Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor remarks of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Ronald Reagan

Posted on February 3, 2011

Thank you, Mr. President. I appreciate the remarks of the Senator from Connecticut. I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear them. Mr. President, I, too, am here to celebrate Ronald Reagan’s life; born a hundred years ago but also his nearly fifty years of influence on American public policy. And I would begin in this way: a few years ago, when he was President of the United States, President Reagan attended one of the many Washington press dinners that are held here. I think it was the Gridiron Dinner. It well known that 90% of the people in the audience, the members of the press, had a different point of view on politics than he did. But they liked him anyway and they respected him – just as he respected them. Now I remember that evening that he strode into the Gridiron Dinner and smiling and looking like a million dollars. Press rose, and smiled back, and applauded him. And President Reagan stood in front of the media until the applause subsided and then he said this: “Thank you very much, I know how hard it is to clap with your fingers crossed.” And the media laughed. They had a wonderful time with President Reagan.

The first thing we think about, those of us who had a chance to know him, and that was a great many of us, was that Ronald Reagan was a very friendly man. He was a congenial man. He was an easy person to know. The kind of person you would enjoy spending time with. He was very comfortable, as we say, in his own skin. And what you saw in private was what everyone else saw in public. But Ronald Reagan was about a lot more than being friendly and congenial. And each of us has a personal story of his or her connection to President Reagan and I have mine. I’d like to use it as an example this: sixteen years ago this month, I stood as a great many members of this body have, on the front porch of my hometown courthouse. In my case, it was Maryville, Tennessee. And I announced my candidacy for President of the United States. It was an offer that the people of the United States didn’t accept. My preacher brother-in-law said I should consider that political defeat as a reverse calling and I have and I have gone on to other things.

But as an example of the influence that President Regan had on my generation and other generations let me give you an example of what I said 16 years ago. 30 years ago, I said then, Ronald Regan before he was elected to any public office made an address called “Time for Choosing.” He said that in America freedom is our greatest value and that then there were two great threats: communism abroad and big government at home. Looking back over those last 30 years, I was talking in 1995, I suppose we could say one down and one to go. Communism, the evil empire, has virtually disappeared. But big government at home has become an arrogant empire obnoxious and increasingly irrelevant in a telecommunications age.

In every neighborhood of America the government in Washington is stepping on the promise of American life. The government in Washington, the new American Revolution is about lifting that yolk from the backs of American teachers, American farmers, business men and women, college presidents, and homeless shelter directors and giving us the freedom to make decisions for ourselves. Ronald Reagan, I said in 1994, put it this way when he spoke in 1964, “this is the issue of the election: whether we believe in our capacity for self government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan ourselves.” That was also the issue of the election in 1994. It will be the issue of 1996 and for years to come. It took 30 years of unfashionable principled leadership by the last Republican Washington outsider who became President to help collapse the evil empire. Now’s a good time to give another Republican Washington outsider the opportunity to help put some humility in an arrogant empire in Washington, DC.

So you see that the issues of 1964, the issues of 1994, the issues of 2010, most likely the issues of ’12, ’16 beyond have a lot of similarities. And over that half century, RR was the finest spokesman for that point of view. Mr. President, we Americans say that anything is possible and nothing symbolizes that more than the American Presidency. WE see it in President Obama today, we saw it in President Lincoln, we saw it in President Truman, we saw it in President Eisenhower, and saw it in Ronald Reagan. No President symbolized more in the last half century than President Reagan did though. He reminded us of what it means to be an American, he lifted our spirits, he made us proud, he strengthened our character and he taught us a great many lessons. We celebrate the sentinel of his birth and the half century of his influence in public life. Mr. President, I was unanimous consent to include at the end of my remarks, RR’s speech “A Time for Choosing” made October 27, 1964 which launched him into public debate in the United States.