Remarks at an Event Sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary

March 1, 1984

Madam President, I'll be sure and just keep that one hat on -- [laughter] -- not wear the other one here today.\1\ (FOOTNOTE)

(FOOTNOTE) \1\In introducing the President, Anna Gear asked the audience to welcome him ``not as a candidate for reelection, but as President.''

But it's wonderful to be here and to see so many of you from out there in the heartlands of America here in Washington. I'm sure the city isn't looking its best for you, but it's just a little too chilly for the cherry blossoms yet. And most of the heated air that's normally found in Washington has moved out on the campaign trail. [Laughter]

There's one good thing about a political year, though. It's the chance to meet with so many of you who are not part of the permanent Washington establishment. And you should be commended for being part of the American Legion Auxiliary's Awareness Assembly and participating in the briefings that you'll be getting this week from government officials. But I hope that you'll keep in mind something that I've learned in the past few years. The conventional wisdom in this town isn't always on target.

There's one informal survey I could give as an example that's mentioned in the book ``The Real Campaign.'' And that was taken at almost exactly this same time 4 years ago during the height of the Presidential primary season. Members of the Washington Press Club were asked to predict who would be the President of the United States in 1981. One candidate -- and I won't mention any names -- got 197 votes. Another got 65. And there were two others with 19 each. And then there was one other candidate whose vote total was so insignificant that it wasn't even reported. But I didn't let that discourage me. [Laughter]

When we came to Washington 3 years ago -- 3 years and a month or so ago -- we came having announced that we'd challenge the conventional wisdom and show that campaign promises could be kept. We wanted to reverse a domestic policy of tax and tax and spend and spend and end a foreign policy of watching the chances for peace with freedom, democracy, and dignity steadily retreat. So, one by one, we dealt with the critical problems that faced our people.

First it was inflation, once at 12.4 percent, now down to around 4 percent. Then Federal spending growth, cut more than in half. Now, we'd been told this couldn't be done. Then the prime interest rate -- 21\1/2\ percent, the highest since the Civil War -- cut nearly in half to 11 percent. And then the unemployment rate. This one really shocked Washington's doomsayers. It's been dropping faster than during any recovery in the last 30 years. For 14 months, we have averaged 300,000 people a month going back to work.

And on the foreign front, America is restoring her strength in words and in deeds. The decay in our military ships that couldn't leave port and aircraft that couldn't take off, a rapid deployment force that was neither rapid, deployable, or much of a force -- all of that's behind us now.

That same uniform that so many of your fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, and daughters brought such honor to is being worn today with pride by millions of young Americans. And all of you know far better than most how important it is that these young men and women, poised and ready, are equipped with the best that we can give them. Their readiness and resolve are the greatest guarantee that we have that our young people will never again see the face of battle, bear the burden of war that we've had to do in the past. There've been four wars in my lifetime. None of them started because America was too strong.

We're seeing to it that America stands proud again, that American citizens, whether they're navy pilots in the Gulf of Sidra or medical students in Grenada, can no longer be attacked or their lives endangered with impunity. And about that Grenada rescue mission -- wasn't it nice for a change to see graffiti on foreign walls that read, ``God bless America,'' not ``Yankee go home''?

I have to interrupt to tell you, I just received a phone call a little while ago -- about 2:30 this morning, Cap Weinberger arrived back from his trip to Europe and the Middle East. He had been out there on the vessels talking to our marines and telling them how proud we all were -- those who have been taken offshore in Beirut. This is the same unit that was also at Grenada. And then later he was walking through and among the marines there and talking to some of them, and he came to one who seemed a little smaller than the rest. He was pretty short. And Cap asked him, he said, ``Tell me. Which do you think was the best and the most important mission -- Grenada or Beirut?'' And the kid just looked at him for a second and then said, ``Both.''

Across the globe, Soviet expansionism, once unchecked, has now been blunted. And for the first time in a long while, an American administration is leveling with the American people and the rest of the world about the crucial nature of the struggle between democracy and totalitarianism.

