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Ronald Reagan:
selected quotations

New translation, the Magna Carta


Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1911– 2004
Film actor, governor of California, and President of the USA

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  • Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. 1987 [1]

  • The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I'm from the government and I'm here to help.” 1976

  • The size of the federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience or charitable concern. 1981

  • Socialism only works in two places: Heaven where they don’t need it and hell where they already have it.

  • I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.

  • Insanity is hereditory, you catch it from your kids.

  • Getting shot hurts.

  • The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. 1964

  • The best social program is a productive job for anyone who’s willing to work.

  • Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for
    its own existence. 1970

  • I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency - even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.

  • I don't know. I've never played a governor.
    1966 When asked by a reporter what kind of governor he would be.

  • Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:
    If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it.
    15 August 1986

  • Cures were developed for which there were no known diseases.
    1981 Commenting on Congress and the federal budget.

  • We don’t have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven’t taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much. 1982

  • Government is the people’s business and every man, woman and child becomes a shareholder with the first penny of tax paid. 1982

  • I have seen the rise and fall of Nazi tyranny, the subsequent Cold War and the nuclear nightmare that for fifty years haunted the dreams of children everywhere. During that time my generation defeated totalitarianism. As a result, your world is poised for better tomorrows. What will you do on your journey?

  • Let us beware that while they [Soviet rulers] preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination over all the peoples of the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world [...] I urge you to beware the temptation [...] to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil. 1983

  • It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history [... It is] the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism- Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people. 1982

  • The years ahead will be great ones for our country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization. The West will not contain Communism, it will transcend Communism. 1981

  • There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits on the human capacity for intelligence, imagination and wonder. 1983

  • Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it. 1986

  • The other day, someone told me the difference between a democracy and a people’s democracy. It’s the same difference between a jacket and a straitjacket. 1986

  • How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin. 1987

  • Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuous revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions. 1988

  • Public servants say, always with the best of intentions, “What greater service we could render if only we had a little more money and a little more power.” But the truth is that outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector. 1964 [see also Keynes on government]

  • Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere. 1986

  • We are for aiding our allies by sharing our material blessings with nations which share our fundamental beliefs, but we are against doling out money government to government, creating bureaucracy, if not socialism, all over the world. 1964

  • I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.

  • I hope you’re all Republicans.1981
    To surgeons as he entered the operating room following an assassination attempt.

  • Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.

  • I'm afraid I can’t use a mule. I have several hundred up on Capitol Hill.
    Refusing a gift of a mule.

  • What makes him think a middle-aged actor, who’s played with a chimp, could have a future in politics? On Clint Eastwood’s bid to become mayor of Carmel [Once, Reagan also played in a film with a chimp, in Bedtime with Bonzo.]

  • When asked, “How could an actor become president?”
    How can a president not be an actor?

  • From his letter to the American people revealing his Alzheimer’s diagnosis:
    In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that day may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. November 5, 1994

  • Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because America was too strong.

End notes

  1. From a speech made near the Berlin Wall in 1987:
    General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.


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