Remarks at a White House Briefing for the Public-Private Partnerships Conference

September 11, 1986

Well, thank you all very much, and, Rob, thank you for that kind introduction. I was hearing it through the other side of the door there. [Laughter] And welcome to the Old Executive Office Building. I'm delighted to be with you today and to have this opportunity to talk to you about our private sector initiatives program. And I want to extend special thanks to John Phelan, Bill Verity, and Rob Mosbacher, who in the best tradition of private giving have donated their time and considerable talents to making PSI the success that it is today.

Coming over here, I was thinking about the spirit of giving and cooperation that is represented by this group, and that reminded me of a story. [Laughter] Something always does. [Laughter] This one's a story of contrast with you and what you're doing here. And maybe you've heard it before, but, then, forgive me. After you pass 40 there is a tendency to just repeat stories over and over again. [Laughter] This is the story about the two friends who are out hiking in the woods and suddenly saw coming toward them over the hill a grizzly bear. And one of them dropped to his knees, started peeling off his boots, and reached in his pack and pulled out a pair of sneakers. And the other one says, ``You don't think you can outrun that bear, do you?'' And he says, ``I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.'' [Laughter]

Well, as the success of PSI shows, whether a bear is coming over the hill or not, you're in the contrast to that. Americans are sticking together, carrying on the tradition of neighbor helping neighbor that's made this country so great. And whether it's raising a barn on a neighboring farm or raising money for the neighborhood church, the history of America shows that the freest people on Earth are also the most generous.

You here in this room today are an example of that spirit of generosity. I have to interject here a little something, an experience I had. I won't name the country, but one night at a dinner at the White House, oh a couple of years ago, the wife of an Ambassador happened to be on my right at our table. And something came up in the conversation around the table about, here in America, some cause that we were supporting and was going forward. And very quietly this wife of the Ambassador of a European country turned to me and said, ``Yes, but you see, you're unique.'' And I said, ``Well, what do you mean?'' She says, ``Yes, in your country that will be done by the people voluntarily.'' ``But,'' she said, ``only in your country.'' She said, ``The rest of us aren't that way.'' She said, ``And the rest of us -- we just think it's up to the government to take care of that.'' And I thought it was pretty brave and big of her to make that statement, but I've never forgotten it. And then I paid a little more attention, and we are unique. And we're going to stay that way.

The four regional conferences which you've been hearing about this morning wouldn't be possible without the commitment of each and every one of you. Public-private partnerships have emerged as one of the most effective methods of providing service to our citizens. Innovative partnerships have been formed at the Federal, State, and local level dealing with such issues as child care, neighborhood revitalization, education, and even food distribution programs for the needy. And I just want to take this opportunity to thank you personally for all that you're doing.

Many of you've heard me talk about the International Conference on Private Sector Initiatives that will be taking place in Paris, France, this November. Well, I'm very pleased at the initiative that my Board of Advisors has demonstrated in hosting this unique conference, because this is a kind of an answer now, after a few years, to that Ambassador's wife. I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish in the United States in promoting private sector activity. In fact, it's a subject that I've often enjoyed discussing with leaders from other countries. This conference will enable the key private sector leaders and government officials from seven nations to get together, share information on innovative new private sector programs from each of the countries.

And this international cooperative effort is the first of its type, and I'm optimistic about the many good things that can result from it. The planning of this unique conference has been a partnership in itself involving governments, corporations, and charitable groups from around the world. It seems that the more people hear about this, the more willing they are to become involved.

I want to take a moment to talk about an issue in which private involvement will make all the difference, and that's our national crusade to rid America of the horror of drugs. This Sunday Nancy and I will be addressing the Nation on TV with an urgent message: that now is the time to stand up, get involved, and do something about drugs. We must hold the sellers and users of illegal drugs accountable for their actions. We must seek ways to help users quit using and accept no excuses.

And we all know that the drug problem is an international one. I can assure you that we're working with other nations to curtail production, and we're developing better means to stop the flow of drugs over our borders. But we have to set our own house in order. Everyone will have to participate: business, private sector leaders foremost among them, not just making sure your own workplaces are drug free, but joining arms with the rest of America in this battle against this most insidious of all evils. None of us can rest while our children are still prey to pushers and a culture of license that encourages drug use, promising kicks, but delivering only despair and destruction. None of us can be content while so many millions -- the American dream is drowned in a nightmare of drug addiction.

This is a question that must burn on the national conscience until we all get involved, until we get the pushers behind bars and the drugs off the streets and out of the schoolyards, until we bring hope and joy back into so many lives ravaged by drug use. And in this issue, as in so many others, we'll be looking for leadership from you, the private sector. Let's turn the spirit of enterprise to work in getting America to ``Just Say No'' to drugs. I know we can count on you.

And already this is taking hold. Yesterday an annual event occurred in the Oval Office: A group of sponsors and those who helped fund the Boys' Clubs of America came in for their annual visit with the young man, a teenager, who has been chosen the first youth in America. He and his four companion runners-up were in there. And believe it or not, this young fellow from Pittsfield, Massachusetts -- he turned around and held up a plaque that was a pledge to me that he was presenting: The Boys' Clubs of America, supported by those private enterprise people who are keeping the Boys' Clubs alive, are pledging that at next year's meeting they will bring in a million signed pledges from young people in America -- that they are going to get to sign those pledges -- rejecting drugs. And I think they'll make it.

And this international meeting that I mentioned, again, is just an example that once the word gets around -- and there's another thing that's happened, thanks to people like yourselves all over this country. You know, we've gone through a period of a big buildup of the welfare state, and that government was the answer to all the problems. And I don't know how many of you were aware that in many instances, government, with those programs, literally competed private efforts that were dealing with the same problems out of existence, that this was government's province. And the reverse is now true. Today there is a growing partnership. Wherever government has a legitimate hand in, government now is working with private groups, not putting the private groups out of business.

So, progress has been made, and there's more to be made. And God bless all of you, and thank you for what you're doing. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. He was introduced by Robert Mosbacher, Jr., a member of the Presidential Board of Advisors on Private Sector Initiatives. John J. Phelan, Jr., and C. William Verity, Jr., were Chairman and member, respectively, of the Board of Advisors.