Yet even as we've been candid about our adversaries, we've pushed forward a series of negotiating initiatives which, I believe, will eventually lead to not just arms control but arms reductions. And we must continue working until that day arrives when nuclear weapons have been banished from the face of the Earth.

Three years then -- the direction of our domestic and foreign policies has been fundamentally changed. At the same time we were dealing with the pressing problems of our economy and national security, the problem of crime and the career criminal has remained among our top priorities. The 8-point program that I announced over a year ago is beginning to show some gratifying results.

Drug-related arrests are averaging a thousand a month and convictions 800 a month, and Federal law enforcement has taken out of circulation 2\1/3\ million pounds of illicit drugs and 20 million doses of prescription drugs. FBI organized crime convictions are up from 515 in fiscal '81 to 1,331 in 1983. After years of decline in our investigative forces, more than a thousand new investigators and 200 new prosecutors joined the fight last year against crime.

We've improved State and local cooperation through local law enforcement coordinating committees and the Justice Department's Governors Project. We've added prison space and improved training opportunities for local and State police. We've brought the FBI in on major drug cases. Our 12 new regional drug task forces are bringing in the big cases against major drug traffickers. And we've stepped up our educational efforts so we can take potential drug customers away from the dealers, because just reducing the supply of drugs isn't good enough. We can't solve the problem until we turn off the customers.

Our organized crime commission, headed by Judge Irving Kaufman, will put the menace of organized crime, well, where it belongs: front and center on the American agenda. Our goal is a frontal assault on criminal syndicates in America. We mean to cripple the mobsters' organization, dry up their profits, and put their members behind bars where they belong.

Through our victims of crime task force and the family violence task force, we have launched major initiatives to improve the treatment of innocent victims of crime and solve the problem of violence in American households.

In all these things, we're doing our best to deliver on our promises and keep faith with the American people. We've shown that America's problem wasn't a great national malaise at all, but a failure of leadership in the Nation's Capital.

Yet even all this progress -- progress we've won together -- hasn't satisfied some of the doomcriers who even now are saying that our country's on the wrong course. I just wish that those who were so pessimistic about America's future would remember the record of the last 3 years.

You know, if you'll forgive me -- a little story from show-business world -- some of these cynical, professional pessimists remind me of the story of a young performer who was auditioning for a hard-bitten theatrical agent. He wanted to get into vaudeville. And the agent's sitting out there in the theatre all by himself with his cigar, said to the -- ``Okay, kid, let's see what you can do.'' Well, the young fellow walked up on the stage and then suddenly just took off. And he flew up and over the balcony, circled a couple of times, flew around the ceiling, came back to a perfect landing on the stage, and took a bow. And the agent took the cigar out of his mouth and said, ``Okay, kid, what else do you do beside bird imitations?'' [Laughter]

We have come a long way, and success is in sight. The 3-year record of this administration shows how dramatically we broke with the legacy of an awful, immediate past. This administration has a strong record, a hopeful record. It's open to scrutiny; we welcome it.

You know, there are old rules in politics -- for example, in a campaign year: Don't get over confident. President Dewey told me about that one. [Laughter] And then there's a very pertinent one, namely that the people don't want to hear so much about where we've been, but about where we're going; not so much about what's been done, but what needs to be done.

And the issue before the American people is the issue of the future. Will America return to the days of malaise and confusion? Will we go back to double-digit inflation, skyrocketing interest rates, and economic stagnation and decline? Will we return to self-delusion about our adversaries and retreat in the face of provocation and aggression, to the days of decaying defenses and shattered prestige? Or will we get on with the unfinished agenda of the eighties? This is the real issue before us.

Will we continue America's progress toward a strong economic recovery at home, a strong defense abroad, a return to discipline and excellence in our schools, a crackdown on criminal elements in our society, and a renaissance of traditional values?

Now, I'm sure you've heard some who are out of step with the American public on all these issues using words like ``fairness'' and ``compassion,'' possibly because they're stuck for something meaningful to say. I think it's time for these experts on fairness and compassion to answer a few questions.

Let these experts on fairness explain to working Americans why it is fair to oppose tax cuts and tax indexing and why they want to take those tax breaks away from the American people.

