Remarks at the New York City Partnership Luncheon in New York
Remarks at the New York City Partnership Luncheon in New York January 14, 1982
David, I thank you very much. Cardinal Cooke, Governor Carey, Mayor Koch, our two Senators -- your two Senators. I've tried to claim them on several occasions -- [laughter] -- and sometimes with success. [Laughter] All the ladies and gentlemen here at the head table and all of you:
I'm delighted to be back in New York and to be able to enter here wearing a scarf presented to me this morning by the mayor and to have this chance to meet with this distinguished group.
My advisers recently presented me three choices for a New Year's resolution on the budget. First, cut spending so deeply that we would destroy the safety net. Second, raise taxes. Third, have lunch with David Rockefeller. [Laughter] So, don't worry, but -- David, really don't worry. I came to praise you not to bankrupt you -- [laughter] -- and there's a lot of praise to give. You know, there is a new spirit of individual initiative rising in our land, and a good deal of the credit belongs to you and to your colleagues.
I'm going to digress for a moment from what I intended to say right here. A terrible tragedy took place in the Capital City yesterday -- the full extent of that tragedy still not yet known. [The President was referring to the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 upon take-off from Washington's National Airport.] But I only mention it because there are cynics who don't somehow believe in humanity anymore and in projects such as the one that you're engaged in and the ones that I've been talking about, doubt whether people can carry them out.
But what better example? Yesterday we saw a partnership, yes. The agencies and departments of government responsible in times of emergency were there. The heroism of the firemen in the icy waters is well known to all of us. But then there was just a bystander who saw a woman lose her grip on the line the helicopter was using to bring her to shore and without hesitation, he dived into the water. Lenny Skutnik. Nothing had picked him out particularly to be a hero, but without hesitation, there he was and he saved her life.
There's another man whose name we don't know, but the helicopter pilot tells of him. He was one of the group that were clinging to the wreckage out there in the icy waters. And time after time, the line from the helicopter with the ring, the life ring came to him, and each time he picked out someone else and worked to get the ring around them. And four people are alive today because he did this. We don't know who he is because he gave his life in doing that and sank beneath the waves before it could come back again -- the helicopter -- for him. Greater glory hath no man . . . .
You know, someone has once said that a hero is no braver than any other man. He's just brave 5 minutes longer.
We know the severe problems that your city has battled. With construction falling, profits falling, firms fleeing, jobs disappearing, and essential services jeopardized, New York was pronounced dead more than once.
But like with Mark Twain, the reports were exaggerated. It didn't happen because you wouldn't let it happen, and you won't let it happen. Good cities only die when they don't have leaders of courage and vision -- the kind of leaders sitting at this head table and at every other table in this room.
The most powerful force in the world comes not from balance sheets or weapons arsenals, but from the human spirit. It flows like a mighty river in the faith, love, and determination that we share in our common ideals and aspirations.
When New York was in trouble, groups which had quarreled for years joined together to fight for the greater good of saving the city. Labor, business, government, voluntary associations all pitched in. Out of that spirit of shared sacrifice was born this unique group -- your New York City Partnership. With a membership and mission touching every corner of the city, you reflect the rich diversity that makes New York such a special place.
In your beliefs, your efforts, and your accomplishments, you are setting the course to progress and freedom that our nation must follow. You are that tough little tug that can pull our ship of state off the shoals and out into open water. You believe private initiative, the private sector are essential to economic and social progress, and so do all of us in our administration. Together, we urge others to take part, because we believe in ourselves and in those we help and in our ability to produce positive change.
I'm told that your partnership launched the biggest project ever attempted in an American city to strengthen mass transportation by lending executive assistance. And you also created, as you've been told here today, 14,000 jobs for economically disadvantaged youngsters in 1,800 private businesses. Nothing that large or successful has ever been achieved anywhere else. And today I learned that your goal for this summer is even higher.
This morning I had the opportunity to meet some of the young people you've already helped. They told me the jobs you provided gave them much more than income; they also received the confidence they need to seek and find jobs next summer and in the years ahead. I'm going to wear that T-shirt that was given to me.
We want your New York Partnership to succeed and grow. But truthfully, we want much more. We want an American Partnership that includes every community in our nation, one that will build on what you and others have begun. A renaissance of the American community, a rebirth of neighborhood -- this is the heart and soul of rebuilding America.
May I interject an encouraging word about that partnership that I mentioned. We have just completed our Combined Federal Campaign, chaired by Secretary of Commerce Mac Baldrige. Two hundred and thirty thousand Federal employees in Washington topped last year's total by one and a quarter million dollars -- the biggest increase in the campaign's 18-year history. They contributed $13,665,000 to our annual government charity drive.
