July 9, 1984
The President. Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. It's a pleasure to have you all here. And I know you want to get to the question-and-answer period, so I'll keep these opening remarks brief.
I often recall the difference between President Washington and President Harrison. George Washington gave an inaugural address of less than 150 words, and he was a great leader, as we all know. William Henry Harrison gave an inaugural address that lasted nearly 2 hours on a cold, wintry day, and a month later he died of pneumonia. [Laughter] So, with your permission I'd like to touch just briefly on two of our administration's main efforts, and with my luck probably they were covered in some of your briefings already.
But, anyway, first, the economy. When we took office, I think we inherited a mess: raging inflation, declining real wages, soaring interest rates. Indeed, the month of the inauguration the prime interest rates soared to over 21 percent, the highest level since the Civil War. Our administration moved quickly to turn that around.
We cut the growth of Federal spending. We pruned needless regulations, passed an across-the-board personal income tax cut, and enacted an historic measure called tax indexing. Indexing means that government will never again profit from inflation at the people's expense. And today we have one big program that we think is helping every man and woman in America. It's called economic expansion.
Since we took office, inflation has plummeted; productivity, investment, and real wages have risen; and for the past year, the gross national product has been growing at a rate that's astounded the professors and pessimists. I don't know why I separate them. [Laughter]
The best news of all since the expansion began is that some 6.7 million Americans have found jobs. The unemployment rate has taken the steepest nosedive in more than 30 years. And our country has produced new jobs faster than any other industrialized nation on Earth.
But these are all statistics. I think there's a better way that you can tell our program is working -- and I understand that a reference was made to it already this morning, and, Don, you stole my thunder -- it's true the critics don't call it Reaganomics anymore.
But, second, foreign affairs. We're working hard to give American policy new strength, new firmness, and new purpose. In Europe, we're helping to hold the Atlantic alliance together under intense pressure from the Soviet Union. In Central America, we're strengthening the forces of democracy and economic progress. And in Grenada, we joined the Caribbean democracies in setting a nation free.
In our dealings with the Soviets, we've shown again and again that we remain unshakably determined to support freedom and the struggle for freedom in the world. But we're also eager and willing to negotiate genuine and verifiable arms reductions. And we continue to hope that the Soviets will sit down with us this fall, as they themselves first suggested, to discuss the control of weapons in space and, we hope, on Earth as well.
Recently, Morton Kondracke, the executive editor of the New Republic, summed up our foreign policy very well. He wrote that our administration "has altered the correlation of forces in the world in America's direction.'' Well, I believe America is stronger, prouder, and more joyful than she was just a few years ago. We still have a long way to go, but we've made a good beginning.
And now, I know you must have some questions.
Republican Party Platform
Q. Mr. President, I'm Sue Kopen from WCBM-Radio in Baltimore. I just wanted to know if we could look a couple of weeks, a few weeks down the pike to the convention, and what we might expect to emerge as the party's platform -- forthcoming?
The President. Well, that's going to be up, pretty much, to those that are framing the platform, because I'm not going to give any orders to them. I think that from what I have heard, from some people that are involved, that they're -- it's probably going to be pretty much of a broad statement of principles, of what it is we try to do without trying to get down too much into specifically how it must be done.
Now, there was another young lady, and then I'll -- --
Q. Mr. President, I'm Jane Saxton, Indianapolis Visions magazine. I wonder what you and your administration and your party would like to do this fall to attract black voters -- if anything -- or if the Republican Party is merely going to write black voters off?
The President. Certainly we are not counting them out or simply ignoring them. Not at all. As a matter of fact, I think one of the great frustrations I have is that this -- what we have done with regard to minorities, with regard to people who still have a way to go to have some of the advantages that they've been denied in the past -- that that is one of the better kept secrets of our success and what we've done.
We've had a program to aid the black colleges and universities; because when I came here, I said I think they're such a part of history -- they fulfilled a need for so long when there was discrimination that made the advantage of education hard to get for many of our minorities -- that they must, that institution must be preserved. And we've been working on that.
I think the very recovery program -- the fact that the greatest decrease in unemployment was in the minority community, and particularly among blacks. We have two programs before the Congress that are buried now, or stopped in the House of Representatives without coming to the floor for a vote, that both would be of, especially, advantage to -- and particularly young blacks -- would be the two-step minimum wage to allow employers to hire young people who have no job experience, who are starting out to get their first job at a lower rate than the present minimum because that minimum today has priced a great many jobs young people used to have, priced the jobs out of existence. People are just not having things done that they would have done.
