10. Address by George Bush 1
I welcome this opportunity to appear again before one of America’s most distinguished public forums.
It was in a speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 1932 that Franklin Roosevelt promised that if elected he’d balance the budget.1
Four years later, President Roosevelt was scheduled to make a campaign appearance here. Considering the fact that his administration’s budget wasn’t balanced, he asked his speechwriter, Sam Rosenman, how to deal with that little problem.
According to the story, Judge Rosenman told his boss that under the circumstances there was only one effective political response, which was: “Deny you ever made that speech.”
For those who question whether that happens to be a partisan revisionist version of history, my source is Ed Costikyan, a prominent New York Democratic leader. And my purpose in telling the story is simply to make the point that the Commonwealth Club has a long tradition in helping to shape issues in American presidential campaigns.
When a candidate for national office says something here, it’s likely to be noted—and remembered.
With that in mind, today I want to address the issue of preserving the peace in an era of unprecedented danger to our country and to the cause of freedom throughout the world.
As Governor Reagan’s running mate, let me say that I’m not unaware of the fact that a week ago Vice President Mondale appeared at this podium to offer the administration’s view of the scope of that danger and of our country’s ability to meet it.3[Page 36]
However, my remarks today aren’t intended as a response to the Vice President’s presentation of the Carter administration’s foreign policy view, but rather of its record.
Mr. Mondale’s speech accurately reflected the administration’s current campaign perspective regarding foreign policy. The administration’s record, on the other hand—from 1977 to the present—is quite another matter.
In fact, on reading reports of the Vice President’s address to the Commonwealth Club, I got the distinct impression that to some extent he was following Sam Rosenman’s advice to FDR. That is, he was ignoring—if not denying—the unpleasant realities of America’s weakened posture in the world after three-and-a-half years of the Carter Presidency.
I can understand that. After all, from time immemorial, the general rule in political campaigning has been: “If you’re handed a lemon, make a lemonade.”
What I can’t understand, however—more specifically, what I find hard to condone—is the campaign being waged by high-level spokesmen for the Carter administration to cloud the foreign policy issue behind a smokescreen of rhetoric that misrepresents Ronald Reagan’s commitment to peace.
Let me bluntly describe the aim of that campaign: It is apparent—indeed, it’s been publicly stated by those handling the administration’s re-election effort—that their objective is to portray Ronald Reagan as a man who, as President, might lead our country into war.
And now, having said that, let me answer this campaign charge in equally uncertain terms: It is a false and irresponsible distortion of Ronald Reagan’s views, as well as his lifelong record as a citizen and public servant.
As Governor of your state for eight years, Ronald Reagan proved strong in his commitment to human betterment and sensitive to the people’s interests and desires.
The American people, now as always, desire peace.
We want peace with freedom—peace with dignity—not only for ourselves but for men and women everywhere.
We want peace within a framework of international understanding that recognizes human rights.
And in that regard, let me again speak to the point by saying something that’s been on my mind for quite a while:
The administration in power—regardless of what you might have heard from this podium last week—did not invent human rights. Jimmy Carter did not invent morality in foreign policy.[Page 37]
When the subject at hand is preserving the peace—when the subject is freedom with dignity—then no candidate and no political party has a monopoly on human compassion.
Moreover, a campaign that deals in personalities and innuendo is no substitute in a free society for full and fair debate on the issues.
Ronald Reagan welcomes such a debate—on his record and on those of his opponents.
Ronald Reagan is ready and willing to meet President Carter and Congressman Anderson4 in a full public discussion of the questions that concern the American people—including the overriding issue of preserving American freedom in a troubled world.
Let’s hope that President Carter reverses his position and sees fit in the end to take part in such a debate.5 I know that Governor Reagan shares that hope, for a debate among the Presidential candidates this election year would clear the air—and dissolve the smokescreen—regarding their differences on how to achieve a stable, prosperous economy here at home and a lasting peace throughout the world.
In terms of our American foreign policy, what are the real differences between Ronald Reagan and his opponents in this race—the differences that might be aired if President Carter changes his mind, accepts the will of the people, and consents to a debate-on-the-record?
Let me offer a broad overview on one of the most important of these differences—what a Reagan Presidency would bring to America’s foreign policy and our quest for peace.
First, with Ronald Reagan in the White House, it would mean that our country would continue to press forward in order to achieve a strategic arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union—but he would not enter into an inequitable treaty; a treaty that locks in advantage for the Soviets; a treaty that cannot be properly verified.
Under a Reagan administration, we are not going to risk American security on the word of a nation that has time and again broken its international commitments.[Page 38]
A true, not illusory, relaxation of tensions with the Soviets can only be based on mutual respect between the world’s two super-powers and a realistic assessment on our part of Soviet intentions in light of their past record.
Which leads to my second point regarding the meaning of a Reagan Presidency to our country’s foreign policy and quest for world peace.
In Ronald Reagan, America will have a President who understands—and has long understood—the true nature of Soviet intentions.
It didn’t take the invasion of Afghanistan last year to teach Governor Reagan the facts of geopolitical life where Soviet leadership is concerned.6
As President, Ronald Reagan will negotiate with the Soviets not only from strength but from understanding—two qualities sadly, indeed tragically, lacking in our dealings with the Soviets and other nations of the world over the past three-and-a-half years.
Third, a Reagan Presidency will mean that we’ll have a Commander-in-Chief in the White House who also understands that while rhetoric may be an effective instrument in domestic politics, it is no substitute for real, substantial strength in meeting our country’s national security interests around the world.