Last January when I spoke about a new beginning, I was talking about much more than budget cuts and incentives for savings and investment. I was talking about a fundamental change in the relationship between citizen and government -- a change that honors the legacy of the Founding Fathers and draws upon all our strengths as leader of the free world as we approach the 21st century.
Preservation of freedom is the gift of our Revolution and the hope of the world. The brutal, Soviet-sponsored repression in Poland reminds us how precious our blessings are. Ironically, the Soviets understand and agree. They believe that freedom is precious, too, so they ration it like all the other good things their people don't have.
There's nothing artificial about freedom, nor any guarantee it will endure. Dwight Eisenhower warned that, ``Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men; it must be daily earned and refreshed -- else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.''
The key to rebuilding communities is individual initiative, leadership, personal responsibility. If we encourage these qualities in our people -- and especially in our young people -- then our freedoms will not wither and die. They will blossom and permit us to reach for our dreams, to go as far as our God-given talents will take us.
This can be an era of losing freedom or one of reclaiming it. I think we've made our choice and turned an historic corner. We're not going back to the glory days of big government. Some in Washington still pine for the politics of the past, policies that didn't work and never will. We're living with the misery of their mistakes.
The best view of big government is in a rearview mirror as we leave it behind. If it's commerce, they regulate it. If it's income, they tax it. If it's a budget, they bust it. And given their way, they'd make everything that isn't prohibited, compulsory. [Laughter] And then when everything falls apart, they tell us it's because we let them down. Well, we weren't put on this Earth just to make government bigger.
I know that they were well-intentioned with all their social experiments, but too often, those meant to benefit most from government-imposed solutions paid the highest price and bore the deepest scars when they failed.
In 20 years, the Federal budget increased fivefold and the cost of welfare grew tenfold. But that didn't help many local governments which lost effective control of their communities. It didn't help small businesses hit by the highest interest rates in a hundred years. It didn't help the working poor and pensioners flattened by double-digit inflation and taxation.
The era of rising savings, investment, productivity, growth, and technological supremacy that we once knew has somehow slipped from our grasp. Did we forget that government is the people's business and every man, woman, and child becomes a shareholder with the first penny of tax paid? Did we forget that government must not supersede the will of the people or the responsibilities of the people in their communities?
Did we forget that the function of government is not to confer happiness on us but to give us the opportunity to work out happiness for ourselves?
It's not a question of turning back the clock or a long retreat into the past. No one denies that government has an essential role to protect those in need, to provide opportunity, to pave the way. But ultimately, it is individuals, millions of everyday citizens who brave new horizons, expand freedom, and create better lives for us all.
Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding their destiny, in benefiting from their own risks, only then can society remain alive, prosperous, progressive, and free.
You in the private sector -- corporations, firms, merchants, family farmers, Mom and Pop stores all over the country -- you hold the key. I believe this with every ounce of my being. And that's why I'm confident about our economic recovery program, because it places a premium on individual initiative, on ``We the People.''
Yes, we're in a recession. Our administration is cleanup crew for those who went on a nonstop binge and left the tab for us to pick up. The recession hurts. It causes pain. But we'll work our way out of it and faster than expected. Our economic program will work because Americans want it to work. And we're going to make it work because it's based on common sense: Reduce the percentage of gross national product that is being taken by the Government.
I receive a few letters in this job, as you might imagine. But there's one letter I still haven't received -- the one that says, ``Dear Mr. President, will you please rescind my tax cut? Will you please raise my taxes so we can get our economy moving again?''
We believe, as did Thomas Jefferson, that what people earn belongs to them. Government shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. Despite massive resistance from tax spenders, we put together the greatest collection of incentives in 50 years to help working Americans rebuild their financial security. In the months ahead, if they work or save more than they did before, their reward will be greater for it, greater than it was.
These incentives are just beginning. More will follow, and people will take advantage of them. Dollar by dollar, one day at a time, they'll start saving for their future again. And as they do, they're going to save America's future.
I don't know about you but I'm getting tired of whining voices telling us we can't do this and we can't do that. Don't tell Americans what they can't do, just tell them what needs doing and watch them surprise you with their ingenuity. Surprisingly, it won't take much.
If America can increase its savings rate by just 2 percentage points, we can add nearly $60 billion a year to our capital pool to fight high interest rates, finance new investments, new mortgages, and new jobs. I believe a country that licked the Great Depression and turned the tide in World War II can increase its savings rate by 2 percentage points -- and will.
If our incentives motivate people to work just 30 minutes more a week, the gross national product will grow by $25 billion. That means hundreds of thousands of new jobs and a lower deficit. If we could send astronauts to the Moon and bring them safely back in 1969, we can get Americans back to work who want jobs, need jobs, and deserve jobs -- and we will.
