Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Annual Convention of the American Newspaper Publishers Association in New York City

April 27, 1983

The President. Chairman Marcil and ladies and gentlemen, I've been an afterlunch speaker a lot of times. I'm a little self-conscious being a before-lunch speaker. [Laughter] If I see you looking over your shoulder for the waiter, I'll know I've been on too long. [Laughter]

But it is a pleasure to speak to groups like yours, because I've always felt that you in the publishing business and those of us in political life have a lot in common. We both see articles in the paper that make us very angry, but there's nothing we can do about them. [Laughter]

But I thought today I'd see to it that you did get one up on your reporters and editors. You know, when I was the Governor in California, addresses to the publishers associations always seemed to follow a pattern: A public official would have to put in a few lines about the importance of a free press and the first amendment as our way of life, and then he'd go on to pitch whatever program or policy he might have been advocating that week. So, I thought maybe today we could do what we used to do there to break the boredom in California: give those of you who pay the bills and meet the payroll a chance to ask me some of the questions that perhaps some of your employees haven't gotten around to asking yet in the press conferences.

But before we get to that, I couldn't entirely pass up the opportunity to mention a few items that I think should be brought to your attention. I suppose you could call them "good news" items, but whatever label you put on them, I think they're worth a few moments.

First, of course, there's the economic recovery. Pretty soon they won't be calling it Reaganomics anymore. [Laughter]

The recovery is widely acknowledged, but I'm sure some of its dimensions may not be fully appreciated. Take some of the key economic indicators for example: Auto production is up 40 percent in the last quarter over the same quarter a year ago; new home sales were up in February by 49 percent; building permits were up in March by 71 percent over the same time last year; and building starts are up by 75 percent. Consumer confidence has had its best monthly gain in 9 years—all the way to 77 percent as measured by the Conference Board. And it doesn't stop there.

We now have the lowest prime interest rate in 4.5 years. And inflation for the last 6 months is averaging one-half of 1 percent, which is a bit better than the double-digit figures of a few years ago. In fact, it's the lowest 6-month period of inflation in more than 20 years. And I don't have to tell you the stock market is healthy again. As a matter of fact, I don't know whether there'll be some profit taking before it closes this afternoon, but right now it's up about another 8 or 9 points over yesterday's record-breaking high.

I think there's a reason for this recovery: the slowing the growth of Federal spending, cutting Federal tax rates, and restored business and public confidence after a recession whose roots stretch back for more than a decade.

I was just hoping that many of you would keep this in mind when you hear some of the pleas from Washington or, maybe, even an editor now and then wants an editorial suggesting that raising taxes and increasing domestic spending might be the way to prosperity. We're all glad that recovery is underway. But I think the generosity and the compassion of most Americans toward those who suffered during the recent recession deserves a little more news coverage than it's received.

In 1982 we had the largest level of giving to charitable organizations in our nation's history. Forty-six percent of all Americans volunteer their time, and they give an average of 17 hours per month. Corporate giving as a percentage of profits is also up significantly. More than $3 billion was donated.

I've been especially pleased by the new partnership that's being developed between the private sector and the public-interest groups. Here in New York, for example, the American Express Company has put to work, as part of their communications network, severely handicapped people who are confined to their homes, but can still operate computer keyboards. There are public-private partnerships taking hold in the south Bronx in an attempt to upgrade some of the dilapidated tenement buildings.

These are just examples of what's been taking place all around the country in an attempt to meet some of our critical social problems. For instance, to combat unemployment, local radio and television stations have sponsored more than 30 job-a-thons throughout the country.

Or, to take another major social problem, I know all of us were relieved to see recently that crime had actually declined by 4 percent in 1982, the sharpest decline in 5 years. The Director of the FBI, William Webster, has suggested that these new figures may well show that volunteer action through citizen crime prevention groups is having an impact on the problem.

In Philadelphia there are now 581 crime prevention groups. That's up from 167 only a couple of years ago. Here in New York, there are more than 151,000 Volunteers in 13 types of programs. And lest some of you are peering closely and thinking that might be an early campaign button, I just this morning met with one of those crime groups. And they kind of gave me an honorary member[ship] in the Crime Stoppers.

And the group that I met with were a number who had been awarded by the Daily News, which is collaborating with the city police and with this group and provides cash awards to them for their heroic deeds. And to see this group of people, you could go down and just throw a rope around 40 people or so on the street, and it would be the same typical American mix.

Every one of them had performed an heroic deed at the risk of his or her life: a grandmother who had seized a robber by the scarf and was backhanding him until the police got there to rescue him from that— [laughter] —two young Hispanic Americans who had chased down an armed robber; a rabbi who had assaulted and captured the robber whose weapon was a machete. And it went on and on. And yet you looked and you said, "This is just Americana." There must be something right about this society of ours.

