Reagan: ‘We Changed a World’

Times Staff Writer

President Reagan, in a highly personal farewell laced with gentle remembrances, Wednesday hailed both his eight-year record and his loyal followers, declaring: “We changed a world.”

In his televised speech, made in lieu of a final State of the Union address, Reagan cited his foreign policy achievements, including the thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations, and his domestic successes, embodied in the nation’s invigorated economy.

But, instead of crediting his accomplishments to his own political abilities, Reagan lauded the public, saying that “ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: ‘We the people.’ ”

The speech, consistent with Reagan’s great rapport with the public, contrasted sharply with a recent address in which he blamed others for his failure to hold down the federal deficit. The President noted that “tonight isn’t for arguments, and I’m going to hold my tongue.”


Reagan claimed “two great triumphs, two things that I’m proudest of"--the economic recovery with its 19 million new jobs and “the recovery of our morale.” He declared that “America is respected again in the world and looked to for leadership.”

He did not belabor policy matters. He spent more time reaching out fondly to his public through a medium that worked so well for him during his eight-year tenure, crediting his loyal supporters with being the driving force behind the “Reagan Revolution,” which dramatically cut federal taxes and domestic programs while beefing up the American military.

“I’ve had my share of victories in the Congress,” Reagan said, “but what few people noticed is that I never won anything you didn’t win for me. They never saw my troops. They never saw Reagan’s Regiments, the American people.”

In recalling the avalanches of telephone calls that followed his televised appeals during the height of his policy struggles with Congress, Reagan said: “You won every battle with every call you made and letter you wrote demanding action.”

Robert S. Fortner, chairman of the department of communications at George Washington University, called the speech “vintage Reagan. He was speaking directly to the American people without paying a lot of attention to what people like you (in the news media) and those in Congress think about it.”

Fortner said that Reagan sees his presidency as “a love affair with the American people because he is held in such high esteem. He was recapturing the magic of that one more time.”

In his speech, the President regaled his audience with personal anecdotes from his summit meetings in foreign lands, and he boasted of having proved the “opinion leaders” wrong about whether he could reduce inflation.

Not Style, but Content

Reagan, nicknamed “the Great Communicator,” asserted that it was neither style nor words that had made him so effective; it was content. “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things,” he said, “and they didn’t spring full blown from my brow; they came from the heart of a great nation, from our experience, our wisdom and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.”

Emulating former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned of a “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, Reagan issued a warning of this own--urging the nation to make sure that the patriotic surge he presided over does not falter.

“Our spirit is back,” he said, “but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it.”

Reagan called for more attention to American history and “a greater emphasis on civic ritual.” He urged children to make their parents teach them “what it means to be an American.” If they haven’t, “let ‘em know, and nail ‘em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.”

The President shared several anecdotes that he said illustrated the essence of America to him. He described Indochinese refugees fleeing their homeland, making their way over the choppy seas and spying a sailor on the deck of a U.S. ship. “Hello, American sailor,” one refugee yelled. “Hello, freedom man.”

Tells of Woman’s Letter

At another point, Reagan recalled having read a letter from a woman to her father, who had fought on Omaha Beach in the Normandy invasion during World War II. “Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn,” Reagan said, “and she said: ‘We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.’ Well, let’s help her keep her word.”

Reagan’s speech is the formal culmination of a long series of goodbys, each more poignant than the last. At each, the President has reflected on what he called the “bittersweet parting” that will take place a week from Friday.

Earlier in the day, during a photo session with his Cabinet, he described the bitter part as having to say goodby “to all these people--we’ve worked together, side by side . . . . The sweet part is hearing, ‘California, here I come.’ ”

Similarly, in his speech, Reagan said, his voice catching in his throat, that “parting is such sweet sorrow.” He said: “The sweet part is California and the ranch (near Santa Barbara) and freedom. The sorrow? The goodbys, of course, and leaving this beautiful place.”

As he goes, he said, he remains anti-communist but nonetheless has changed from the early days of his Administration, when he called the Soviet Union the “evil empire.”

Although insisting that “we must keep up our guard” with the Soviets, Reagan acknowledged that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev “is different from previous leaders.” He asserted that Gorbachev “knows some of the things wrong with his society and is trying to fix them. We wish him well.”

Urges Supporting Bush

The President added that “we’ll continue to work to make sure that the Soviet Union that eventually emerges from this process is a less threatening one.”

In a final request, Reagan implored his public to rally to his successor so that his legacy may live on. “If we’re to finish the job, Reagan’s Regiments will have to become the Bush Brigades. Soon, he’ll be chief, and he’ll need you every bit as much as I did.”