This nation has no mission of mediocrity. We were never meant to be second-best. The spirit that built our country was bold, not timid. It was a spirit of pride, confidence, and courage that we could do anything. And we still can today. I'm appealing to the American people: Ignore the prophets of failure who are paralyzed with fear. Set your sights on number one, and together let's go for it.
Let's rediscover America -- not the America bound by the Potomac River, but the one beyond it: the America whose initiative, ingenuity, and audacity made us the envy of the world; the America whose rich tradition of generosity began with simple acts of neighbor caring for neighbor.
We passed our reforms in Washington, but change must begin at the grassroots, on the streets where you live. And that's why on September 24th, I announced that we were launching a nationwide effort to encourage citizens to join with us in finding where need exists, and then to organize volunteer programs to meet those needs.
Six weeks ago, I had the honor of appointing a private sector initiatives task force whose distinguished chairman, as Dave told you, Bill Verity, is with me here today. The word ``partnership'' will be key to the task force's success, just as it has already been to your own. We want to see community partnerships between the private and public sector in every community in America.
I've asked the task force to seek out successful community models of private sector initiatives -- schools, churches, businesses, unions, the foundations, and civic groups -- and give them the recognition they deserve. I wonder if I might make this same request to the members of the media. When you see meaningful examples of personal leadership, would you let the public know about them? Would you make sure that our young people know that honor, integrity, kindness, and courage do exist; that they are important to live up to?
Community groups are part and parcel of our national heritage. They respond to our desire for cooperation, sympathy, teamwork, and brotherhood. They help to share [shape] our lives. They're close to the problems we face, and they can best find the solutions we seek.
The American spirit of neighborhood is like a communion of hearts that rings the country. It offers a wealth of concern, talent, and energy ready to be tapped. The Reverend Billy Graham estimates that if every church and synagogue in the United States would average adopting 10 poor families beneath the poverty level -- now notice I said average; obviously, some smaller churches and temples might adopt only one but then larger churches could adopt many more -- but if the average adopted was 10, we could eliminate all government welfare in this country -- Federal, State, and local. And because it would be manned by volunteers, the cost would be infinitely less and the actual help greater because it would come from the heart.
Isn't it time that we all agree that we should be providing incentives to help people get off welfare, so we can stop demoralizing human beings and start saving them?
Now we realize, especially in the case of business donors and foundations, that government has placed obstacles in the way of private initiative. So, I've asked the task force to help identify these and to recommend ways to me for their removal. We'll ease government regulations to encourage initiatives.
I told Bill Verity 6 weeks ago, ``I don't want a committee report. Give me action and results. Get the private sector in the driver's seat so we can start using market incentives and philanthropy to find lasting solutions to community problems.'' Coming up here today, he told me that his task force committees have already developed an action plan and all systems are go.
The American people understand the logic of our approach. A recent Roper poll found a large majority believe that government does not spend tax money for human services as effectively as a leading private organization like the United Way.
Now, I don't want to leave the impression that our administration is asking the private sector to fill the gap, dollar for dollar, for every reduction in the Federal budget. We don't want you to duplicate wasteful or unnecessary programs. We want community models that have worked, models we can emulate and build on.
Private human capital is far more valuable and effective than Federal money. Once we do get the private sector in the driver's seat, we can go just as far as your imagination and inspiration take us. For example: Pima County, Arizona, concerned about the impact of budget cuts, looked into their hot meals program for the elderly. They discovered that out of their 53 [thousand] dollar budget, $50,000 went for staffing and administrative overhead. So, they eliminated the overhead, ran the program with volunteers. They doubled the food budget to $6,000, saved $47,000, and ended up feeding twice as many people.
The people who manage Jubilee Housing, a privately funded housing development in Washington, D.C., told us they can renovate housing units for the poor for much less than federally financed programs. The tenants then share responsibility for building maintenance in return for reduced rents. Jubilee also operates a job placement service and has placed 55 welfare recipients in full-time jobs since it began last May. But the real beauty is what happens to the people and families who participate. We asked the fellow who runs this church- and company-supported operation to compare Jubilee to public housing. He said, ``There is one difference. Jubilee changes lives.''
Last summer, the city of Boston was faced with a loss of revenues and decided it could no longer afford to operate its swimming pools or run its summer programs. That meant closing down 18 area pools and terminating 400 neighborhood basketball teams for thousands of children. But a group called the Boston Committee, which had dealt earlier with the city's racial tensions, made an appeal to business and foundation groups: ``Donate $400,000 and help us operate the pools and run the sports clinics.''
