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Dick Durbin's tribute to Ronald Reagan

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WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is among a string of senators today saluting former President Ronald Reagan from the Senate floor. Reagan was born on Feb. 6, 1911 in Tampico, Ill., was raised in Dixon, Illinois and graduated from Eureka College in Eureka, Ill.

And....though Abe Lincoln and Barack Obama were Illinoisans when they were elected president Reagan is the only Illinois-born president.

Click below for text of Durbin's remarks as prepared...


Remarks by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin
On the 100th Birthday of President Ronald Reagan
February 3, 2011

When Ronald Reagan was born, his father Jack looked at his new son and exclaimed, "He looks like a fat little Dutchman but who knows, he might grow up to be president some day."

In fact, Ronald Reagan grew up to become not just a President, but one of America's most memorable Presidents.

As we mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, much is being said and written about Ronald Reagan's White House years -- and understandably so. But in my state of Illinois, people are also remembering an earlier time in the life of this iconic American.

Ronald Wilson Reagan is the only American president born in Illinois.

He entered this world on Feb. 6, 1911 in the little town of Tampico, Illinois, in an apartment above a bakery on Main Street.

His father Jack sold shoes to support his wife and two sons.

Over the first nine years of his life, the Reagan family moved four times -- from Tampico to Galesburg, to Monmouth, and the south side of Chicago before finally settling in Dixon, Illinois - population 10,000.

Today, the white frame house at 810 South Hennepin Street in Dixon, the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, draws visitors from around the world.

It was in Dixon that the shy boy would begin to discover self-confidence and the talents that would serve him so well in life. He acted in his first play in Dixon, and he was elected student body president during his senior year at Dixon High School.

From Dixon, Ronald Reagan went to Eureka College, a small college near Peoria. The tuition was $180 a year - twice that much with room and board -more than the Reagan family could afford. But Ronald Reagan didn't let that discourage him. He received a "needy student scholarship" and waited tables and washed dishes at his fraternity house to help pay his way.

Once again, he was elected president of his senior class.

In 1935, Ronald Reagan was working as a radio sports announcer. He followed the Chicago Cubs to spring training in California and slipped away one day to visit Hollywood and explore whether there might be a future for him in movies.

Two years later, Ronald Reagan packed his possessions into a Nash convertible and moved to California, where he would become a successful actor and later, governor. But he never forgot his Illinois roots.

In his first inaugural parade in 1981 Ronald Reagan included the Dixon High School band.

On a visit to Eureka College in 1992, President Reagan told students, "Everything good that happened to me, everything, started here on this campus."

In 1990, two years after he left the White House, President Reagan travelled to Abilene, Kansas, for a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of President Eisenhower's birth.

He said that day: "I learned long ago that in order to find the heart of America you need only visit the heartland of America." It was a lesson he had learned years earlier in those small towns in Illinois.

Both the state of Illinois and the town of Dixon have created Ronald Reagan Centennial Commissions to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth. If you want to see the places that helped shape America's 40th president, come to Illinois this year, where it all began.

Mr. President, Ronald Reagan was President when I was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. While our views of government differed, sometimes greatly, I admired his optimism and his unshakable faith that America's best days were ahead of us. He restored a sense of confidence in many Americans at a time when we sorely needed it.

He told us: "America is too great to dream small dreams." And he was right.

In 1992, two years before he announced he had Alzheimer's disease, Ronald Reagan addressed his party's nominating convention for the last time.

He said then: "Whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will recall that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts."

In 1983, in one of the most important accomplishments of his presidency, Ronald Reagan brought together Democrats and Republicans to head off a funding crisis in Social Security. That bipartisan agreement helped add years of solvency to one of the most successful programs this government has ever created.

In 1986, he signed America's last major tax reform act to simplify the income tax code, broaden the tax base and eliminate loopholes that allowed some to avoid their obligations while unfairly increasing the tax burden on others.

Today, we face a far greater challenge. Not only do we have to protect Social Security for the long run, we also have to simplify our tax code again, and put in place a responsible plan to reduce our deficits even as we invest in a stronger economic future.

In this centennial year of his birth, it would be a fitting tribute to President Reagan if Democrats and Republicans could work together to solve our challenges in the same spirit of patriotic pragmatism that President Reagan and others brought to protecting Social Security a generation ago. I hope we can work together to help get Americans back to work today and to lay the foundation for a strong economic future so that our children can continue to say, as President Reagan said so often, that America's best days are still ahead.

After Ronald Reagan clinched the delegates needed to win his party's 1980 Presidential nomination, a newspaper reporter asked him what he thought he needed to do next. He replied

that he wanted to dispel the notion that he was a hard-nosed radical who would oppose compromise on principle.

These are his words. He said: "You know, there are some people so imbued with their ideology that if they can't get everything they want, they'll jump off the cliff with the flag flying. As governor, I found out that if I could get half a loaf, instead of stalking off angrily, I'd take it."

Ronald Reagan was a man who believed deeply in his core principles. He would not want any of us to compromise our own core principles in his memory.

But there is such a thing as principled compromise. President Reagan understood that. He knew that accommodation was needed to make the system work. We would honor his memory by remembering that lesson and working to restore to our politics the same civility that we associate with him. Let's remember that there is no dishonor in accepting a half a loaf. That is how democracy works.

Finally, I want to express my admiration for Mrs. Reagan. Her love and steadfast devotion to her husband during his illness moved us all, and her courageous work in support of new treatments for Alzheimer's disease will surely help other families. Our thoughts are with her and the rest of President Reagan's family as we mark this historic centennial.


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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 3, 2011 1:28 PM.

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