The other one is the enterprise zones. We started that almost 3 years ago. It is still buried and has never come to the floor for a vote. Some States have already moved out on their own and they can't as effectively, because the tax incentives aren't as great just at the State level. But in that regard, in those States where they've done it, some of the stories are just miraculous of what the advantages have been.
And so, I think that we've -- it has to do with our own administration here. And this isn't a new thing with me or born of politics. When I was Governor of California, I appointed more members of the black community to executive and policymaking positions than all the previous Governors of California put together. And, as I say, this is a rather well-kept secret.
And if we can find a way for those people to know what we've done, I think that they would choose our policies rather than the policies of the past, and that would be of the future if the Democrats were in control, because those policies sentence too many people to the bondage of welfare-ism rather than opening up jobs and opportunity for them.
Q. Mr. President, Jerry Fogel, KCMO-Radio at Kansas City. Do you feel that the recent travels and negotiations by Reverend Jackson might send a signal to future Presidential candidates and these candidates for nomination that such activities are okay and will not be prosecuted under the Logan Act or any other legislation?
The President. Well, the prosecution under the Logan Act -- and I think in an answer I gave to a question recently on that sort of led me -- or suggested I was astray on that. The Logan Act is very specific, and I was only calling attention to the fact that there is such a thing and that private citizens cannot go and literally try to negotiate terms and arrangements with foreign governments.
I don't think there's been any evidence of that being broken by Reverend Jackson. I think that it would be very dangerous if this became a political ploy for candidates in the future. Anyone that wants to go simply as a citizen, a private citizen, and try to do a humanitarian thing as he successfully did in Syria -- and I'm grateful to him for it because I know it's something I couldn't have done officially. I'm grateful that those people were released that were in the Cuban prisons. I could have done without some of the criticisms of American policy that were made while he was in those foreign countries.
But it is a thin line that has to be walked. And I would hope that it would not become a general practice.
Now, I promised you.
Sanctions Against Poland
Q. Chester Grabowski from New Jersey's Post-Eagle, editor. Speaking of foreign policy, I'm wondering when our President will lift the restrictions and sanctions against the Polish people, specifically to lift Polish airlines, which does not allow the people to go back and forth to Poland. It's quite a job to get to Poland today with the sanctions that have been imposed by your government.
The President. I can tell you that this is very much on our minds. And we are seeking to find a way to remove the restrictions that are penalizing the people of Poland more than they are the so-called Government of Poland. And we would like to do that. At the same time, we don't want to send a signal that might be interpreted as that we no longer feel as we do about the Polish Government. So, we're trying to find a way.
Q. President Reagan, I'm Gary Tuchman from WBOC - TV in Salisbury, Maryland. In your State of the Union Address, you mentioned the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. Now, I'm wondering what made you decide to mention that in your State of the Union Address and how committed are you to the cleanup?
The President. I am very much committed to it, just as I'm very much committed to the entire problem of the environment. And that's one of the other best-kept secrets about our administration.
No, this -- you couldn't be here in this proximity to that -- and it is the largest such body of water on our -- the entire thousands of miles of coast of the United States. And its decline in quality -- what has been done to it -- just is unconscionable. And we are pledged to reverse that, just as we're pledged to -- and have added millions of acres to the wilderness territory, have made the most extensive cleanup of the national parks that's ever been made, to restore their safety and health features, and now are going to add additional parkland to those parks.
But, no, it was done for that reason. It is a great and a very unique ecosystem.
Q. We're grateful for the invitation, since we're not part of the Washington press corps. Thank you for looking to the rest of the country as well.
We hear of human rights, of citizens' rights, minority rights, and women's rights. And I'm wondering, Mr. President, when and how are the rights of the unborn human children going to again be protected in this nation?
The President. Well, we're striving very hard to do that. I know what you're talking about. First of all, with regard to those who some would deny life to after they're born because they are born less than perfect, I wish everyone could have been where I was a few Sundays ago, at the opening of the disabled games -- international games that take place every 4 years, this year for the first time in the United States up in New York, and seen those people and their happiness and their enthusiasm, and to think that someone might have decided at their birth that they should not be allowed to live.
I ran the 440 in high school, and it was quite a shock to me to see that a man today is running the 400 meter in under 50 seconds with one artificial leg. And I never got under 50 seconds. [Laughter] I didn't get within about 9 seconds of that.
