Let Them Go Their Way
Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA)
Conservative Political Action Conference
March 1, 1975
our last meeting we have been through a disastrous
election. It is easy for us to be discouraged, as
pundits hail that election as a repudiation of our
philosophy and even as a mandate of some kind or
other. But the significance of the election was not
registered by those who voted, but by those who
stayed home. If there was anything like a mandate it
will be found among almost two-thirds of the
citizens who refused to participate.
Bitter as it is to accept the results of the
November election, we should have reason for some
optimism. For many years now we have preached “the
gospel,?in opposition to the philosophy of
so-called liberalism which was, in truth, a call to
Now, it is possible we have been persuasive to a
greater degree than we had ever realized. Few, if
any, Democratic party candidates in the last
election ran as liberals. Listening to them I had
the eerie feeling we were hearing reruns of
Goldwater speeches. I even thought I heard a few of
Bureaucracy was assailed and fiscal responsibility
hailed. Even George McGovern donned sackcloth and
ashes and did penance for the good people of South
But let’s not be so naive as to think we are
witnessing a mass conversion to the principles of
conservatism. Once sworn into office, the victors
reverted to type. In their view, apparently, the
ends justified the means.
The “Young Turks?had campaigned against “evil
politicians.?They turned against committee chairmen
of their own party, displaying a taste and talent as
cutthroat power politicians quite in contrast to
their campaign rhetoric and idealism. Still, we must
not forget that they molded their campaigning to fit
what even they recognized was the mood of the
And we must see to it that the people are reminded
of this as they now pursue their ideological
goals—and pursue them they will.
I know you are aware of the national polls which
show that a greater (and increasing) number of
Americans—Republicans, Democrats and
independents—classify themselves as “conservatives?
than ever before. And a poll of rank-and-file union
members reveals dissatisfaction with the amount of
power their own leaders have assumed, and a
resentment of their use of that power for partisan
politics. Would it shock you to know that in that
poll 68 percent of rank-and-file union members of
this country came out endorsing right-to-work
These polls give cause for some optimism, but at the
same time reveal a confusion that exists and the
need for a continued effort to “spread the word.?/span>
In another recent survey, of 35,000 college and
university students polled, three-fourths blame
American business and industry for all of our
economic and social ills. The same three-fourths
think the answer is more (and virtually complete)
regimentation and government control of all phases
of business—including the imposition of wage and
price controls. Yet, 80 percent in the same poll
want less government interference in their own
In 1972 the people of this country had a clear-cut
choice, based on the issues—to a greater extent than
any election in half a century. In overwhelming
numbers they ignored party labels, not so much to
vote for a man or even a policy as to repudiate a
philosophy. In doing so they repudiated that final
step into the welfare state—that call for the
confiscation and redistribution of their earnings on
a scale far greater than what we now have. They
repudiated the abandonment of national honor and a
weakening of this nation’s ability to protect
A study has been made that is so revealing that I’m
not surprised it has been ignored by a certain
number of political commentators and columnists. The
political science department of Georgetown
University researched the mandate of the 1972
election and recently presented its findings at a
Taking several major issues which, incidentally, are
still the issues of the day, they polled
rank-and-file members of the Democratic party on
their approach to these problems. Then they polled
the delegates to the two major national
conventions—the leaders of the parties.
They found the delegates to the Republican
convention almost identical in their responses to
those of the rank-and-file Republicans. Yet, the
delegates to the Democratic convention were miles
apart from the thinking of their own party members.
The mandate of 1972 still exists. The people of
America have been confused and disturbed by events
since that election, but they hold an unchanged
Our task is to make them see that what we represent
is identical to their own hopes and dreams of what
America can and should be. If there are questions as
to whether the principles of conservatism hold up in
practice, we have the answers to them. Where
conservative principles have been tried, they have
worked. Gov. Meldrim Thomson is making them work in
New Hampshire; so is Arch Moore in West Virginia and
Mills Godwin in Virginia. Jack Williams made them
work in Arizona and I’m sure Jim Edwards will in
If you will permit me, I can recount my own
experience in California.
When I went to Sacramento eight years ago, I had the
belief that government was no deep, dark mystery,
that it could be operated efficiently by using the
same common sense practiced in our everyday life, in
our homes, in business and private affairs.
The “lab test?of my theory ?California—was pretty
messed up after eight years of a road show version
of the Great Society. Our first and only briefing
came from the outgoing director of finance, who
said: “We’re spending $1 million more a day than
we’re taking in. I have a golf date. Good luck!?
