Virtues of Limited Government: Reagan’s Governing Template

 Ronald Reagan was guided by a core set of principles about the role that government should play in our lives. When it came to providing for our nation’s poor, he firmly believed that government closest to the people would best serve their needs and those of the taxpayer. Here are some of his thoughts on the matter:

“I can’t help thinking that, while much of the 20th century saw the rise of the federal government, the 21st century will be the century of the states. I have always believed that America is strongest and freest and happiest when it is truest to the wisdom of its founders.”

Remarks to National Governor’s Association, Cincinnati, August 8, 1988*

“The…inescapable truth is: government does not have all the answers. In too many instances, government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.”

Remarks to U.S. League of Savings Associations, San Francisco, November 14, 1974*

“We have long since discovered that nothing lasts longer than a temporary government program.”

Remarks at Herbert Hoover Library, West Branch, Iowa, August 8, 1992*

reagandems_small Virtues of Limited Government: Reagan's Governing Template

“Welfare needs a purpose: to provide for the needy, of course, but more than that, to salvage these, our fellow citizens, to make them self-sustaining and, as quickly as possible, independent of welfare. There has been something terribly wrong with a program that grows ever larger even when prosperity for everyone else is increasing. We should measure welfare’s success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.”

Remarks at Governor’s Conference on Medicaid, San Francisco, 1968*

“The war on poverty created a great new upper-middle class of bureaucrats that found they had a fine career as long as they could keep enough needy people there to justify their existence.”

Remarks at Kansas Republican Party luncheon, Topeka, September 9, 1982*

“In this era of big government, we sometimes forget that many of our proudest achievements as a nation came not through government, but through private citizens, individuals whose genius and generosity flourished in this climate of freedom.”

Remarks to the Nation on Independence Day and the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty, July 5, 1986

“It’s time everyone faced up to why government, for nearly 50 years, has been heading down a one-way street of overspending and rising public debt…[M]uch of it results from the combination of special interest groups and flawed budget procedures. Our system of budgetmaking in the Congress practically guarantees spending growth, and this unsettles financial markets and helps keep interest rates from falling. When government makes redistributing income more important than producing it, people reallocate their energies from economic to political action.”

Radio Address to the Nation on the Fiscal Year 1986 Budget, February 2, 1985

“The more government we can keep at the local levels, in local hands, the better off we are and the more freedom we will have…Traditionally, we’ve been able to adapt well to change and to meet our challenges, because we could reach across a vast continent for ideas and experience. In the recent past, as the Federal Government has pushed each city, county, and State to be more like every other, we’ve begun to lose one of our greatest strengths — our diversity as a people. If we’re to renew our country, we must stop trying to homogenize America. I believe the extent of the problems that we face today is in direct proportion to the extent to which we have allowed the Federal Government to mushroom out of control. Ignoring careful checks and balances, Federal bureaucrats now dictate where a community will build a bridge or lay a sewer system. We’ve lost the sense of which problems require national solutions and which are best handled at the local level.”

Remarks at the National Association of Counties Convention, Baltimore, July 13, 1982

“[I]t is by clearly restricting the duties of government that we make government efficient and responsive. By preventing government from overextending itself we stop it from disturbing that intricate but orderly pattern of private transactions among various institutions and individuals who have different social and economic goals. In short, like the Founding Fathers, we recognize the people as sovereign and the source of our social progress. We recognize government’s role in that progress, but only under sharply defined and limited conditions. We remain aware of government’s urge to seek more power, to disturb the social ecology and disrupt the bonds of cooperation and interchange among private individuals and institutions through unnecessary intrusion or expansion.”

Remarks at Fundraising Dinner honoring John M. Ashbrook, Ashland, Ohio, May 9, 1983

“Generosity is a reflection of what one does with his or her own resources and not what he or she advocates the government do with everyone’s money.”

Ronald Reagan, January 31, 1984

“The whole target of some of our social reforms, like welfare, always should have been to find a way to salvage those people and make them self-sustaining, instead of perpetuating them into the third and fourth generation as wards of the government.

White House press conference, November 10, 1981

“When our administration came to office, we took it as one of our chief aims to reawaken the federalist impulse and approach the Constitution with a new fidelity — in short, to restore the power to the states.

Remarks to the National Conference of State Legislators on 1/29/1988

“All of us need to be reminded that the federal government did not create the states. The states created the federal government.

January 20, 1981

* As quoted in Peter Hannaford, ed., The Quotable Ronald Reagan, (Washington, DC: Regnery, 1998)