The deterrent power of our Army, our Navy, our Air Force and our strategic arms has not kept pace with the expansion of Soviet military power over the past three-and-a-half years—Vice President Mondale’s Pollyanna optimism notwithstanding. Even if the present administration were to succeed in fooling the American people in this regard—which I don’t for a moment believe it will—the Soviets are not being fooled.
Our Defense Department may leak, then confirm, classified information about an “invisible” bomber.7[Page 39]
This administration may, by implication, claim credit for such a bomber.
But the “invisible” American bomber that the Soviets are most aware of is the B–1, which would have been operative had this administration followed President Ford’s lead in recommending its construction.8
A Reagan foreign policy will be one that returns to the proven principle that the only peace that can be lasting is one based on the strength to deter aggression.
Fourth, a Reagan foreign policy will be one of competence and consistency—not zig-zag diplomacy that leaves our foreign friends and allies and even our own State Department in disarray and confusion.
Too many times in the past three-and-a-half years we have witnessed the appalling spectacle of the leading nation of the Free World jolting its allies with sudden shifts in policy—such as occurred when the President reversed his position on the neutron bomb, leaving West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt out on a policy limb.9
Along the same diplomatic policy line, a Reagan Presidency will find our State Department and our Ambassador at the United Nations not only communicating with each other, but in agreement on those votes which affect the security interests of our staunch ally, Israel.
Fifth, a Reagan foreign policy will restore our country’s economic strength overseas by stabilizing the value of the dollar here at home. That means curbing the skyrocketing inflation of recent years by holding down the growth of spending and by increasing productivity that has precipitously declined under Jimmy Carter.
We are going to make America work again by letting America work again.
It’s time we freed American business and industry from the fetters of excessive federal regulations.
Finally, let me conclude this brief overview of what a Reagan Presidency will mean for America’s quest for peace by alluding to the [Page 40] indispensable quality needed to make any American foreign policy successful—a quality dependent on but yet transcending military and economic strength, as well as diplomatic skill.
I mean the quality of respect.
With Ronald Reagan as President, the men and women who represent our country overseas will be secure in the knowledge that their country will protect them in American embassies.
Never again a Teheran!
With Ronald Reagan as President, America will once again be respected around the world—and we will earn that respect not only because we are true to our word but because we in turn respect the rights and customs of other freedom-loving nations and cultures.
That is the ultimate meaning of a Reagan Presidency—an America both compassionate and strong—an America that cares for its citizens—for its heritage—for the future, not only of our own society but of societies everywhere made up of men and women who cherish the cause of freedom and human dignity in a world at peace.
- Source: Reagan Library, White House Office of Speechwriting, Research Office, 1980 Campaign File, Campaign and Pre-Presidential Speeches, 1979–1981, 09/11/1980 George Bush—Speech Commonwealth Club. No classification marking. The address is printed on Reagan & Bush letterhead and prepared by the Reagan-Bush Committee. Bush spoke at the St. Francis Hotel before members of the Commonwealth Club at noon PDT. For press reports on the address, see Philip Shabecoff, “Bush Strives to Draw Attention to Reagan’s Policies, Not to Himself,” New York Times, September 13, 1980, p. 10, and Felicity Barringer, “Bush Cheers the Gray, White and Gold,” Washington Post, September 12, 1980, p. A4.↩
- Presumable reference to Roosevelt’s September 23, 1932, address before the Commonwealth Club.↩
- Reference is to Mondale’s September 5 speech before the Commonwealth Club. See Richard D. Lyons, “Mondale Presses Party Unity Message in California: A Drive to Get Out the Vote,” New York Times, September 6, 1980, p. 8.↩
- John Anderson had competed in the 1980 Republican primaries and later entered the general election as an independent candidate for President. Patrick Lucey, the former Democratic Governor of Wisconsin and, at that time, Ambassador to Mexico, resigned to run as Anderson’s Vice Presidential running mate.↩
- The League of Women Voters, the sponsor of the Presidential and Vice Presidential debate series, proposed that Carter, Reagan, and Anderson take part in a series of debates scheduled for September and October. At the time of Bush’s address, Carter did not want to take part in any debate that included Anderson. Reagan refused to participate without Anderson.↩
- See footnote 3, Document 4.↩
- Presumable reference to the “Stealth” bomber. In an August 14 article, Washington Post reporter George Wilson indicated that Carter planned to “commit himself to developing a new strategic bomber” that, as a result of technological innovations, would “foil Soviet defenses”: “One key breakthrough is a top-secret way to make a long-range bomber virtually invisible to enemy radar used to detect invading aircraft and aim guns and missiles at them.” (George C. Wilson, “Carter to Support New U.S. Bomber,” Washington Post, August 14, 1980, p. A1) During an informal exchange with reporters in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, on September 9, Carter characterized allegations that his administration had improperly released information about the project as “absolutely irresponsible and false,” and asserted that “the only thing that has been revealed about the Stealth development, which is a major technological evolutionary development for our country, is the existence of the program itself.” He noted that the Stealth program’s existence was unclassified as of January 1977 and that his administration had taken “an unclassified program under the previous Republican administration, classified it, and have been successful for 3 years in keeping the entire system secret.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1980–81, Book II, pp. 1687–1688)↩
- Reference is to Carter’s decision to discontinue deployment of the B–1 bomber, which he announced at a June 30, 1977, news conference. For Carter’s remarks, see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book II, pp. 1197–1198. See also Congress and the Nation, vol. V, 1977–1980, pp. 131, 134–135. Documentation on the decision is in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IV, National Security Policy, Document 23.↩
- On April 7, 1978, Carter released a statement indicating that he had decided to “defer production of weapons with enhanced radiation effects.” The statement noted that the Carter administration would continue to consult with Western European allies. (Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book I, p. 702) Documentation on enhanced radiation weapons is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. V, European Security, 1977–1983.↩