March 27, 1986

The President. I thank you all very much. The warmth of your welcome makes me think that maybe you believe that I'm a member of the LSU Tigers. [Laughter] And thank you, Henson, for those very warm words and very kind words.

It's a pleasure for me to be with you here today in support of a tough and responsible Member of the Congress, a man who has served Louisiana and his country well, Congressman Henson Moore. I know this is a fundraising luncheon for Henson, but I'd like to take a minute to recognize also the tremendous job that Bob Livingston has done in the Congress. Henson and Bob have been allies I could count on in the struggle to put America's economic house in order and to rebuild our country's defenses. Let me just ask you, I know this is silly of me, but can I count on you to send Henson to the United States Senate? [Applause] You just made my day. [Laughter] And you didn't do anything bad to his. [Laughter]

Well, it's always great to be in Louisiana. I still remember coming here when I was looking for a job in 1980. [Laughter] I delivered a speech on a riverboat complete with Dixieland music. Now, that makes me think -- you know something would make me think of a story. Job hunting -- this is about a fellow who was looking for work. He wanted to work with animals. And then he saw a help wanted ad for the zoo, and he went right down. And they said, ``Fine.'' But they told him his first job was to put on a gorilla suit -- because their gorilla had died and the other one hadn't arrived yet -- and be in the cage and kind of perform for the children and so forth. And then they assured him, though, that as soon as the other gorilla arrived, why, he'd have a regular job there in the zoo. So, there he was. Well, just sitting around in the zoo and making faces at the kids got a little boring. And they had a rope in there, and finally he began swinging on the rope for them and doing a few tricks. And one day he got carried away and swung that thing over to where he fell off the rope and landed in the lion's cage. And the lion came roaring at him. And he started screaming, ``Somebody, quick, get me out of here.'' The lion jumped on him and said, ``Shut up. You'll get both of us fired.'' [Laughter]

But between now and election day, I hope you'll do your utmost to make sure that the people of this State give Henson Moore the job that he's looking for. He's effective. He's hard-working. And he'll be a Senator that you can be proud of. Believe me, I know how effective he is. Just recently he led the way to a settlement between the House and Senate on the issue of offshore oil revenue. He was in the Oval Office presenting Louisiana's case, and let's just say Henson knows how to get your attention. At that meeting I told Henson that the resolution of the ``8 - 6'' issue, contained in the reconciliation bill, which deals with the division of offshore oil revenue between the State and Federal Governments, had my support. Since then, Henson Moore has been -- the rest of the reconciliation bill remained acceptable. I expect to sign it into law when it reaches my desk. And I believe that this will mean over $600 million for Louisiana yet this year.

The citizens of our country have been enjoying one of the longest and strongest peacetime economic expansions in our history. The glitch in last month's unemployment figures notwithstanding, more jobs have been created since the recovery began than in all other industrialized nations combined -- almost 10 million. At the same time, inflation, which was public enemy number one when I spoke on that riverboat back in 1980, is now lower than we've seen in two decades. And with interest rates continuing to edge down -- and they came down further yesterday -- and the stock market reaching an all-time high -- and if it continues what it's done in the first half of today, it will be another all-time high by the end of the day, although with Wall Street you never know. They can make a turn before the day's over, but it's pretty solidly growing up there.

I'm aware of the economic troubles that persist here in Louisiana. Your difficulties make it absolutely essential that you have a Senator who can command the respect of the public and of other elected officials, an individual who can lead Louisiana into the sunshine of growth and prosperity so apparent throughout so much of our country. Sending Henson Moore to the United States Senate will be your way of declaring for all to hear that Louisiana is getting down to business. The decision the people of Louisiana will make September 27th is important to this State and our country. The big taxers and spenders are waiting in the wings. Mark my words, if they regain control of the Senate, they're going to force upon us the same economic failures and hardships that brought America to the edge of a national economic calamity only 6 years ago.

I'd like to hear your opinion. Does anyone else, anyone here, want to go back to the days of double-digit inflation, ever-increasing taxes, and national decline?

Audience. No!