You know, ever since de Tocqueville wrote with awe early in the 1800's about the spirit of American voluntarism, the spirit of neighbor helping neighbor, visitors have been astonished by the kind of gumption and get-up-and-go of American volunteers. I have to admit the other day I was a bit astonished myself. I was out in the Rose Garden, privileged to present the Peace Corps Volunteer Awards to a number of Americans, one of whom was a quite elderly and very tiny nun, Sister Madeline. She runs a hospital canteen in Ghana, in Africa. And as I handed her her certificate of award, she leaned over and everyone was surprised to see she was whispering something to me. And they were more surprised when I whispered something back.

Well, she was still working. She whispered to me that they really had a problem about the lack of flour in the canteen with the great hunger they're faced. And I whispered back to her that I'd see what we could do about it. And before the afternoon was over, a volunteer was taking care of it. It didn't take more than two phone calls and 3,000 pounds of flour are on their way to Sister Madeline's canteen.

This is a story that's typical of America's volunteer programs. And I also think that all of this is of interest to the public, even newsworthy. It's true that one approach to news is the man-bites-dog principle. If it's unusual, bad, or bizarre, then its newsworthy. Maybe there's another kind of news as well, the kind that lifts our spirits by providing insights into the kind of people we are and the kind of society that we live in.

Now, as you know, I caused a bit of a flurry when I suggested recently that newsmen were overlooking some pretty remarkable stories about what's right with our society as well as what's wrong. But I have to admit it was gratifying to see on one of the networks last week the story of a Cambodian girl who had been in a Communist labor camp until she was 5 years old. Her father died in that camp. Suffering from malnutrition, he was too weak to work, so he was executed. Today, that girl, who 4 years ago was helping dig ditches in Cambodia and couldn't speak any English, is in the fifth grade at Alpine Crest School in Tennessee, and today she is also the school district spelling champion. 1

1On April 28 the President telephoned Linn Yann at the Alpine Crest Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tenn., to wish her luck in the Hamilton County, Tennessee, spelling bee.

Yes, I think America is a place of many social and economic problems. And, believe me, in my job I hear a lot about them. But I think it's also good for us to remind ourselves and others that our society makes it possible to contend with the recession and crime even while we offer hope to a Linn Yann and to all those living in oppression and tyranny.

This last point brings up the first responsibility of the President of the United States and of the Congress: the security of this country and the well-being of our people. And tonight I will speak directly to that issue in the context of Central America.

We're not accustomed to thinking very much about that region, not accustomed to worrying about possibly a military threat in our own hemisphere. We've almost taken for granted the friendly, independent neighbors that we have. But we can no longer ignore that there's a fire started and burning in our front yard. And we must respond with both unity and firmness of purpose.

The peoples of the hemisphere, this hemisphere, are all Americans, and all of us share a vital stake in the future of democracy and freedom. We have it within our power to act now to keep the situation manageable, and it's in this spirit that I shall speak to the Congress and to the Nation tonight.

But that's the end of the remarks that I wasn't going to make and— [laughter] —we can now turn to the questions.

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

I see Joe D. Smith is down there with an interesting question.

Paul A. Volcker

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Marcil. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, the question is that there are reports that the President does not intend-there's a question whether or not he would nominate Paul Volcker to the Fed, and we're wondering whether this is a matter-well, let me start over. [Laughter] The answer'11 be shorter than the question. [Laughter]

There are reports that you do not intend to choose Paul Volcker to continue at the Fed. Mr. Volcker is widely credited with being a major influence in getting inflation down. This is a great matter of satisfaction to you. What is it about Mr. Volcker's performance that concerns you?

The President. Not a thing. And you must realize that sometimes the morning papers come to me with breakfast, and I get surprised at some of the things I'm doing myself. [Laughter]

There has never been a discussion in the White House about this. The appointment, as I understand it, comes up in August. There has been no consideration or talk of any kind about that or about whether there'd be reappointment or new appointment or what. We just haven't considered it, and we've got too much on the plate right now to consider it before we get closer to the day.

Mr. Marcil. Charlie Rowe.

Classified Information

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Marcil. The question from Charles Rowe of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Mr. President: Many pieces of government information are classified for reasons of administrative or political convenience, not because of national security. Yet, your administration has proposed lie detector tests and even jail terms to punish the leakers. Isn't the real problem gross over-classification? And would you really prosecute Jim Baker for a leak? [Laughter]

The President. Let me answer your question in this way. The law [proposed law] 2 provides that there is a 3-year prison penalty for someone who releases classified information. And this, of course, is taken to be the information that involves our national security.

2 White House correction.

There have been leaks. And I am disturbed about many of the leaks. There has also been over-classification. But our administration, just as we've been reducing regulations and reducing taxes, we have also been campaigning and working to reduce unnecessary classification.

But I can tell you that there have been incidents that are very serious. I don't know what is in the mind of the person that will leak something of a classified nature, that suddenly finds you having to get on the phone or start the cables back and forth, because actually they have endangered our relationship with some other country. This has taken place in this 2 years and few months that I have been here.