That was the most cheerful news we were to hear for
quite some time.
California state government was increasing by about
5,000 new employees a year. We were the welfare
capital of the world with 16 percent of the nation’s
caseload. Soon, California’s caseload was increasing
by 40,000 a month.
We turned to the people themselves for help. Two
hundred and fifty experts in the various fields
volunteered to serve on task forces at no cost to
the taxpayers. They went into every department of
state government and came back with 1,800
recommendations on how modern business practices
could be used to make government more efficient. We
adopted 1,600 of them.
We instituted a policy of “cut, squeeze and trim?
and froze the hiring of employees as replacements
for retiring employees or others leaving state
After a few years of struggling with the
professional welfarists, we again turned to the
people. First, we obtained another task force and,
when the legislature refused to help implement its
recommendations, we presented the recommendations to
It still took some doing. The legislature insisted
our reforms would not work; that the needy would
starve in the streets; that the workload would be
dumped on the counties; that property taxes would go
up and that we’d run up a deficit the first year of
That was four years ago. Today, the needy have had
an average increase of 43 percent in welfare grants
in California, but the taxpayers have saved $2
billion by the caseload not increasing that 40,000 a
month. Instead, there are some 400,000 fewer on
welfare today than then.
Forty of the state’s 58 counties have reduced
property taxes for two years in a row (some for
three). That $750-million deficit turned into an
$850-million surplus which we returned to the people
in a one-time tax rebate. That wasn’t easy. One
state senator described that rebate as “an
unnecessary expenditure of public funds.?/span>
For more than two decades governments—federal,
state, local—have been increasing in size
two-and-a-half times faster than the population
increase. In the last 10 years they have increased
the cost in payroll seven times as fast as the
increase in numbers.
We have just turned over to a new administration in
Sacramento a government virtually the same size it
was eight years ago. With the state’s growth rate,
this means that government absorbed a workload
increase, in some departments as much as 66 percent.
We also turned over—for the first time in almost a
quarter of a century—a balanced budget and a surplus
of $500 million. In these eight years just passed,
we returned to the people in rebates, tax reductions
and bridge toll reductions $5.7 billion. All of this
is contrary to the will of those who deplore
conservatism and profess to be liberals, yet all of
it is pleasing to its citizenry.
Make no mistake, the leadership of the Democratic
party is still out of step with the majority of
Speaker Carl Albert recently was quoted as saying
that our problem is ?0 percent recession, 30
percent inflation and 10 percent energy.?That makes
as much sense as saying two and two make 22.
Without inflation there would be no recession. And
unless we curb inflation we can see the end of our
society and economic system. The painful fact is we
can only halt inflation by undergoing a period of
economic dislocation—a recession, if you will.
We can take steps to ease the suffering of some who
will be hurt more than others, but if we turn from
fighting inflation and adopt a program only to fight
recession we are on the road to disaster.
In his first address to Congress, the president
asked Congress to join him in an all-out effort to
balance the budget. I think all of us wish that he
had re-issued that speech instead of this year’s
What side can be taken in a debate over whether the
deficit should be $52 billion or $70 billion or $80
billion preferred by the profligate Congress?
Inflation has one cause and one cause only:
government spending more than government takes in.
And the cure to inflation is a balanced budget. We
know, of course, that after 40 years of social
tinkering and Keynesian experimentation that we
can’t do this all at once, but it can be achieved.
Balancing the budget is like protecting your virtue:
you have to learn to say “no.?/span>
This is no time to repeat the shopworn panaceas of
the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society.
John Kenneth Galbraith, who, in my opinion, is
living proof that economics is an inexact science,
has written a new book. It is called “Economics and
the Public Purpose.?In it, he asserts that market
arrangements in our economy have given us inadequate
housing, terrible mass transit, poor health care and
a host of other miseries. And then, for the first
time to my knowledge, he advances socialism as the
answer to our problems.
Shorn of all side issues and extraneous matter, the
problem underlying all others is the worldwide
contest for the hearts and minds of mankind. Do we
find the answers to human misery in freedom as it is
known, or do we sink into the deadly dullness of the
Socialist ant heap?
Those who suggest that the latter is some kind of
solution are, I think, open to challenge. Let’s have
no more theorizing when actual comparison is
possible. There is in the world a great nation,
larger than ours in territory and populated with 250
million capable people. It is rich in resources and
has had more than 50 uninterrupted years to practice
socialism without opposition.
