Ronald Reagan picture

Interview With Editors of the Hearst Corporation

October 30, 1984

Q. We are very appreciative, as always, of this opportunity to be with you, and we know it's a very tight day, so were going to dispense with any formalities and get right with it.

We have here a representation of Hearst Washington personnel and a representation of our editors from around the country. Unfortunately, time and room would not accommodate all, but we appreciate the group that is here.

Priorities in Second Term

As a first question, Mr. President, I know that you are very carefully avoiding talking about a very major victory despite the fact that I'm sure you're confident of one. But my question has to do with, assuming that election and assuming it to be of significant proportions, what is your number one priority for a new administration?

The President. Well, it has a few parts to it. If there is a new administration—I mean, mine, for me. [Laughter]

Q. That's what I meant, too.

The President. If there is, I want to continue with what we called a new beginning back when we started this last 4 years—the economic recovery that we've had. And I want to continue on the road that we started in the international scene, which is aimed at peace. And that is the dual track.

Everyone seems to have overlooked in this campaign the fact that when we set out to rebuild our defenses, we said there was a second track of equal importance, and that was to engage the Soviet Union in legitimate talks to reduce weapons, particularly the strategic weapons. And while they've walked away from the table at this time, I can't believe they're going to stay away. I think its in their own interest to join us at that table again.

But the program that we started, which was based on the tax cuts to provide an incentive to get the economy growing again, the reducing of, first, the increase in Federal spending, which was at a rate of about 17 percent and is down around 6 percent now, to continue getting that down. And we have almost 2,500 recommendations by the Grace commission that we have a task force working on—we've implemented some already that we've been able to do administratively; others would require legislation—but to put those in place.

And I—you know, I have a memory of-we did that in California with the State and when the State was in a situation akin to what the present government of the United States has been. And we found that the advice that we got and the program that was put forward by all those volunteers-leaders, business leaders throughout the State—well, the same thing has happened here, only we've had 10 times as many at the Federal level, which is fitting, because California is only about one-tenth the population of the Nation—recommendations that are simply based on putting modern business practices to work for government. And they worked. So, this is what we are going to do.

Q. Thank you.

The President. Bill?

Federal Budget Deficit

Q. Mr. President, we want to save your time, here. When you came into office, let's say you had 10 problems. I would say that you've certainly gone a way to solve them, if not solve at least half of them. Employment and lower taxes and—well, you know what they are, the things that you've done well. On a scale of one to five, of the remaining things, where would you put the deficit? They've put a lot of stress on it, and you hear some people stress it. What do you think about it?

The President. I think the deficit is important. I couldn't say it was unimportant, because for 30 years, out on the mashed-potato circuit, and long before I ever thought I'd be in public life, I'd been complaining about the deficit. [Laughter]

But for 50 years, the group and the philosophy that has dominated our government for most of that time has continued to tell us it doesn't mean anything and that-well, my opponent right now in the campaign, if you look at his past, he upheld the deficits when he was a part of government. He said they stimulated the economy; they worked against having too much unemployment. He even advocated once doubling the deficit.

Now, I don't feel that way. But I also am not going to panic in believing that the deficit right now—when you see the growth of the economy, when you see the way unemployment has gone down even while the deficits are going up. They talk about interest rates. Well, interest rates were coming down at their steepest drop at the same time that the deficit was going up.

But I believe that you get at that deficit by bringing government, as I say, back into government's proper functions and running it in an efficient manner so that it isn't running away out there beyond your revenues, and at the same time, practicing things like the tax policies that have brought about the growth.

Now, the deficit this year is down about $20 billion less than it was last year. And we look at that and how did it happen. And it has come about partly, some, because we never did get all we wanted in cuts, but mainly in the growth of the economy, the improved receipts, even with the cut in the tax rate, the amount of revenues are up. And we just—we have to continue on that path and do more of it so it comes down faster than 20 billion a year.

Q. You have resisted repealing the indexing and the third year of the tax cut. Would you consider those as possible remedies if the deficit didn't come down as fast as you would like?

