Ronald Reagan picture

Question-and-Answer Session With High School Students on Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues

February 25, 1983

The President. Well, now, if I have it right—and I hope I don't leave anyone out—students here from Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Oregon, California, and Texas. Right?

Students. Right.

The President. That does it? And I guess the audience should know that we have just met, hardly exchanged a word other than just saying that. And so, this is, as they say on some of those other shows, completely unrehearsed— [laughter] —and I have no idea what's going to be asked, except I was told the first person that was going to ask a question would be you.

1984 Presidential Candidacy

Q. Mr. President, my name is Ramonia Westbroom, and I'm a student at Freemont High School in Oakland, California. And I wanted to know, do you plan on running for reelection in 1984? [Laughter]

The President. Well, now, that's a question that all of the press has been asking me also. To tell you the truth, I can't answer that now. I think it's the wrong time to answer it. If you say you're running too early, then everything you do is viewed as being political; and if you say you're not, then you immediately become a lame-duck, and you can't get anything done. But also I have always really believed that the people will kind of let you know whether you should run again or not. So, I'll wait a little while on that one and then answer it later.


Arms Control and Reduction

Q. Mr. President, my name is Bob Beatty. I'm representing Lake Oswego High School from Lake Oswego, Oregon. And I say that my generation is very concerned with a possible nuclear war. And to tell you the truth, we're sort of scared. Is there any possibility that you will meet with Soviet Chairman Andropov to ease some of the tensions that exist between our two countries?

The President. Well, now, I have made it plain—and even before it was Andropov, when it was Brezhnev—that I was willing to meet. There are no plans right now for a summit, but this doesn't mean that we're not in communication and constant touch between our State Department and their people and all. But more important than a meeting between the two of us—and I recently sent word to our European allies that I would meet with Mr. Andropov anyplace, anytime, to sign an agreement that would eliminate the intermediate-range nuclear weapons that are now poised and aimed at the countries of Europe. We have no such weapons there as a deterrent.

But let me say that I know this concern of all of you. And I know the fear that everyone has. On the other hand, the very nature of the deterrent, the fact that both sides have these weapons aimed—it's the first weapon ever invented that has never, at the same time, led to a defensive weapon against it. The only defense you have is being able to say, if one of you does it the other one's going to do it too. And there is no winner.

But we're trying now—this is so out of hand that we have three teams negotiating in Geneva, Switzerland—well, two in Geneva, one in Vienna. The one in Vienna is negotiating on conventional weapons. The other two—one is what's known as the START team, for Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, and the other one is the INF team, intermediate-range nuclear weapons. These are the ones—the SS-20's, the Soviet Union has about 350, some aimed at Europe. They've continued to add to that force even though we have this team there, because I proposed some time ago that they meet us to negotiate an outright elimination. Our NATO allies have asked us to put nuclear weapons, intermediate-range weapons, as a deterrent to those that are there on the edge of Western Europe. And we have agreed to do that.

Now, so far, they have a monopoly. They are the only ones with the threat. We will deploy—we're trying to get what I said was a zero-based option—destroy theirs, and we won't produce any of ours. And at least we will have made the step of wiping out a whole system of nuclear weapons.

Now, I think they came to the table and are willing to talk because they don't want us to put in that deterrent. I can only tell you that every effort we can make is being made to reduce the numbers of those weapons, and, hopefully, if we once start down that path, hopefully, we can eliminate them altogether. But I would say here, rather than your fear is—I believe that for 37 years we've proven that that deterrent idea does work. And I'm still confident of that.

Let me point out, we're the only country that ever dropped one of those. And that was in the World War II against Japan. But we were the only country that had it. And you have to ask yourself, would we have dropped it if we had known they had one they could have dropped on us? And I think we all know the answer to that.

So, we're not completely helpless.


Student Financial Assistance

Q. Mr. President, I'm from Northwest High School in House Springs, Missouri. I have a question concerning the cuts in student aid. I realize that cuts need to be made. There are some students who are very intelligent, however, that do not have the money to go to college without help. How will this affect the future of our nation if only those from high-income families can afford to be educated? What are your views toward these cuts?

The President. All right. I think what you've revealed here is there's a widespread misunderstanding about what we've done. Actually, we are still providing student aid at the government level. Remember also, though, that there are many scholarship funds from private foundations, from schools themselves. In California—and I'm sure this is true of most other States—while I was Governor, we increased the State scholarship aid 11 times as much as when I first arrived there. So, there is more than the Federal Government.

