speech, which aides said Reagan wrote largely by himself, was more nostalgic and far less caustic than two other recent speeches in which Reagan was more accusatory, blaming the Democratic Congress for the nation's fiscal problems. Reagan also had sharp words for the press and the federal bureuacracy in the earlier speeches, but he did not attack them last night.
For the most part, Reagan highlighted his foreign and domestic accomplishments and spoke in glowing terms of his administration's place in history. Congressional Democrats did not put forward an official opposing view last night.
Noting that presidents traditionally issue a warning in farewell speeches, Reagan said the country should work to ensure that patriotism remained part of the educational system. "I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit." On the growing federal deficits, a bitter battleground between Reagan and the Democrats in Congress, the president acknowledged regrets about the shortfalls but he did not take responsibility for the increase.
"I've been talking a great deal about that lately, but tonight isn't for arguments, and I'm going to hold my tongue," the president said. Some Democrats have been angry because Reagan has refused to admit that his tax cuts and defense buildup accounted for a large part of the deficit.
Reagan, who turns 78 next month, made only one reference to Bush. He asked his supporters to back Bush in the years ahead.
"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," Reagan said.
Reagan, who called himself a "citizen politician," cited as his two greatest triumphs the economic recovery, the creation of 19 million new jobs in the American workplace and a restoration of national morale. He said, ''America is respected again in the world and looked to for leadership." He delivered a swipe at critics who predicted that his domestic and foreign policies were wrong and even dangerous. He said they were "right and desperately needed." On relations with the Soviet Union, Reagan took credit for forging "a satisfying new closeness" with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. In one of Reagan's early press conferences as president, he called the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." Gorbachev, the president said, differed from his predecessors in the Kremlin because "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 Soviet Union that eventually emerges from this process is a less threatening one. What it all boils down to is this: I want the new closeness to continue." However, Reagan urged caution in bargaining with the Soviets by going along only if there is a spirit of cooperation from Moscow. "If and when they don't, at first pull your punches. If they persist, pull the plug," he added.
Reagan even referred to his nickname as the "great communicator." "But I never thought it was my style or the words that I used that made a difference. It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator but I communicated great things," Reagan said.
Reagan, who served eight years as governor of California before winning two terms as president, said he never intended to go into politics. He left the entertainment business to seek office, Reagan said, because government had intruded too heavily with too many rules, confusing regulations and high taxes.
"I think," he went on, "that we have stopped a lot of what needed stopping." Reagan and his wife, Nancy, will return to their home in California on Jan. 20, shortly after Bush is inaugurated as president.
The president has given every indication that he intends to remain active politically and he will be able to demand large fees as a lecturer and writer. He will give time to his official biographer, but associates expect negotiations to begin soon on his own book, with a big advance assured. Mrs. Reagan is writing a book of her own.
On lectures, which Reagan calls the mashed potato circuit, a former president with Reagan's platform skills will probably command fees of $25,000 or more per appearance, at least in the first few years after he leaves office.
Reagan also has promised to continue helping the Republican Party and GOP candidates, something he was unable to do at the polls despite his own personal popularity.
Reagan did not mention it in his speech, but that could wind up as another regret of his era. He was a popular and avuncular figure, but his persistent pleas for the election of Republican candidates at the congressional, state and local level went largely unnoticed by the electorate.