Q. Mr. President, Paul Jeffers, WCBS, New York. There's this new, big airport -- landing strip in Grenada the Russians and the Cubans were building that I understand was almost near conclusion. And I'm wondering, sir, if you're planning to inaugurate it with Air Force One, say, sometime in October? [Laughter]
The President. Oh, don't you think that'd look a little obvious? [Laughter]
No, but I'll tell you, the job that our people did down there was magnificent. And anyone who thinks that that was a mistake should simply talk to some of the people from Grenada, not just our medical students, our American students there. The people of Grenada believe they were rescued from a Communist domination that had already affected their lives. So, I'm very proud of our military. They only had 48 hours to plan that, too. And they did it.
Incidentally -- could I just take a second -- I left off a part of the answer to your question, too. I know the other part must have had to do with abortion. And I still have to feel that the Constitution already protects the unborn, unless and until someone can prove that the unborn child is not a living human being. And after months of hearings before committees in the Congress, no one could prove that.
Now, if any one of us came upon a body and we couldn't determine whether it was living or dead, we certainly wouldn't bury it until someone proved to us that it should have been buried. And I feel that one of the great moral sins that is violating our very constitutional guarantee of right to life is now prevalent in abortion on demand.
Q. Mr. President, Cameron Harper from WTHR, Indianapolis.
Ms. Mathis. [Susan K. Mathis, Acting Deputy Director of Media Relations] This will be the last question, Mr. President.
The President. Ah. That always happens. [Laughter]
Q. All morning long, your advisers have been telling us -- and you mentioned it at the beginning of your remarks -- about the economy improving. But as the economy is improving, as inflation is maintaining at a much lower level and, in fact, going down, the prime interest rate in this country is going up. Who's to blame for the prime interest rate going up, and at what point do you think it will continue -- will it turn around and go back down?
The President. Well, I had made a prediction in the fall, and I know there are a lot in the press corps that -- here in Washington -- that are just wringing their hands waiting to see whether I'll have to say I was wrong or not. Maybe I was -- guessed too soon. I'll still stick with it, because I'm an optimist and I think that most economic prognosticators are pessimists.
I think the interest rates are where they are -- and it is psychological. It is because after seven previous recessions since World War II, the money market out there is just not convinced that we have inflation under control or that, politically, we will not yield to the previous practice of artificially stimulating the economy to get an artificial fix, a quick fix, to bring us faster out of the recession.
And every time they did that in those seven previous times, they came out of the recession, but with an inflation rate that was higher than it was before. Now, the man who's going to lend money, or the woman who's going to lend money, has to know that they can get an interest rate that is going to cover the depreciated value of their money during the period of time that money is lent. And I think it is -- they just look at every sign. We got a good, sound recovery going, and then they say, ``Oh, well, maybe it's heating up too fast.''
Well, we had about 50 years or so back there and -- a little -- around and before the turn of the centuries in which this country had an economy that was at a boom rate, and it didn't bring on inflation, and it didn't bring on any of the evil things that they say.
There's nothing wrong with economic growth. And so, I hope we'll continue it. But I think it is just the psychology that they are fearful. It's been done to them before. It's an election year. They believe that if anything should start to happen, there will be an attempt at a quick fix. Well, there won't be; we don't believe in it. There's going to be sound recovery.
Q. If I could follow up, sir. You are known for some fairly persuasive power when it comes to dealing with individuals. And I'm thinking, in particular, of the banks that are responsible, in your opinion at least, for the prime rate being up. Why can't you persuade them to -- why can't you persuade them to your way of thinking?
The President. Well, we think that maybe the persuasion should be based on a few deeds. For example, I think as it moves through the Congress -- and it looks favorable -- our downpayment on the deficit is going to have, I think, a salubrious effect out there when that's passed, when they find out that the deficits are very probably not going to be as great as they've been projected, and when they find out, also, after the election, that is -- if we're still here -- that we're not through fighting the deficits, because I've been out on the mashed-potato circuit for 30 years preaching against deficit spending, and I'm determined that we're going to eliminate it.
And to that end, I would appreciate your editorial help -- --
The President. -- -- in getting passed the balanced budget amendment. And then, please give me a line-item veto. Don't let me face those porkbarrel bills in which I've got to sign the good and take the bad with it. As a Governor, I line-item vetoed in 8 years, 943 budget items, without ever having the veto overthrown.
So, we'll take those two, and you can -- --
Ms. Mathis. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
The President. And you thought I was the boss. I'm sorry we can't get to the rest. If you have further briefings, remember those questions for those who brief you.
Note: The President spoke at 1:10 p.m. at a luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House.