But here's what we've done at the Federal Government level. It isn't a case of cutting back the aid. But we found out that the programs had expanded to the point that people, families with incomes enough that they should be able to provide the education themselves for their children, were still getting this government aid and the government guaranteed loans and so forth. We changed the standards to make it possible to give more of that aid to those whose financial standing or earnings were such that they couldn't go without it.

And so, what we have done is simply take some of the aid away from more affluent families and give it to families that do have real need. And we are still providing aid for almost half the college students in the United States.

The young gentleman right there. You, yes.

Q. It's, Mr.—

The President. No, no, it was him. [Laughter] Okay. I'll take you in the back next then.

Liberty City, Miami, Fla.

Q. My name is Larry Norton, and I'm a student at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, Miami, Florida. Mr. President, after the May riots in Miami of 1980 in the Liberty City section of the city, money was promised from the Federal Government to aid black businesses and create jobs, a total revitalization of Liberty City. I would like to know what happened to this Federal money? Was it sent into Liberty City? And if so, how is it being spent? And if it has not been sent into the Liberty City area, is it going to be sent into the area? And why is it taking so long?

The President. I can't answer the technicalities of whether it has or whether it's gone there or not. I can only tell you from my position the overall policy of this administration and what we've done. And through the Small Business Administration and through the Defense Department we have ordered that more help be aimed at minority-aimed businesses, small businesses, and this by way of subcontracting in Defense. And I know that that has been going forward quite successfully. But for me to have the details on the particular areas—but since you've asked it, I can tell you that I will look into it. You say it's Liberty City.

Q. Yes, sir.

The President. I shall look into that and find out. And if there's something delaying aid that was promised, I shall roust some people around. [Laughter]

No, the man—

Q. Yes—

The President. There.

National Park System

Q. My name is Jay Gore, representing LaPorte High School in LaPorte, Texas. Recently there have been rumors that the Interior Department plans to change its policy towards the National Park System and that it's going to change it from more of a conservation—for people who see and enjoy the park—to an entertainment role. What do you think the role of the National Park System should be?

The President. Well, now, the only thing that I can answer about—what I know is the Interior Department's policy about national parks is that when we came, the Congress kept proposing more money, in all this stringent time when we're running deficits, to buy more parkland. But what the Department of Interior found out was that the parks, the national parks we presently have, had been allowed to run down, and the spending had been decreased, before we got here, every year, to where they were getting virtually nothing for the maintenance and the upkeep of these parks. And the standards for health and safety had been lowered very much because of this. And the Interior Department said, "We're not going to buy more parkland until we have taken care of the parks we have." And so, they have vastly increased the amount of money that is being devoted to bring the parks up to standard.

Now, I know that there is a lot of confusion about much—and maybe some of what you were asking was because of the talk lately about the wilderness territories, not just parks. And the Interior Department, Mr. Watt, is being blamed because he sent a notice to Washington that 800,000 acres of land, almost a million acres, should not be considered any longer for incorporation into the wilderness areas. And this story came out that he was taking this away from wilderness areas.

Well, before we got here, 174 million acres had been designated by the Congress for study as to whether any or all of them should be incorporated in the 80 million acres of national wilderness land that we presently have. Standards were set. It can't be wilderness land if there's roads on it. It can't be wilderness land if there's dual ownership, if, say, a local government or State government has an ownership claim or owns mineral rights under the land and so forth.

Under the previous administration, of that 174 million acres, they had already withdrawn 150 acres of that as—million acres, I mean, as not being eligible for wilderness. And the Interior Department continued the study, and the 800,000 acres that was withdrawn was simply added to that 150 million acres, which means we still have some 23 million acres that we're continuing to study as to whether it qualifies to be included in the wilderness lands.

But the park policy is one of maintaining the parks we have. Then if there is a need for additional parkland, we can follow up on that.

Now—well, here's a young lady over here.

Employment Programs

Q. Hello. My name is Elizabeth Daven. It's very nice to meet you, Mr. President. I would like to ask you—I come from California in Riverside—what are some of your plans to improve our nation's unemployment problems?

The President. To provide—

Q. Just one minute. What are some of your plans to improve our nation's unemployment—our unemployment situation?

The President. Oh, to improve the unemployment situation. Well, first of all, the greatest employer is the private sector, and right now there are a hundred million people employed in this country while there are some 11 million unemployed.

Last month, January, for the first time the unemployment level started to decline. It dropped four-tenths of a percentage point, from 10.8 to 10.4. And in the new method of keeping that, that was from 10.7 to 10.2, because up until last month no one was counting the Armed Forces. Well, they're very definitely working and employed. And they were counting them when they left the service and became unemployed, but they weren't counting them while they were employed. So, the new method is it would be 10.7, down to 10.2.

We have—the increase in the gasoline tax is going to create some jobs. That isn't why it was passed. It was passed because our highway system and our bridges throughout the country have deteriorated so badly that they need—it's an emergency situation. They need to be repaired, to be replaced in many instances. But that will create several hundred thousand new jobs.

We now have a bill that we're discussing with the legislative leadership that will-well, several bills. First, one of them, called the enterprise zones. This a program to go into rundown areas, such as some of our inner cities that have decayed and where many of the people are on welfare, unemployed, and businesses don't go in there. It's a program of using tax incentives at every level of government for businesses that will go in, establish themselves there, and then hire the people that are there presently unemployed and getting welfare, and tax incentives to make this worthwhile. While we're trying to get this through Congress, eight States have already done this on their own with tremendous success.

We have another measure up there that is calling on, accelerating programs that in the budget we're discussing for 1984, where our various government levels or agencies have construction work, maintenance work, repair, that needs to be done, and would be in the '84 budget, that we would move that up and start doing it now to help solve unemployment.

We also, let me just say, have—we are extending the unemployment insurance benefits. As people have run out the ability to be eligible, we're extending them, but we're also trying to get legislation that would allow us to use those for job training, to use them for relocating people to places where there are jobs, and to also use what we call a voucher system, in which a person would be able to take a voucher instead of his unemployment payment, go to an employer, give the employer that voucher in return for a job, and for a period of time the Government would pay the amount of that voucher as an inducement to the employer to take on this unemployed person.

And there are a number of other things we're doing. And I think the turnaround that is just taking place in the economy is going to get at this problem.

Business Investment

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Tor Ewald. I'm from Aragon High School in San Mateo, California. I'd like to start off by saying something I don't think you hear enough of. And I'd like to congratulate you on your fight against interest rates, and especially inflation, which on figures that went out today, I heard, was down to 2.2 percent. I think you've done a great job with that.

Now, my question deals with renewable energies. Recently-or, do you plan to support this industry by keep going with your tax credits, tax credits, tax incentives, and what do you have in the future plans involving this and—because in the minds of my peers, this is very important to our future.

The President. To—now, wait a minute-the incentives to—

Q. To invest in—

The President. To invest, yes. These are both at the private level for—and we've brought up, for the first time in 3 years, the personal savings rate. Now, you know, when people buy insurance policies or put their money in a savings account, that money then becomes part of a capital pool that is loaned to industry and business and so forth, for investment purposes. And we're continuing that. But we're also continuing the tax policies that give business some breaks so that they can afford to improve their capacity and their ability to build, modernize their plant and machinery, and so forth. We are going to continue all of those things. They're very vital.

This is one of the big things that has made us less competitive with our foreign allies. Japan, many companies in Europe after World War II, when there'd been so much destruction and all, they were helped by us to build the most modern of factories. Well, ours weren't bombed, and the result was, with our taxing policies since the war, we made it very difficult for American business to modernize plant and equal these other plants and be able to produce at the lower price that they could produce. And we are providing incentives for that.

I thank you for the words about the interest rates. And you would be happy to know that as of today two of the major banks in the United States have lowered the prime interest rate from 11 to 10.5. And the others, I know, they always follow when that happens.

Young man right back there in the white shirt. Yes?

Times Beach, Mo.

Q. Mr. President, my name is Pierre Love, and I'm from St. Louis, Missouri, Visual and Performing Arts High School. What I would like to know is, what progress is being made on the dioxin problem in Times Beach, and who do you think should handle it, the Federal or State government?

The President. Well, I think it should be a combination where responsibility lies. First, you try to find, is there a private responsibility? Is some concern, a factory or something, responsible for this? And if so, then secure either help or turn this over completely to them and have them do it, if they're at a real fault. But then, other levels of government.

Now, the situation in Missouri. We have just announced that the dioxin level—as you know, we've been in there taking tests, and it has turned out to be so much more severe, probably due to the repeated flooding there. The dioxin came, to those of you who don't know, was in oil that was put on dirt roads to hold down the dust. No one knew at the time that they were doing something that would affect the health of the people living there. But the dioxin level, the floods came and spread this and sank into lawns and everything, has infected it so much that we've had to tell the people that it's dangerous to live there.

We are now proposing to simply buy that town. Pay the people for their homes, for leaving their homes, give them the money their homes are worth, businesses, and so forth. And it's a shame and tragic that they must move away. But it will be a long time before that can be cleaned up to where we could say it is safe.

Young lady right back there in the blue dress.

Birth Control Regulation

Q. Mr. President, my name is Felicia Lynch, and I attend James Logan High School in Union City, California. Mr. President, your administration suggests that federally supported family planning clinics inform parents of minors if they request birth control information.

The President. I'm having trouble hearing you. I have to admit to you, I've got one ear that doesn't hear as well as it should, so—

Q. Start over?

The President. Speak up a little more.

Q. Your administration suggests that federally supported family planning clinics inform parents of minors if they request birth control information. My question is, Mr. President, how does your administration justify this so-called squeal law?

The President. Ah, I'm glad you asked that. [Laughter] I'm very happy to answer. This has to do with the squeal law. And I'm not sure that you will be on my side on this, but maybe your parents will.

The legislation that authorized the Federal Government to subsidize centers where birth control advice and so forth and means of birth control were being offered the young people, that they should in return for these subsidies, to the greatest extent possible, involve a maximized family participation. Well, they haven't done it. They simply are allowing girls who are under age to come and receive their information and their prescriptions for these various birth control devices and at the same time to keep this information from the parents.

Now, I don't think any of us can say that sexual behavior is without a moral connotation, connection. And it seems to me that where they're all complaining that this is now government interfering with the rights of young people—what about government injecting itself into the family, between parent and child, and saying, "We the government reserve the right to do something of this kind in collusion with your children, and we're not going to let you know about it?" I don't think, at a time when we're worried about the family as an institution and wanting to preserve the family as a unit—because that's the basis for all civilization—I don't think government has a right to stick its nose into the family and tell parents what they can or cannot know about their children. And, therefore, we've put out that regulation. And I feel very strongly about this.

Government has done a lot of things now and in its aid to education and all that has, in effect, kind of moved to take some of what should be parental duties away from the parents now and have you beholden to government. And I just don't think—government can be a lot of things, but it can't be mama and papa and it shouldn't try.

Kenneth L. Adelman

Q. Mr. President, my name is Rachel Wormhoudt. I'm from Berkeley High School, Berkeley, California. I'd like to address the issue of nuclear arms reduction. Considering the current status of the Adelman nomination and the fact that in yesterday's Foreign Relations Committee, the nomination will be sent to the floor with a recommendation that it not be confirmed, how do you feel your nomination of this man has helped nuclear arms reductions? And how do you feel our allies will perceive it?

The President. Well, I think that the Senate—very frankly, the Senate committee is being very irresponsible, and I think that this is pretty much party-line vote in politics.

Mr. Adelman is a young man, and there's nothing against that. He's 36 years old. Someone tried to make an issue of that. And we've got some Congressmen that are not 36 years old yet. But Mr. Adelman was at the United Nations, and he was the direct deputy and assistance to our Ambassador there, Jeane Kirkpatrick. And some time ago, the United Nations had its conference on disarmament, and Mr. Adelman participated in that. We had a chance to see his performance in that. So, it is not true, as they've been saying, that he does not have experience in arms negotiations. He is a brilliant young man. Everyone who knows him endorses him, and I think the fact that the committee voted nine to eight indicates that there's a great division as to whether he's competent or not. And this is going to the floor, and I'm going to tell you I'm going to do everything I can to urge the Senate to ratify him for this position. It takes Senate approval of someone.

I think that what the committee has done and this whole fuss over him, this has been injurious to us in the eyes of our allies and friends. But I told you before about those teams that we have negotiating. We picked this man, because the whole idea of the arms reductions was mine and I obviously want it, and I wouldn't have picked him if I did not think he was the best man at hand to do the job. And, frankly, I'm a little annoyed at the Senate that they don't give me credit for believing that.

A couple of them have actually voiced the thought that they don't believe I'm serious about arms reduction. Well, since I've understood from some of the plans that others in the world have I'd probably be the first target, you can bet I want arms reduction. [Laughter]

The gentleman right there in the aisle.

Crime Prevention

Q. Yes, sir, Mr. President. My name is Ken Bernstein. I'm from North Miami Senior High School. What role do you feel the Federal Government should play in preventing crime in this country?

The President. What role should we play in preventing crime in this country? Well, now, basically, we know that law enforcement is a matter of State and local governments. For example, if someone is tried for murder, they're tried because they have violated the State law in that State against murder. The Federal Government, however, does have a part to play.

One of the great parts that we're playing is—more than half the crime in the United States is drug-related. And we tried an experiment in south Florida. We put, for the first time, we alined all the Federal agencies from drug enforcement to the FBI to the Federal marshals to all of this. And then we went and joined in with all the local and State apparatus down there. We had what we called a task force. And George Bush, the Vice President, was in charge of it.

This task force did a fantastic job. We have actually intercepted billions of dollars, at street value, of drugs. We have a whole fleet of cabin cruisers and speedboats and yachts and airplanes that we have taken and confiscated. I saw a table one day in Florida with $20 million—I'd never seen $20 million in my life—stacked up on a table that had been confiscated from these drug things.

And it was so successful that, of course, we almost cleaned up the situation there. But the same people then started coming into the United States, importing these drugs, bringing them in through different routes. We now are funding 12 task forces that will be in all the other areas in the United States to see if we can do the same thing.

But, also, I think, we've got to take and are taking stands: some national legislation to clean up much of what we think is in the social—or the criminal justice system, the fact that so many criminals today are turned back out on the streets and sometimes for very little reason.

I'm sure you've heard the thing about the exclusionary rule. Well, now, this is the result of judicial decisions. This isn't a law that anyone passed. But what the exclusionary rule means is that if a policeman in some way violates technicalities of the law in getting some evidence, that evidence is thrown out of court, even though the evidence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the accused is guilty.

And the classic case of this and the foolishness of it took place in San Bernardino, California. And there were two agents that got a warrant, which is all legal, to search a home where a man and woman lived that were suspected of selling heroin. And they couldn't find any heroin after searching the house, which they could legally do. On the way out, one of them on a hunch turned around; there was a baby in a crib. He took the baby's diapers down, and there was the heroin. They were guilty. The evidence was thrown out of court and they went free, because the judge ruled that the baby hadn't given its permission to be searched. [Laughter] Now, this is how ridiculous it could be.

But we have legislation, a crime package of bills, to try and straighten this out, try and make it more possible to evade these, just, technicalities and really get justice in sentencing criminals.

There on the aisle, and then I'll come down.—

Q. Mr. President—

The President. Ah, there are too many hands.

Q.—as much as we hate to, we're going to have to quit. My name is Rob Calhoun from El Dorado, Arkansas, and on behalf of all Close-Up students in Close-Up, we'd like to thank you for sharing this time with us.

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Could I just make a farewell—I thought that you were going to ask a last question here, but I guess I talked too long.

I'm always brokenhearted at the number of hands that I didn't get to point to. I try to go around so you won't think I'm staying in one spot. I'm sorry about those. If those of you who had questions and I didn't get to them want to write them, believe me, I'll send you a written answer to your question. And, Joe, 1 you can tell them how to write so that the letters will get to me. Sometimes I find that it takes a long time for letters to reach my desk. So, Joe will tell you how to do it.

1 Joseph R. Holmes, Special Assistant to the President and Director of White House Television, Film, and Radio Services.

But the other thing, I say this to you, and I want to say it to other students who will come in here in these meetings of this kind. I've answered some questions here today and with what I claimed were facts and figures. And I believe that I was correct in those. But don't let me get away with it, if you have any question as to whether any of my answers were not based on fact, check me out. But do that with anyone who's-whether it's on the evening news or whether you read it in the paper or whether it's someone in the classroom or a lecturer or a speaker. You have some question, check them out.

You have more words thrown at you today, your generation, than has ever been thrown at any generation in history. Well, don't become the sucker generation. Make sure that what someone is telling you is fact and could be substantiated. And that goes for me, too.

Okay. Thanks very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1;01 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. The question-and-answer session was taped for later broadcast on the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network.

The participants in the session were part of the Close-Up Foundation program, a nonpartisan educational foundation providing secondary school students the opportunity to study the American political system.

Ronald Reagan, Question-and-Answer Session With High School Students on Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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