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Centennial of Ronald Reagan's Birth

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, this month we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, our Nation's 40th President. He was born in a second-story apartment above a tavern in small-town Tampico, IL, on February 6, 1911.

The values he learned there he would carry with him throughout a long and momentous life--from the radio announcer's booth, the Hollywood sound stage, and the union leader's negotiating table to the Governor's mansion, the White House and the world.

One hundred years after his birth, 30 years after his inauguration as President, and only 7 years after his passing, it is already widely acknowledged by both sides of the aisle that Ronald Reagan was a great man and a great President. His role in ending the Cold War, with America victorious and the forces of Marxism-Leninism, as he so eloquently put it, ``on the ash heap of history,'' has been assured. You could almost say we are all Reaganites now.

But oh, how so much has changed. For when Ronald Reagan was still a force actively shaping history, and not yet a part of it, he had many fewer friends.

One opinion writer in 1986 made his disdain clear when he wrote this:

It seemed to us, the carping critics, that this man was not terribly bright, not terribly thoughtful or well informed, not terribly honest, and in most other ways not up to the most important job in the world.

But it seems a lot of people just did not understand Ronald Reagan's vision at the time--not just his Communist adversaries, not just his political opponents here at home, even those in his own party, and on his own staff sometimes failed to see the strength of the man's commitment to freedom--or his courage in seeking it.

I can think of one prominent example: The words that we now think of as Reagan's most powerful utterance as President were almost never spoken. On June 12, 1987, Reagan traveled to what was then West Berlin to make unmistakably clear his commitment to increasing freedom in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. As the draft of his prepared remarks was circulated through the many byzantine layers of bureaucracy that come with the modern presidency, one little phrase kept getting edited out.

Virtually the entire foreign policy apparatus of the U.S. Government was opposed to what Reagan wanted to say. His Secretary of State, his National Security Adviser--they told him he would embarrass his host, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. They said he would anger and provoke Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. They warned he would arouse false hopes among the East Germans unlucky enough to live on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall.

It finally got to the point where Reagan had to have a confrontation with his own deputy chief of staff. ``I'm the president, right?'' he is reported to have asked. ``So I get to decide whether the line about tearing down the wall stays in?'' When assured that he was, and he did, Reagan said, ``Then it stays in.''

Only after pulling rank on his own staff this way did Reagan finally address the crowd of 20,000 gathered at the Brandenburg Gate and issue his famous declaration, ``Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.''

Two years later, Germans East and West did exactly that, presaging German unification and the fall of the Soviet Union. A piece of the Berlin Wall is preserved today at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, to remind us of the power one man's words can have.

Ronald Reagan once said, ``We don't have to turn to our history books for heroes; they are all around us.'' That is true even if you don't know where to look. Thirty years ago some dismissed Reagan as a man of no great importance. With hindsight it is much easier to see him for the giant figure in history that he was.

And while we are thankful that, for most of us, Ronald Reagan's vision and accomplishments are still within living memory, his life, his vision of a freer America and a free world, and his accomplishments to achieve that are most assuredly in the history books.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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