The President. We can't leave the bad old days behind if the advocates of the failed policies of the past are put in charge of the United States Senate. We all know, for example, that there are those who believe the answer to high deficit spending is to increase your taxes -- and then increase them again. Well, that's their answer to just about every problem -- rob Peter to pay Paul. They don't realize Peter went bankrupt a long time ago. [Laughter] There's an old saying that in raising taxes, as in shearing sheep, it is best to stop when one gets to the skin. The big taxers on Capitol Hill don't know when to stop, and we can't afford to let them regain control of the Senate.

If we raise taxes, we risk knocking the legs out from under the national economic growth. And that would leave us even bigger deficits. So, what's the answer? Well, first and foremost, we must encourage growth and investment. Improving economic conditions are already making it easier to meet deficit reduction targets. The experts are beginning to take note of this. But these good tidings do not exempt Members of Congress from their own duty to overcome their addiction to deficit spending, which with only one or two single-year exceptions has gone on for 50 years now. Even with an expanding economy, we're still talking about one of the preeminent challenges of our day. And here again, I am more confident than ever that we can meet this challenge, not by clobbering our people with higher taxes and less take-home pay, but through a combination of realistic budget reductions and economic growth.

To solve this and other problems, America needs the talent and hard work of confident, people-oriented leaders like Henson Moore, elected officials who would rather ask the Federal Government to tighten its belt than to ask American families to tighten theirs, leaders who understand that the right answer to helping the less fortunate is not handouts and welfare, but jobs and opportunity. What we're doing is recapturing that same spirit of enterprise and ingenuity that turned a vast American wilderness into a dynamo of freedom and prosperity.

We must remember, however, that unless our country is secure, none of the other hotly debated issues have relevance. President Andrew Jackson, who early in our country's history fought and won a great victory in this city, once said, ``The first duty of a soldier or good citizen is to attend to the safety and interest of his country. . . .'' Old Hickory's words ring true this day. All Americans must remember that, as a free people, the future is in our hands. And if we don't see to do our duty, our beloved country can remain neither free nor secure, as Henson just told you. During the last decade, our government, paralyzed by uncertainty, permitted our defenses to erode and ignored a growing totalitarian threat. But the failures of the last decade should have taught us something. Crossing our fingers and hoping for the best is not the way to ensure a more peaceful world.

Militaristic states perceive unilateral concessions as a sign of weakness, not good faith. Serious negotiations flow not from proving sincerity but from resolve and leverage. In short, peace through strength is a fact of life, and it's about time for America to leave uncertainty and indecision behind. It's time to grow up and face reality. Since coming to Washington, time and again we have struggled on Capitol Hill just to prevent our negotiators from being stripped of their leverage prior to getting to the negotiating table. Time and time again we won, with only a tiny margin, votes essential to our security. For example, there are those who, while loudly proclaiming a belief in arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, at the same time have voted against systems that persuade the Soviets to negotiate. The Strategic Defense Initiative was opposed by many who claimed the Soviets would cancel arms talks if we proceeded with that defensive system. Well, the opposite, of course, was true. I have little doubt if it were not for the installation of the Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe and our commitment to developing an antimissile defense shield that the Soviets would not now be negotiating with us.

In Central America we won military support for the besieged democracy of El Salvador by only a few votes. Had we lost, the tragedy that would have followed would have been a disaster for the people of that country and would have set off a chain of events beyond our control. Many of those who opposed that military aid suggested that Communist victory in El Salvador was inevitable, that our military support was only prolonging the agony. And, again, the opposite was true. Today the Communists are on the run in El Salvador, and even critics believe President Duarte can make democracy in his troubled country. And they have had two fine, fair elections there as a democracy. One of the important factors that has given the people of El Salvador a chance has been the courage of the Nicaraguan democratic resistance. These brave men and women have bogged down the Communist drive in Central America.