Or let them explain why, when the overwhelming majority of Americans favor a balanced budget amendment, they think it's fair to bitterly oppose it.

And on another important constitutional amendment, favored overwhelmingly by the American people, will somebody get them to tell us why it is compassionate to deny schoolchildren a right even the Members of the United States Congress have and that is to open each day with a simple prayer?

And can they explain why they're so bitterly opposed to tuition tax credits and why they think it's fair for one parochial or private school parents to be forced to pay twice for their children's education?

And why these fairness experts and compassion crusaders have bottled up effective anticrime legislation on Capitol Hill for 2 years in a row? Where's the compassion in forgetting the victims of crime? What is fair about holding up urgently needed reform of our bail and parole systems, about refusing to revise the exclusionary rule or reinstitute the death penalty? The Senate has adopted a significant package of these very anticrime measures. Now it's time for the House to act.

And, you know, if I could interject something here, I mentioned the exclusionary rule, and I've discovered that a great many people aren't quite aware what we're talking about. We're talking about technicalities that are invoked in court to deny the introduction of legitimate evidence. And I'll give you an example. Happened in our own State of California several years ago. Two narcotics agents, based on evidence suggesting that a man and woman, living in a home there, were peddling heroin. They got from a judge a search warrant, legally and legitimately, to go in and search that house to see if they could find the heroin. Well, they searched, and they couldn't find it. And then, as they were leaving, on a hunch, one of them turned back to the baby in the crib and took off its diapers, and there was the heroin. The evidence was thrown out of court because the baby hadn't given its permission to be searched. That became known as the diaper case. And of course, the word was out, that's where you can hide heroin, and no one can touch you.

Well, I believe those who are so quick to find fault with what we and the American people have achieved during the past 3 years owe an accounting to the American people. Perhaps they can explain how under the guise of compassion and fairness those who once stood for the working people have now divorced themselves from the concerns of everyday Americans and turned themselves over to the trendy politics of the special interest groups. Maybe they could explain why they're opposed to tax cuts, to the balanced budget amendment, to the prayer amendment, to tuition tax credits, to anticrime legislation, to adequate defense spending.

I think the debate now getting underway in America is an especially important one, that these days are momentous ones for our country, that the choices we make will have much to do with the fate of freedom and prosperity for the rest of this century. And I've often thought that the worst legacy of those grim years at the end of the seventies was the loss of self-confidence by our leaders in our institutions and people. More than a few of those leaders openly blamed their own inadequacies on our system of government and on you, our people as a whole.

Well, the last 3 years have shown just how wrong they were, just how resourceful the American people still are, and just how resilient our system is, and how willing the heart of America remains. Those of you here today from, as I said, the heartlands know what I'm talking about. Your organization and the dedication you bring to it is one of the many examples of America's enduring vitality and energy.

You know, during the days of World War I, not long before the American Legion was founded in Paris, some of the allied commanders doubted whether the green American troops were really up to the job. And then during a great offensive in the Argonne Forest, the allies and the enemy found out just how very quickly these young Americans -- they found out what they were made of.

Now, some of you may remember the story in that war of the Lost Battalion, a group of American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines who joined together, fought for days with incredible gallantry against overwhelming odds. And then when the surrender demand finally came, the reply came from the throats of those young Americans who united and shouted, ``Come on over and get us!'' Well, the enemy came over, and they got nothing except defeat.

Twenty-six years later, not far away from that same World War I battlefield, another group of American soldiers would cheer when their commander responded to a surrender demand by an overwhelming enemy with one immortal word: ``Nuts!''

In both instances, the challenge then before Americans was to win a war. Today the challenge before Americans is to prevent a war.

You know far better than most how important this work is, how high the price of war really is, and how great the heartbreak that it brings. But you also know that an America, strong at home and strong abroad, will never again pay that price or know that heartbreak.

Only the strong are free, and peace comes only through strength. With your continued support and help we can keep America strong, free, prosperous, and at peace. America is moving forward again. Let's keep her there.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Note: The President spoke at 10:55 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel.