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Interview With Julius Hunter of KMOX-TV in St. Louis, Missouri

July 22, 1982

Mr. Hunter. Mr. President, welcome to St. Louis.

The President. Thank you. It's good to be here.

Mr. Hunter. And thank you for allowing us this opportunity to talk.

Tell me about your time out at the boys' club. I understand you had a great time.

The President. Well, yes, I did. And it was a most inspiring thing. From the history of that place, those two men that had a dream and literally, as they've said, took it out from under a shade tree and into a store front and now into that magnificent building. And all those thousands of young people who were there, 65 baseball teams, it just shows what someone with a dream and with determination to make it come true can do.

Assassination Attempt

Mr. Hunter. On another subject, you were noticeably silent following the Hinckley verdict. Yet, for someone who was so personally involved in that shooting incident, you must have had some feelings about what that jury's verdict, what effect it will have on your safety and security and on the safety and security of future Presidents. Would you share those feelings with us?

The President. Well, I'd rather not comment. I haven't commented on that particular verdict. I would, however, touch on the subject that has been brought up by that, because that goes back before this trial, this whole question of insanity as a defense. And the Attorney General has recommended and the Justice Department is studying the idea of making insanity—in other words, it's guilty or innocent, but then insanity introduced at the time of sentencing as a mitigating factor.

I think that justice is not done under the present system. And I know this has been studied by the American Bar Association, many legal groups, for a long time. And they have come to the decision that the technical experts in front of a jury on both sides, giving conflicting opinions with regard to this, it doesn't really belong in the trial.

Mr. Hunter. Does it mean to you that a president is open game for anyone who can prove that he or she is insane?

The President. Well, you don't have to limit it to a President. This defense is being used more and more in murder trials. And we've seen, I think, something long before this trial that led to the study of this question, with the incidence of people found innocent by reason of insanity put in a mental hospital and turned loose, you might say, virtually by the members of the same profession that had gone into court and proved they were insane, then a few months later telling them they were cured. And we've had the double tragedy of they go right out in the street and commit the same crime over again.

Special Interest and Minority Groups

Mr. Hunter. If the polls are to be believed, you are not a popular President among such groups as environmentalists, the poor, the black, educators, organized labor. What are your feelings on a President's responsibility to try to meet the needs and demands of groups which feel they are alienated from the White House?

The President. Well, I think the biggest problem is one of communications. And maybe the media has something to do with that, because I think if representatives of those groups that you've just mentioned and others who are listed in the polls as not favoring me—if they understood my views and understood what it is we're actually trying to do.

Environmentalists, for example. I'd never heard the word, but as Governor of California, one of the first things I did was correct a problem, and before I left as Governor, the environmental movement was underway nationwide—and from the Federal level under an administration that was not necessarily supportive of me. People came to California and said that we were out ahead of the Nation. We took the Federal Government to court in order to have automobile standards in the State of California with regard to the smog problem.

Mr. Hunter. So, are you saying that you are perhaps misunderstood by some of these groups that feel alienated?

The President. Yes, you mentioned—what Were some of the other groups?

Mr. Hunter. The poor, blacks—

The President. All right, well—

Mr. Hunter.—organized labor.

The President. Blacks—just having been to that wonderful boys' club this afternoon, let me touch on that one—and misunderstanding.

I was raised in a household in which there was no tolerance whatsoever for prejudice or bigotry. And I grew up that way. And as a sports announcer in radio broadcasting major league baseball, how many young people today remember that when I was broadcasting baseball, no blacks were allowed in organized baseball. There were no Willie Mayses for me to talk about or Hank Aarons—anyone of that kind. And there were a number of us in the sports field then who editorialized and used the pulpit that had been given to us by virtue our job, to campaign against that. And finally, the dam was broken. And baseball is better for it and the Nation is better for it.

But then when I became Governor—I was the 33d Governor of California—I found out that the civil service tests were rigged to prevent blacks from getting any but the lowest possible jobs in State government. I changed that. More than that, up and above civil service, I appointed to policy-making and executive positions more blacks than all the previous 32 Governors of California before me put together. Now, we're doing the same thing at the Federal level. And I could go on from there.

But let me also point that when you say the poor, I know that there's been a misconstruing of many of the things that we're trying to do in getting control of this uncontrollable budget—the spending that has brought the country into this recession and caused the trillion-dollar debt.

Much of the misinformation about what we're trying to do comes from the bureaucracies who feel threatened because they have a nice living administering those programs. But as to the people, let's take one-you mentioned educators—the educators and the charge that we are somehow taking away the possibility of help for needy students to go to college. What we're really doing—we found that much of the aid, the low-interest loans and the grants, were going to students whose families had incomes that suggested the families could do more to help send their children to college. We have redirected this help down to a financial level that makes sure that those people who are close to the poverty line can have the help they need for their sons and daughters to go to college.

