In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin, President Ronald Wilson Reagan challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to tear it down as a symbol of Gorbachev’s desire for increasing freedom in the Eastern Bloc. In his speech he arguably delivered the most memorable four words of his presidency.
The aftermath was the death knell of East German Communism. What eventually came to pass wasn’t easy or fun; the transition was even painful and scary, but what ultimately rose from the ashes was the phoenix of a unified Germany that today has become not only one of the main economic engines of the Europe Union, but also of the global economy today.
And while The Gipper was hailed as the champion of capitalism, he also had a special place in his heart for the little guy, the underdog. And when I look at what has become the legacy of 80’s greed and excess, I have to think that he might just be rolling over in his grave about what we’ve become.
So, I did a séance with Nancy Reagan’s old psychic to summon his spirit to New York. Here’s what The Great Communicator had to say:
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: Forty eight years ago, your fair city named it’s airport after our fondly remembered President John F. Kennedy. Well since then many other presidents have come, each in his turn to New York. And today, I, myself, make another visit to your city from beyond the grave.
We come to New York, we American Presidents, because it’s our duty to speak in this place of freedom. But I must confess, we’re drawn here by other things as well; by the feeling of history in this city — more than 152 years older than our own nation; by the beauty of the rising Freedom Tower and the city’s ever bustling enterprise; most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer, Steve Karmen, understood something about America. You see, like so many Presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go, whatever I do: “I love New York.”
Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout the world, I extend my warmest greetings and the good will of the American people. To those listening on Wall Street, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen, in this firm, this unalterable belief: There is only one Wall Street.
Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of our country. From the Great Lakes, those barriers cut across the rust belt in a gash of unused factories, concrete, dilapidated houses, and prisons. Farther south and west, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remains unused potential and discord all the same — still a restriction on the right to protest, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a capitalist state.
Yet, it is here in New York where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo, television and computer screen have imprinted this brutal division of a country upon the mind of the world.
Standing before this Charging Bull statue in Bowling Green Park, every man is an American separated from his fellow men.
Every man is an American, forced to look upon a scar.
President Lincoln once said, ” A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”
Well today — today I say: As long as this division remains, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the American question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind.
Yet, I do not come here to lament. For I find in New York a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.
In this season of autumn in 2001, the people of New York emerged from their apartments and office buildings to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. And in 2001 another President — as you know — said: “I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
In the footprint of the World Trade Center a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this American spirit. I was struck by the memorial — a place for us to reflect on a dream that is being rebuilt. I understand that New Yorkers of my own generation can remember seeing signs like it dotted throughout our nation’s fair capital, of battles fought in the name of freedom. The sign read simply: “We will never forget.” A strong, free world in the West — that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic giant. Italy, France, Belgium — virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and economic rebirth; the European Union was founded.
In the United States and here in New York, there took place an economic miracle, the industrial revolution. Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty — that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. The American leaders — our American leaders reduced regulation and expanded our banks ever-growing reach. And yet from 1960 to today, the poverty level has actually increased.
Where five decades ago there was poverty, today in America there is still the greatest industrial output of any country in the world: busy office blocks, fine homes and apartments, proud avenues, and the spreading lawns of parkland. Where a city’s culture seemed to have been destroyed, today there are universities, orchestras and opera, countless theaters, and museums. Where there was want, today there’s abundance — food, clothing, automobiles, iPhones, Facebook, and Foursquare — the wonderful goods of the United States. From devastation, from utter ruin, you New Yorkers have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the greatest on earth. Now the terrorists may have had other plans. But my friends, there were a few things the terrorists didn’t count on: The American spirit.
In the 1950s — In the 1950s Khrushchev predicted: “We will bury you.”
But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the totalitarian world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind — too little food. Even today, North Korea still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.
And now — now the political leaders themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from the Middle East, and even here in these United States, about policies of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.
Are these the beginnings of profound changes? Or are they token gestures intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty — the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.
There is one sign the Bankers here in New York can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.
Mr. Bankster, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the United States and the free world, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this Wall.
Mr. Bankster, open your heart and your eyes.
Mr. Bankster — Mr. Bankster, tear down this wall!