Good morning and welcome. It’s good to have you all here to help celebrate the launching of a program with a vision and a noble purpose.
The National Endowment for Democracy is, just as we’ve been told, more than bipartisan; it’s a genuine partnership of Republicans and Democrats, of labor and business, conservatives and liberals, and of the executive and legislative branches of government.
It’s such a worthwhile, important initiative that I’m tempted to ask: Why hasn’t it been done before? Well, we’re doing it now, and it’s largely because of the hard work of good people. Chuck Manatt, Frank Fahrenkopf, Dante Fascell, Bill Brock, Lane Kirkland, Mike Samuels, you have my heartfelt thanks and warmest congratulations. And a special thank you to our Vice President, who has been carrying this message for quite some time now on missions here and there throughout the world.
The establishment of the National Endowment goes right to the heart of America’s faith in democratic ideals and institutions. It offers hope to people everywhere. Last year in London I spoke of the need and obligation to assist democratic development. My hope then was that America would make clear to those who cherish democracy throughout the world that we mean what we say.
What had been preying on my mind that prompted me to say that in that speech to the Parliament was that in my lifetime, my adult lifetime, the world has been beset by “-isms”. And we remember one of those -isms that plunged us into a war. And it suddenly dawned on me that we, with this system that so apparently works and is successful, have just assumed that the people would look at it and see that it was the way to go. And then I realized, but all those -isms, they also are missionaries for their cause, and they’re out worldwide trying to sell it. And I just decided that this nation, with its heritage of Yankee traders, we ought to do a little selling of the principles of democracy.
Speaking out for human rights and individual liberty and for the rule of law and the peaceful reconciliation of differences, for democratic values and principles, is good and right. But it’s not just good enough. We must work hard for democracy and freedom, and that means putting our resources — organizations, sweat, and dollars — behind a long-term program.
Well, the hope is now a reality. The National Endowment for Democracy, a private, nonprofit corporation funded by the Congress, will be the centerpiece of this effort. All Americans can be proud of this initiative and the congressional action which made it possible.
By engaging the energies of our major political parties, of labor, business, and other groups, such as the academic community, the forces of democracy will be strengthened wherever they may be. They’ll have a caring group of Americans to go to, to get assistance from, advice, and cooperation.
This program will not be hidden in shadows. It’ll stand proudly in the spotlight, and that’s where it belongs. We can and should be proud of our message of democracy. Democracies respect individual liberties and human rights. They respect freedom of expression, political participation, and peaceful cooperation. Governments which serve their citizens encourage spiritual and economic vitality. And we will not be shy in offering this message of hope.
Through the National Endowment, the private sector will promote exchanges between the American people and democratic groups abroad. It’ll stimulate participation in democratic training programs and institution building overseas. The Endowment will work closely with those abroad who seek to chart a democratic course, and all this work will be sensitive to the needs of individual groups and institutions. And, of course, it will be consistent with our own national interests.
The National Endowment will let the people at the grassroots, who make our democracy work, help build it elsewhere. And the organizations that are now being formed by the Republican and Democratic parties and by labor and business will be the key to success. There’ll also be expressions of what’s best and most valuable in American public life.
Now, we’re not naive. We’re not trying to create imitations of the American system around the world. There’s no simple cookbook recipe for political development that is right for all people, and there’s no timetable. While democratic principles and basic institutions are universal, democratic development must take into account historic, cultural, and social conditions.
Each nation, each movement will find its own route. And, in the process, we’ll learn much of value for ourselves. Patience and respect for different political and cultural traditions will be the hallmark of our effort. But the combination of our ideas is healthy. And it’s in this spirit that the National Endowment reaches out to people everywhere — and will reach out to those who can make a difference now and to those who will guide the destiny of their people in the future.
Much depends on us. But we can be confident that the tide of history is a freedom tide. That’s the real message of our time. And it may be just the reason why those who don’t like to hear the truth are so worried.
The nine countries which joined the United Nations since 1978 are democracies. In Africa, important states like Nigeria and Senegal have entered fully into the community of democratic states. In our hemisphere, 27 out of 35 countries are democracies now, or in transition. And just last week, Argentina completed its dramatic return, with the inauguration of President Alfonsin.
Yes, beyond the world’s troublespots lies a deeper, more positive, and hopeful trend. The march of democracy and the National Endowment will be a part of it. Of course, any undertaking will ultimately be judged by the challenges it accepts and those that it overcomes. All of you in this room have good reason to be proud. You’ve accepted a worthy challenge.
The National Endowment for Democracy can make lasting and important contributions. It’s up to all of us to make it happen, to harness the resources, experience, and wisdom of both the public and the private sectors. It’s up to us to broaden our efforts, make them grow. And with the people in this room, I know we can, and I know we will.
So, again, thank you, good luck, and God bless all of you.
Note: The President spoke at 11:39 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. Among those present in the audience were the members of the board of directors of the Endowment.