And probably the greatest thing that we've done for the poor is the reduction in the rate of inflation which was roughly 12 1/2 percent when we started—for 2 years, double-digit inflation. We have more than cut that in half. We've reduced that way down to where for the last few months it's probably only a fourth of that amount.

The Nation's Economy

Mr. Hunter. What are your predictions about where the inflation rate will be and where the economy will be 3 months from now, 6 months from now?

The President. Well, I think there is an improvement. I think we've bottomed out. But let me tell you what that inflation rate already has done for those who are poor, who have to spend every penny for the necessities of life, and therefore as the prices go up, they can buy less and less of the necessities. Families at the poverty level today, with the cuts that we've already made in the inflation rate, have several hundred dollars more in purchasing power than they had a year ago under the previous high inflation rate.

Mr. Hunter. Now what are your projections?

The President. My projections are that the signs are kind of mixed when you bottom out in a recession. But in these last few days, the Federal Reserve, cutting the discount rate for the banks—the prime rate being set by the banks at a lower rate. The interest rate was 21 1/2 percent when I started a year and a half ago. For the first time in several months we are showing an increase, small though it may be, in the gross national product.

Now, I'm not going to jump up and down and say that, well, you know, there's going to be a boom just around the corner. It won't get cured that way. The previous seven recessions have seen the government using what I call a quick fix—artificially stimulating the economy, pouring printing press money into the marketplace. And, yes, temporarily there is an easing of the situation. But look back at those recessions, and you'll find that about 2 to 3 years later, we would have another recession, deeper and worse than the one before. This one is the deepest and the worst of those since World War II.

Now, what we're embarked on is a plan to restore the economy, to restore industry-not a quick fix—to get back to where we're on an even keel without government deficit spending, without the government having to go into the market and use up the capital that belong to the people. We have given the tax cuts to the people with the third installment yet to come next year to provide incentive for them. And for the first time, again, in a long period of time, real earnings—not inflation earnings of phony dollars—real earnings are increasing at a rate of 4 percent. That's the highest it's been in years.

Soviet Gas Pipeline

Mr. Hunter. On the international scene, were you surprised, this morning when France announced that it was going to go ahead and give U.S.-developed technology to the Russians for the development of that Russian pipeline? And have you and your foreign policy advisers. determined some sort of way to dissuade France from taking that action?

The President. Well, what really they are doing is going forward with contracts that were already signed. I have talked with President Mitterrand about his situation. He said when he came there he found the contracts already agreed to and signed by the previous administration, and they feel legally bound by those.

What I have asked our Commerce Department to do is do a study and come back to me with a report on what our situation is, because where it involves us—with our sanctions that we've imposed against the Soviet Union—where it involves us is what is our legal position with regard to subsidiary companies in France and in the other European countries owned by American firms, and whether they are legally bound, possibly, by contracts that were made before.

Mr. Hunter. What are your options that are available to dissuade France?

The President. Well, we tried our best in the meetings over there. I think they knew what we were going to do, because we'd announced what we were going to do way last December. They, as I say, had gone forward with the contracts. We have been investigating, with some of the European countries, the possibilities of energy sources closer, and that would not have the two problems which we are very concerned about with our European allies—number one, making themselves dependent on the Soviet Union, and putting themselves in a position to be blackmailed by the Soviet Union if they decide to shut off the gas. There are sources in the North Sea, in Norway, in the Netherlands. We would be happy to help them with the development of those.

The other one is, they would be cash customers. The Soviet Union has poured so much money into its great military might that we're now trying to get reduced that they're up against the wall. They don't have cash for those purposes the way they did. This would give them 10 or 12 billion dollars a year in cold, hard cash for doing this. And these are the things that we tried to point out.

Our allies, on the other hand, pointed out to us that they had already gone forward to the point that they did not feel they could retreat from that—although they did join us in shutting off or reducing credit, so that we, at least, aren't helping finance a potential adversary.

1984 Presidential Campaign

Mr. Hunter. One final question, Mr. President. Washington is buzzing with some stories that your top aides are telling your Cabinet members not to look for any jobs soon, because Ronald Reagan has decided to run again for reelection. Have you decided that you want a second term?

The President. No. No, and that isn't a decision that should be made now. But what had happened was I suddenly found out that some people were spreading the word around that I had decided I wouldn't. And I just thought that since that's a decision yet to be made—and I think the people help you make that decision as the time goes on—that for the purposes of my own staff and my own Cabinet and all, they'd better know that no decision had been made. And so, I used the phrase, in telling them that, that—or publicly I told them to stop reading the "Help Wanted" ads.

Mr. Hunter. So the door is still open?

The President. Yes.

Mr. Hunter. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The President. Well, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Note: The interview began at 5:32 p.m. in the President's suite at the Marriott Pavilion Hotel.

Ronald Reagan, Interview With Julius Hunter of KMOX-TV in St. Louis, Missouri Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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