President Reagan says he's turning the nation over to the "good hands" of George Bush, advising his successor to keep a wary eye on the Soviet Union and warning against "an erosion of the American spirit."
In a folksy Oval Office speech bidding adieu to the nation, Reagan boasted Wednesday of his accomplishments and ignored many of the difficulties that arose during his eight years in office."We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world," he said.
Yet Reagan also admitted that his self-styled conservative revolution left many things unchanged, and he asked his followers to stick around and help his successor.
"If we're to finish the job, Reagan's Regiments will have to become the Bush Brigades," Reagan said. "Soon he'll be the chief, and he'll need you every bit as much as I did."
The president said he was leaving office with the central message of his political life strengthened - that an unfettered economy, a strong defense and a free citizenry forged a nation "respected in the world and looked to for leadership."
"Democracy, the profoundly good, is also the profoundly productive," he said. "Because we are a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours."
The president and his wife, Nancy, were scheduled to receive a farewell accolade Thursday from the Department of Defense, which arranged an elaborate ceremony featuring flyovers and military bands at Andrews Air Force Base. Every four-star general and admiral in uniform was invited to attend.
Reagan addressed the nation from his Oval Office desk, his left hand in a splint and swathed in bandages from weekend surgery on a finger.
Speaking nine days before his retirement to California, Reagan called his departure "sweet sorrow." But he also said he looks forward to a renewal of personal freedom, contending a modern president must live "somewhat apart. You spend a lot of time going by too fast in a car someone else is driving."
Another regret, Reagan said, was his failure to tame the nation's deficit. But that merited only a paragraph in the roughly 21-minute speech. "I've been talking a great deal about that lately, but tonight isn't for arguments and I'm going to hold my tongue," he said.
The national debt almost tripled in Reagan's term, and he ran up the biggest budget deficits in history. His final budget proposal, released earlier this week for the 1990 fiscal year starting Oct. 1, projects a deficit of $92.5 billion.
The president's remarks were void of any mention of such national tragedies as the barracks bombing that killed more than 241 servicemen in Beirut, the Challenger disaster or the Americans held hostage in the Middle East.
There was no word of the trade deficits or the scandals that tarnished his administration, such as the sale of arms to Iran and use of the proceeds to fund the Contra reb-els in Nicaragua illegally. The Contras, subject of so many Reagan speeches, were not mentioned at all.
As triumphs Reagan listed the nation's economic recovery, its low unemployment and inflation and its bolstered military.
Reagan also said he was concerned that America was losing "a national feeling," a patriotism built on a love of country and awareness of the nation's history of freedom.