The private sector came through, United Way chipped in $10,000 to cover administrative expenses. All told, the funds contributed amounted to much less than the cost of the canceled programs. But it didn't matter, because neighborhood volunteers cleaned and supervised the pools and provided their own lifeguards. One other thing, there was remarkably less vandalism or destructive behavior at the Boston pools last summer. Parents themselves were taking greater responsibility for their children's conduct.
The U.S. Comptroller General's office reported in 1977 that we wasted $31 billion worth of food that year. That's 137 million tons or 20 percent of our entire annual production.
Now there are volunteer groups across the Nation called Gleaners trying to remedy that. One of the first of these was formed by a student at my alma mater, a little tiny college out in Illinois, Eureka College. He got the idea a few years back when there was so much talk at the time of world hunger. He and members of his fraternity got permission to go into the fields after harvest and pick up what had been missed.
In California, a local charity group called FOOD Share salvages food and distributes it to the elderly and needy. Its members work docks and canneries, picking up unused but edible vegetables and fruits. On a good day, they pack over 1,000 boxes.
Another California group called Gleaners Statewide works in fields and orchards salvaging acres of produce that would be left unpicked or lying on the ground to rot because labor costs make it uneconomic to salvage. This group's efforts have already been cited by the State Farm Bureau. Their leader, Homer Fahrner, told the Christian Science Monitor that with a little support from business, a day's work from those on welfare and the unemployed, we could lick the hunger problem in this country and maybe in the entire world.
Don't tell us we can't cope with our problems. Don't tell us that America's best days are behind her. The world's hope is America's future. America's future is in your dreams. Make them come true. If we believe in ourselves and in the God who loves and protects us, together we can build a society more humane, more compassionate, more rewarding than any ever known in the history of man.
Not too long ago, I received a letter from a 94-year-old woman in Odessa, Florida. She's blind -- had to have her daughter type it. She said she had never written a President before, but she had to write me to say how thrilled she was at what we're trying to do: To become again a nation of neighbors who care about each other, families who take care of their own. ``That was the strength of America,'' she said. ``It was what made us great.'' And she closed with this: ``I just want to say God bless you and your efforts, and may He move us all to do our part.''
May He move us all to do our part. Isn't that what it's all about? An obligation, a personal responsibility to give something back to a country that has given us so much. We can't all be the best, but we can each give our best, and America deserves no less.
I received another letter just a few days ago from a Massachusetts man in his eighties. He enclosed his entire month's check from social security to be used for reducing the national debt.
Let us start asking ourselves in 1982, ``What did I do today that will help a fellow American in need?'' If the answer is nothing, then the next question is, ``What am I going to do about that tomorrow?''
The Bible talks of faith, hope, and charity, and the greatest of these is charity. The real meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan has always been not so much the benefit that was done to the pilgrim who had been beaten, but the good that accrued to the Samaritan for going to his aid, who crossed to the other side of the road where the beaten pilgrim lay, bound up his wounds, and carried him to the nearest town. He didn't hurry on by and then when he got to town tell a caseworker that there was someone out there back aways that needed help. [Laughter]
Henry David Thoreau once asked: ``If a man constantly aspires, is he not elevated? Did ever a man try heroism, magnanimity, truth, sincerity, and find that there was not advantage in them -- that it was a vain endeavor?''
Of course not. Not then. Not now. Not ever. What we give will be given back many times over. It is we who will be richer, stronger, better. And as we change, so will America. I told you already that the hero is just a hero 5 minutes longer.
Let me leave you with the words of Herb Brooks. He happens to be coach of the New York Rangers now, but he formerly was coach of our Gold Medal Olympic hockey team. I think everyone will remember the thrill those young Americans gave us. They made us so proud at the Olympics at Lake Placid when they beat the unbeatable Russian team. Coach Brooks was in the locker room before they took the ice against the Russians. He knew they'd have to be better than they ever could be. He wanted to fill his players with confidence -- play the game of their lives. So, he told them: ``You are born to be a player. You are meant to be here at this time. This is your moment.''
Well, this is our moment, yours and mine. Our time to justify the brief time we spend here, to be able to look our children and our children's children in the face and tell them that in our time here we did all that could be done.
Thank you for being here today, for the cause that unites us. God bless you. We're on our way.
Note: The President spoke at 1:33 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel after an introduction by David Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller is chairman of the board of the Chase Manhattan Bank and chairman of the New York City Partnership, an association of business and civic leaders dedicated to improving economic and social conditions in the city.
Earlier in the day, the President met in his suite at the hotel with a group of New York students employed through the Partnership.
Following the luncheon, the President met at the hotel with Javier Perez de Cuellar de la Guerra, Secretary General of the United Nations, and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, U.S. Representative to the United Nations.
The President returned to Washington, D.C., late in the afternoon.