The President. I would have to say—and, of course, you know, I always get in trouble with this, because no matter how I try to hedge it and say I'm talking about if—a real hypothetical "if" and a thing that I don't believe is going to happen. It would have to be the last resort, entirely.

But I don't see anything where tax rates, increasing tax rates and the threat they are to economic growth—where that can be looked at as a legitimate solution. In the 5 years before we came here, taxes doubled in this country, and we had $318 billion worth of deficits.

So, I think that there were two things about the sudden increase in the level of deficits. Part was structural. It's been built-in over these 50 years in the Government, where the Congress would sit there and didn't have to increase the amount. It was already in law that it would increase. The second half of it was the recession that we went into.

Well, that had started in 1979. And when you hit bottom in that, you've got unemployed to take care of, and that increases government expenses. And you've lost the revenues that government was once getting from those people when they were employed.

Q. Inflation was going up.

The President. Inflation, yes.

Strategic Defense Initiative

Q. Mr. President, you have a vision of the future in which the American people could be defended against offensive nuclear weapons. Critics contend that if we develop an antimissile system, the Soviets will strive to catch up, and there'll be another costly arms race. To avoid that, to relieve the concern of our allies that the superpowers may control the skies, would you be willing to consider having all of the existing nuclear weapons powers—that is, our allies, China, and Russia—participate with us in joint research and development of a defense system that could conceivably save mankind from a nuclear holocaust?

The President. Well, I haven't suggested such a thing as that, but I know that it was my decision here and around this table with the Joint Chiefs of Staff—the nuclear missile is the only weapon in the history of man that has never automatically created a defensive weapon against it. And I said, certainly, there must be a better answer than a deterrent, which is all we have now—granted, it's worked for 40 years—in which we say, if you do it to us, our strike against you will be more than you can afford.

But it seems to me much more practical if you could find something that kills weapons instead of kills people. In other words, we're sitting here—if you really analyze it, we're saying that someday, if the Soviets attacked—and we always say that, because I don't think there's anyone in America or there's ever been an administration in this country that has ever contemplated that we would make war—start a war, make war on them.

We look—and I told this to Mr. Gromyko—that we look at them as the threat to us. And we think in terms of deterrence. But that deterrence is based on that someone would sit here where I'm now sitting and have to give the order that slaughtered millions of people on the other side. If they did, that's the only defense.

So, we were all in agreement that it was worth us starting out to find if we could find a weapon that could intercept those missiles, and intercept them thoroughly enough, not just like having antiaircraft guns. Some of the bombers always get through. No, to really stop them.

And this was why on the debate the other night I said I could see—whether it's me here or someone else—I could see if we were successful and came up, with all of our technology—and there's no one in the world who can match it—with such a weapon, then I could see saying to the Soviet Union, telling them, and saying, "Now, will you sit down with us and do the practical thing, which is to get rid of those weapons? Because we can prove to you that they won't work anymore."

Q. We've got a Department of Defense without a defense.

The President. What?

Q. We've got a Department of Defense without a defense.

The President. Yes.

Latin America

Q. Mr. President, the Kissinger commission, as you know, on Central America, said there were two basic underpinnings of the permanent state of unrest in that part of the world and that the Communists are sure to exploit. And one of these was the high population growth rate, which it said-triple population in something like 30 years. And the other one was the decline in commodity prices and the continuing instability of commodity prices. Beyond trying to put into place such free-market elements as can be put into place in the region to address those questions, what specifically would your administration in the next 4 years do to address both problems; namely, the high growth of population in Central America, and the instability in commodity prices?

The President. Well now, we're talking Central America?

Q. Yes, sir.

The President. Yes. Well, here again, I believe that that bipartisan Kissinger commission gave us a very workable program. Three-fourths of that program was aimed at the social reforms and economic reforms that are needed in so many parts of Latin America, particularly now, in this instance in Central America; and one-fourth to help them with their security so that—such as El Salvador, where they're trying as desperately as they are to have a democracy, and to have an improved living for their people. You've got to protect them from the guerrilla forces, or provide them with the means of protecting themselves, is what we're doing, while they institute these reforms.