One week ago the House of Representatives voted against assisting these Nicaraguan freedom fighters, and again we see reality turned on its head. At the same time that our opponents claim to support negotiations, they move to eliminate any incentive for the Communists to negotiate. They are not going to come to the table because they have had a change of heart. They are going to come because the heat is on and they get tired of the heat that the contras can impose upon them. Does anyone really believe that the ruling clique that runs Nicaragua will enter into a serious dialog simply to prove they're good guys? One opponent of aid to the freedom fighters was quoted after the vote as saying, ``I hope the Sandinistas take it as a sign of peace and friendship.'' Well, the Nicaraguan Communists took the House vote as a sign all right; they invaded the territory of Honduras with about 1,500 heavily armed troops, and then they lied about it. This military drive demonstrates the nature of the Nicaragua regime. The Communists in Nicaragua are not seeking dialog and persuasion or pluralism. They want total power in their hands, and they have no respect for the borders of their neighbors. This Sandinista offensive is a slap in the face to everyone who voted against aid to the freedom fighters thinking it to be a vote for reconciliation.

We live in a dangerous world. If peace is to be maintained and if our country is to be secure, we must have the courage to face facts and act. The lives of the Nicaraguan freedom fighters, the fate of Central America, is to a large degree in the hands of the United States Congress. Louisiana's House delegation, demonstrating a bipartisan commitment to our national security, voted 6 to 2 for the freedom fighters that last time around. Louisiana can be proud of that. But last Thursday's House vote will not be the final word on this issue. I hope the Senate will vote today and send the measure back to the House for another vote as quickly as possible, because that's what the Senate is debating as we sit here today.

As you know, this past week the United States -- this is another subject, same philosophy -- the United States 6th Fleet exercised its right of international passage in the Mediterranean. You're well aware they did it by operating with ships and aircraft, some of them in the Gulf of Sidra. They came under attack by the forces of the Libyan Government, such as it is -- [laughter] -- and they performed superbly. And now I can tell you, as of today, the exercise is complete. And this morning, I telephoned the Commander of the 6th Fleet and told him, on behalf of all of you, of the American people, congratulations one and all for a job well done.

I think we can all be proud that we have such fine and outstanding servicemen protecting and defending our country. Wherever they are in the world, Korea and other places and there in that Navy, I have to tell you nothing in this job I have has made me more proud than the young Americans in uniform today. They aren't draftees. They volunteered. They're all there by choice. And would you be pleased to know that the highest percentage of high school graduates ever in the history of our military is in our military today? And there are three intelligence brackets upon which various assignments are based. The highest percentage ever in our history is in the top bracket of intelligence, in those servicemen and women that we have.

And, incidentally, I know you've been treated to a drumbeat of propaganda about defense budget and defense spending and as if we're spending our money on $400 hammers and things of that kind. Let me just reassure you of something: All of those horror stories that you've heard -- we found we aren't doing that. This is what we found has been going on, and we've corrected it. We bought tens of thousands of hammers last year between $6 and $8 apiece -- no $400 hammers. [Laughter]

But let me make some broader points. First, freedom of navigation is a vital interest to all free nations, the lifeblood of our prosperity and our security. In many parts of the world we regularly make clear that we do not recognize territorial claims contrary to international law. Some of those who often ``Blame America First'' have suggested that the presence of our fleet was a deliberate act of provocation. The truth is, this was the seventh time our fleet has operated and had those exercises crossing the border sometimes into the Gulf of Sidra. Out of our 45 ships in the maneuvers, only three were on the other side of that so-called Line of Death. It was Qadhafi's establishment of an illegitimate line in the Gulf of Sidra that violated international law, just as Qadhafi has routinely violated the peace of his region, the borders of his neighbors, and the safety of innocent citizens around the world.

Therefore, the United States will continue to defend the basic principles of law, free navigation, and international security. And I've had one rule from the very first day in office: We will never send our young service people anyplace in the world where there is danger without them understanding that if somebody shoots at them, they can shoot back. In addition, the United States will not be intimidated by new threats of terrorism against us. We're aware of intensive Libyan preparations that were already underway for terrorist operations against Americans. Mr. Qadhafi must know that we will hold him fully accountable for any such actions.

America and our allies in the cause of freedom have never been perfect, but we have nothing to apologize for. In these last 6 years we've witnessed one of the greatest expansions of democracy in the history of our hemisphere. If we have the integrity to do what is right, freedom will not only survive, it will triumph. And to do that, we need leaders like Henson Moore. So, I ask you to do what you can to see to it that America is given the benefit of his leadership in the United States Senate.

I'm counting on you, and so is he. And thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:41 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside and Towers. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.