Hillsdale College Then-President George C. Roche III: We have with us a man of affairs, a man who has had the personal experience of exploring the whole question of economics and our social structure and our institutional ideas and where we indeed should go from here. He’s had the responsibility of making some hard decisions in that area. So he brings a special kind of expert knowledge to us. I scarcely need to introduce our speaker this evening, so let me take the advantage of a captive audience to tell you a story which I trust will be apropos.
I know a lady, who, twice in her life has lost her country. She lost it the first time as a very young woman when, in Czarist Russia, the Bolshevik Revolution occurred and she barely escaped with her life. She came to Cuba, started again from scratch, once again built up a very successful competence, was doing very well. And this time, as an elderly woman, again, she lost her country at the time Castro took over. Now, losing one’s country once would be enough for most of use, I suppose. Losing one’s country twice would be enough for the toughest person in the house — but not for this very indomitable lady. She came to the United States where again she started from scratch and again built up a very successful competence. And now as a very elderly person, I’ve heard her tell this story on more than one occasion and invariably someone in the audience, when she is finished, will say, “You poor, unlucky woman. How you have suffered. What an ordeal you have been through.” And her answer is always the same: “I, unlucky? Ah, no. I am one of the luckiest women who ever lived. Twice I have lost my country. Twice I have had a country to which I can go. When you Americans lose your country, where will you go?” I’ve heard her ask the question more than once. I’ve never heard a convincing answer.
When you Americans lose your country, where will you go?
If you look around the rest of the world, you’ll see that in terms of what we hope for for our children, in terms of economic opportunity, in terms of the dignity of individual personality, that this is a world that doesn’t value such things very highly just now. If it can’t be done here in this country, it won’t be done. And, in fact, more and more Americans have come to realize that, and as that realization has grown, we’ve done what all people should do in that case — we’ve looked around for leader, someone in whom we repose the kind of confidence necessary to lead us back to taking over our country once again. And, of course, we’ve found that man. And for millions of Americans, that one man demonstrated in elected office what he could do, and more important he demonstrated in principle and integrity and in courage what real leadership can mean. He epitomizes for us exactly the effort to take this country back, to give our children the chance for the kind prosperity and the kind dignity that used to be associated with being “typically American.” Those values and those institutions are very much worthy of defense and we have with us their outstanding defender. The battle isn’t over yet, but he remains our leader, as we get on with the task of taking our country back.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Governor Ronald Reagan.
We’ve had enough of sideline kibitzers telling us the system which they themselves have thrown out of sync with their social tinkering can be improved or saved if we’ll only have more of that tinkering or even government planning and management. They play fast and loose with a system that for 200 years made us the light of the world; the refuge for people from all over the world who just yearn to breathe free. You heard the moving story of the woman who came through two countries and finally to this country.
It’s time we recognized that the system, no matter what our problems are, has never failed us once. Every time we have failed the system, usually by lacking faith in it, usually by saying we have to change and do something else. If you want an example of the power of this system, the government told us a short time ago that the new poverty level in the United States was 5,500 dollars of earnings. At 5,500 dollars you are living in poverty in America. 5,500 dollars is eight times as high as the average standard of living for the rest of the world.
A Supreme Court Justice has said the time has come, indeed is long overdue, for the wisdom, ingenuity, and resources of American business to be marshaled against those who would destroy it.
What specifically should be done? The first essential for the businessman is to confront the problem as a primary responsibility of corporate management. It’s been said that history is the patter of silken slippers descending the stairs and the thunder of hob-nail boots coming up. Back through the years we have seen people fleeing the thunder of those boots to seek refuge in this land. And now too many of them, like the lady from Cuba, have seen signs, the signs that were ignored in their homeland before the end came, signs appearing here. They wonder if they’ll have to flee again, but they know there is no place to run to. Will we, before it is too late, use the vitality and the magic of the marketplace to save this way of life, or will we one day face our children, and our children’s children when they ask us where we were and what we were doing on the day that freedom was lost?
Pay attention to this powerful ending of an address then-governor Ronald Reagan gave at Hillsdale College in 1977. The parallels to now are chilling and inescapable. Pay careful heed to the question the Russian woman asked: “When you Americans lose your country, where will you go?”
Dan, for 2nd Cup of Coffee