But it's akin to our Caribbean initiative. What we have to do is not just go there with aid—which has been too much of our practice in the past. What we have to do is restore their economies, or restore—I don't think they've ever had good ones—give them a basic economy in which they can become self-sustaining and where they can, by their own efforts, begin to improve the quality of living for their people.

Yes, the poverty down there is what makes them subject to subversion from outside—the kind that Cuba exports and the Soviet Union. And most of their revolutions in the past have simply exchanged one set of rulers for another set of rulers.

So, we're very serious about that plan, and we want to proceed with it. But it will be aimed at helping them. In the Caribbean plan, it grew out of a thing that we just started kind of, you might say, ad hoc, with the Caribbean, and that was—I called some people in New York who've always been willing to participate in public affairs, and people of means in industry and so-forth, about looking at the Caribbean for investment-to meet some of their problems by private investment in those areas. And they did a great deal of this. And from that we then came forth with the Caribbean initiative plan.

Now, this other is similar to that—but for Central America—and we want it implemented, we want to go forward. The difficulty that's holding you back is the violence that's going on.

But I think this is the answer—they've got to—and then, well, the other adjunct to that, the birth rate—we've been helping all over the world with information on family planning and so forth, trying to help other countries where they have this problem, which, once again, they can do it themselves.

The President's Age

Q. Mr. President, I have a question about your age. We've heard rumors about various problems that you have based on your age. We heard some very clever one-liners during the debate that I thought were some of the high points of the debate, as a matter of fact; but without resorting to one-liners, do you see age as an issue? Do you think age should be an issue? And are you willing, at any point in the next 4 years, to undergo any kind of competency testing or anything like that? How do you feel on that issue of age?

The President. Well—

Q. No one-liners. [Laughter]

The President. No, no one-liners. Let's put it this way: I think an issue of health is important. And I have been ready, and will continue to be ready anytime, to hand over any medical records. Having had a father-in-law who was a noted surgeon and a president of the American College of Surgeons-Loyal Davis—he was the one that started Nancy and myself on annual physical checkups. And we're going to continue those and make them available.

I'd be the first one—if my health were a factor—that I couldn't fulfill the requirements. But some of the things that have been bruted about are just not true. I haven't had any more tendency to drop off to sleep in a dull meeting— [laughter] since I've been in this job than I used to have sometimes when I was in college listening to a dull lecture. [Laughter]

And I guess—well, I know I've been very blessed and very fortunate. Physiologically, all the doctors that examine me—even the strangers—tell me that physiologically I'm a lot younger than my years. Now, if that ever changes, then that would be, as I say, a matter of health. And I wouldn't want to be sitting in a rocking chair while things were going on around me that I couldn't participate in. [Laughter]

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Q. Mr. President, I'd like to pick up on Harry's question for a minute and get back to Central America. Even your harshest critics, at this date, going into the election, are conceding that your policy in Central America is working. Mr. Duarte has turned out to be a courageous leader for pluralism. Even in Nicaragua, where Commandante Ortega will undoubtedly be reelected, there is a resurgence of interest on the part of the people that is notable, through the efforts of Arturo Cruz and others, toward pluralism. And the atmosphere seems to be shifting dramatically, in large, due to your efforts. Would you envision—or do you envision circumstances, therefore, in your second term, where it might be possible that you might open negotiations and seek for a renewal of friendship with Cuba? Might Cuba be to you what China was to Richard Nixon?

The President. I have to tell you that early in my administration we thought that we were hearing some signals from there-that that was wanted. And we did make a move, and nothing came of it.

Q. I recall that.

The President. Yes—they weren't ready.—

Q. But circumstances are changed considerably.

The President. Now, circumstances change. yes. It would take them, or him-he is still in charge—it would take him being willing to divorce his marriage partner, the Soviet Union. And I have long dreamed of what it would be like to indicate to him that rejoining the family of the Americas could probably offer him far more, and his people far more, than he's getting in this partnership with the Soviet Union.