We could match them, but it would take a little
doing on our part. We’d have to cut our paychecks
back by 75 percent; move 60 million workers back to
the farm; abandon two-thirds of our steel-making
capacity; destroy 40 million television sets; tear
up 14 of every 15 miles of highway; junk 19 of every
20 automobiles; tear up two-thirds of our railroad
track; knock down 70 percent of our houses; and rip
out nine out of every 10 telephones. Then, all we
have to do is find a capitalist country to sell us
wheat on credit to keep us from starving!
Our people are in a time of discontent. Our vital
energy supplies are threatened by possibly the most
powerful cartel in human history. Our traditional
allies in Western Europe are experiencing political
and economic instability bordering on chaos.
We seem to be increasingly alone in a world grown
more hostile, but we let our defenses shrink to
pre-Pearl Harbor levels. And we are conscious that
in Moscow the crash build-up of arms continues. The
SALT II agreement in Vladivostok, if not
re-negotiated, guarantees the Soviets a clear
missile superiority sufficient to make a “first
strike?possible, with little fear of reprisal. Yet,
too many congressmen demand further cuts in our own
defenses, including delay if not cancellation of the
I realize that millions of Americans are sick of
hearing about Indochina, and perhaps it is
politically unwise to talk of our obligation to
Cambodia and South Vietnam. But we pledged—in an
agreement that brought our men home and freed our
prisoners—to give our allies arms and ammunition to
replace on a one-for-one basis what they expend in
resisting the aggression of the Communists who are
violating the cease-fire and are fully aided by
their Soviet and Red Chinese allies. Congress has
already reduced the appropriation to half of what
they need and threatens to reduce it even more.
Can we live with ourselves if we, as a nation,
betray our friends and ignore our pledged word? And,
if we do, who would ever trust us again? To consider
committing such an act so contrary to our deepest
ideals is symptomatic of the erosion of standards
and values. And this adds to our discontent.
We did not seek world leadership; it was thrust upon
us. It has been our destiny almost from the first
moment this land was settled. If we fail to keep our
rendezvous with destiny or, as John Winthrop said in
1630, “Deal falsely with our God,?we shall be made
“a story and byword throughout the world.?/span>
Americans are hungry to feel once again a sense of
mission and greatness.
I don ‘t know about you, but I am impatient with
those Republicans who after the last election rushed
into print saying, “We must broaden the base of our
party”—when what they meant was to fuzz up and blur
even more the differences between ourselves and our
It was a feeling that there was not a sufficient
difference now between the parties that kept a
majority of the voters away from the polls. When
have we ever advocated a closed-door policy? Who has
ever been barred from participating?
Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a
third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized
second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels,
but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear
where we stand on all of the issues troubling the
Let us show that we stand for fiscal integrity and
sound money and above all for an end to deficit
spending, with ultimate retirement of the national
Let us also include a permanent limit on the
percentage of the people’s earnings government can
take without their consent.
Let our banner proclaim a genuine tax reform that
will begin by simplifying the income tax so that
workers can compute their obligation without having
to employ legal help.
And let it provide indexing—adjusting the brackets
to the cost of living—so that an increase in salary
merely to keep pace with inflation does not move the
taxpayer into a surtax bracket. Failure to provide
this means an increase in government’s share and
would make the worker worse off than he was before
he got the raise.
Let our banner proclaim our belief in a free market
as the greatest provider for the people.
Let us also call for an end to the nit-picking, the
harassment and over-regulation of business and
industry which restricts expansion and our ability
to compete in world markets.
Let us explore ways to ward off socialism, not by
increasing government’s coercive power, but by
increasing participation by the people in the
ownership of our industrial machine.
Our banner must recognize the responsibility of
government to protect the law-abiding, holding those
who commit misdeeds personally accountable.
And we must make it plain to international
adventurers that our love of peace stops short of
“peace at any price.?/span>
We will maintain whatever level of strength is
necessary to preserve our free way of life.
A political party cannot be all things to all
people. It must represent certain fundamental
beliefs which must not be compromised to political
expediency, or simply to swell its numbers.
I do not believe I have proposed anything that is
contrary to what has been considered Republican
principle. It is at the same time the very basis of
conservatism. It is time to reassert that principle
and raise it to full view. And if there are those
who cannot subscribe to these principles, then let
them go their way.