No, we won't close the door to that—just as in Central America now, with Nicaragua. We've had a man meeting the Nicaraguan Government representatives and talking what is needed—we're not—this whole thing—let's make it plain, and this involves the contras, too—it isn't overthrow of a government. It is getting that revolutionary government to return to the principles of revolution that it enunciated when it was fighting the revolution, which was democracy, human rights, free press, free labor unions, and so forth.

Now, the election isn't going to mean anything, because, as we all know, he's made it impossible—even if somebody in one of those splinter parties lets his name go on the ballot—we know that it is not a legitimate election. It reminds me of the little joke about the Kremlin. There was a break-in in the Kremlin one night, and someone stole next year's election results. [Laughter] That's what we're seeing down there.

But, yes, I don't know, when they're that indoctrinated and they don't change or give up very easily, I think that what we're seeing is a government very similar to that of the Soviet Union, where they're not about to make any changes that are going to eliminate their hold on all the power.

But you have to keep trying. And one thing out of this election—the very fact that men like Cruz will not run, I think, has brought out into the open how much dissatisfaction there is among the people of Nicaragua with the present regime.

But, yes, if there's—we'll keep watching for any hints or signs from Castro's Cuba, because that's one of the great tragedies of all time.

Food Assistance to Ethiopia

Q. Mr. President, the last couple of days Mr. Mondale has been advocating that something he would do would quickly move towards direct sea and airlift to relieve the starvation situation in northern Africa. Do you see any opportunity whereby the U.S. will be able to—despite the Marxist regime there—that we can do something about aiding more directly in that situation?

The President. We have been the single biggest contributor to Ethiopia—$19 billion [million] last year, but we've upped that to $45 billion [million] this year. We've—the total for Africa is about $173 billion [million] dollars. The problem I don't think has to do with—that they're Marxists so much, as just the inability of their bureaucracy to function. Much of the food that we've sent there is still sitting on the docks. And we are working all the time, and holding meetings—our people with theirs—on trying to get them to assign more vehicles for transportation of this food and to get it moving better.

We've done some of our help through some of the groups like Catholic Aid that do seem to be able to get to certain areas with this help. I talked on the phone the other day to Mother Theresa. She has four locations where her nuns are there—in Ethiopia—and talks of the people that are coming there, and they just can't get the food. And I have called our aid group here and put them in touch with her about the location of those, and where—how we can do this.

But we're working every minute trying to break this logjam. We've provided gasoline for their planes; we've done things of that kind. So, that is what has to be broken—is just—they don't have the infrastructure; they're not distributing what they're getting.

Geraldine Ferraro

Q. Mr. President, would you assess the impact of Geraldine Ferraro, first, in this election, and secondly, on the future of politics?

The President. Well now, I—first of all, from the standpoint of a woman being a candidate—high time. Fine. I wonder, though, if it can't be called a great breaking point, because if you look at—well, in our own administration, here, the positions, the gains that have been made in our country. I think it was inevitable that we're going to see, and see a Presidential candidate.

I think the problem was here that in the selection, it was someone who had not gone out and—well, for example, suppose there had been a woman candidate for the Presidency in their primaries and contesting, and then would be a logical choice, having presented herself before the whole electorate for the nominee as the Presidency—to say that's who I want to be my running mate. This kind of was reaching out, and I think it looked to too many people as if they were simply reaching just for that reason.

The other way it would be—say, here's a woman that came up to the place where she's accepted in the eyes of the people as being under consideration for the top spot. And sure, she's a logical choice. And I wish it had been that way. You can't look at a Margaret Thatcher and a Golda Meir and, for that matter, an Indira Gandhi and say, why should we be so different.

But we've made such gains. I think part of them—the Supreme Court now—I think the Cabinet members that we have here. I think right now there are an awful lot of people in this country that would be ready to mark the ballot if Jeane Kirkpatrick ran for anything. She has become so respected and so popular throughout the country.

Q. But you don't think that Geraldine Ferraro had hit quite that mark.

The President. I don't think it hit quite that hard because of the factors that I just mentioned here. First of all, it wasn't that big a move. It was—to an extent, it was a logical thing that is going to happen and-whether this was the time or not. I guess what I'm saying is that that movement must be based not just purely on the sex of the candidate, but must be based, also, on the qualifications of the candidate.

Political Endorsements

Q. Mr. President, we've had a long tradition in this country of diplomats not getting involved in politics. And yet more than 20 Ambassadors appointed by you, including personal friends, have come out for Senator Helms, not for Senator Percy or not for other Republicans. Doesn't that bother you?

The President. Well, I'm not going to let myself be bothered by it. I was as surprised as anyone. I didn't know anything like that was going on or how it came about. Traditionally, I don't know whether—I've never looked it up to see whether there was any politically appointed Ambassador before that ever participated in a campaign or not. We know that traditionally the Secretary of State doesn't, and the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General. Other Cabinet members have always been accepted as legitimate campaigners.

But, no, I was surprised, and as I say, I don't know how it came about. But there is no restriction, actually, or anything legally that binds them from doing such a thing.

Q. Well, I think the thing that I guess I'm getting at, the question that Mary Ann Dolan was raising about Central America and so Senator Helms—

Q. Bob, excuse me, no follow-ups.

Q. Oh, all right.

Q. We don't have time.

The President. I'm sorry.

Ms. Spaeth. Mr. President, I believe you have time for one more.

The President. Oh, how many more—

Q. I'll pass. I have a chance—

Press Coverage

Q. All right. If we're going to do one final, Mr. President, we've all been judging you and your opponent as the campaign has gone. Why don't you take a moment and judge us? What issues, if any, have not been articulated clearly to the American public during this campaign?

The President. I will tell you one. I said it in the debate the other night. I never said, and I never ever thought, and I would have thought anybody was crazy who did think that you could turn a nuclear missile around and call it back. I was talking about the submarines and the airplanes. And the funny thing is, since my opponent rushed forth with a quote from the press conference where that subject was discussed, I have had more people—and I've seen more letters to the editor in papers on campaigning around the country that are saying, well, it's perfectly apparent seeing that he was talking about the submarines and the airplanes, not the nuclear missiles.

And the thing I've also wondered—and maybe you want to ask some of your people about this—that took place at a press conference, the whole discussion and so forth, and what I was talking about as to why we wanted to begin the START talks on the ground-based missiles first. If anyone there had thought that I was talking about turning missiles around, why wasn't there a question? Why didn't they say, "Do you mean that you think you can recall the missiles?"

No, several days later, one fellow wrote a column and said I was so stupid that I believed that you can turn nuclear missiles around. And then it caught on. And I've heard them casually mention it on the air in talk shows over the weekend, members of the press saying the same thing. And, of course, Mr. Mondale picked it up and was off in full cry.

But that is one—and how, if it hadn't been for the debate—I didn't want to go out there and appear that he could tempt me into replying to his charges, so I kept waiting for somebody to ask me. And none of your colleagues ever did. So, in the debate I thought, "Here's my time to say it." And since then, there's never been any followup. No one's ever wanted to know what I was talking about.

Note: The interview began at 2:04 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Among those meeting with the President were Hearst Corp. officers Frank Bennack, William Randolph Hearst, Jr., Robert Danzig, and Joseph Kingsbury-Smith; William Randolph Hearst III, publisher of the San Francisco Examiner; editors Stanley W. Cloud, James Bennie, Harry Rosenfeld, James Toedtman, and Ted Warmbold; and Robert Thompson, Victor Ostrowidzki, and Mary Ann Dolan.

Merrie Spaeth is Special Assistant to the President and Director, Office of Media Relations.

The interview was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 31.

Ronald Reagan, Interview With Editors of the Hearst Corporation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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