There are other things that have been leaked that aren't necessarily classified but, again, cause great problems, because I happen to be one—that in the Cabinet process, I want all alternatives. I want all options on any problem that's confronting us before I make a decision. We run our Cabinet a little like a board of directors, the only difference being, we don't take a vote. When I've heard enough in the discussion, I make the decision. [Laughter]

And a very disturbing thing has been that sometimes, someone down the line leaks, maybe, some of these options that have simply been drafted to make sure that we get the whole picture. And suddenly we're reading in the press or hearing on television that this is what we're going to do. And in a number of eases, it hasn't even come to me or to the Cabinet yet. It's still down there in that process of putting all the options together. And, again, sometimes it has made more difficult the solution to the problem that we're trying to solve.

And so, I really am pretty upset about the leakers, but with regard to national security, we're not doing anything that I think unfairly imposes a restriction on the right of the people to know or the freedom of information as far as you of the press are concerned. As a matter of fact, I have had now over 120 interviews since I've been in office and numerous press availabilities and so forth. So, we're not trying to hide anything that shouldn't be hidden.

Mr. Marcil. Thank you, sir. Bill Keating?

The Nation's Economy

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Marcil. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, Bill Keating from Cincinnati: Do you feel that real economic recovery is underway? And if so, how can it be sustained with huge Federal deficits?

The President. It can be sustained because it was started on a different principle than any of the seven preceding recessions that we've had since World War II.

As you know, we've had a history of the quick fix—artificial stimulant of the money supply generates some government spending-and, yes, we would cure that immediate recession, except that we had laid the groundwork for an even worse recession about 2 to 3 years later. And this has been the whole pattern.

Well, we started with an idea of correcting what is basically wrong: that government is taking too big a share of the gross national product, too much in taxes from the people; that we've had punitive regulations toward business and industry that have prevented American industry from modernizing and being able to keep pace with our competitors worldwide. And so we set out to change this with that economic program we introduced in 1981.

Now, at no time have we been given all that we asked for in the reductions of spending. As a matter of fact, right now the '83 budget, the deficit would be 841 billion less if we had just been given the cuts that we asked for and which were brought to us by our agency heads and Cabinet members as the figure that they said they could do the job with and live with.

The basic thing is to get inflation down. Always before in the quick-fix thing, inflation has gone up. The problem we have now with the deficits is to get them on a declining pattern. And, again, the 1984 budget that we have offered is one that will. The immediate deficit and probably the 1984 budget deficit are going to be rather large. But in a 5-year projection out there, they're on a downward path to where you then can look and say, continuing on this course, here's where we balance the budget.

At the same time, one of the things that has hindered recovery or modernization of business in the past is government's excessive borrowing from the private sector, which has shut off the capital supply. But our own economic program has so stimulated private savings that there is a much larger capital pool out there for borrowing, and even with the deficits that we view the government is not going to be hogging all of the private capital that is available. So, I think we're on the right track.

Mr. Marcil. Ed Hemminger.

Secretary of the Interior Watt

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Marcil. For those of you in the back of the room, Ed Hemminger from Findlay, Ohio, asks: Secretary Watt seems to create a lot of problems for himself and your administration on environmental issues as well as musical issues. [Laughter] How do you answer charges that the administration is not doing its job to protect our environment?

The President. Well, on the musical side, Nancy had to tell me that the Beach Boys weren't a rock group. [Laughter]

On the environmental side, I know an image has been created, and he's become quite a lightning rod, but I have to tell you that I don't know of anyone in that department who has done a better job than has been done so far with regard to environmental protection and to our refurbishing of our parks.

When we took office, we found that the National Park System was very dangerously down to a level of lack of health and safety provisions in the parks, that the funding, before our arrival—now, here I am talking about spending money, not saving it—that the funding for the maintenance and upkeep of our parks had been literally a starvation diet, about as bad as it had been for national defense. And we have spent, in just these couple of years, more than was spent in the entire previous 4 years on putting our national parks back in shape.

But let me just, if I can, give you one example of what I think is a distortion of the record. Now, maybe sometimes he asked for it by careless remarks or something, but there has been no reduction in our ability—Good Lord, as Governor of California, we led the whole Nation in the things that we put into effect environmentally, while I was there. And this is the one thing that I'd like to mention: Before, several years ago, 174 million acres of land in the United States was classified as potential wilderness land to be added to the 80 million acres of wilderness land that we now have. But the law said that to be eligible to be added, it must be adjacent to the wilderness land. It must also meet the requirements of no roads or paths, no trails, be completely pristine and wilderness. It must not have any dual ownership, such as someone or some other government entity owning, let's say, mineral rights underneath the soil.

Now, during the previous administration, in the study of these 174 million acres, 150 million acres were ruled as not eligible under the law, and they were just taken out of the consideration. And not a word was said by anyone.

Now, this Department of Interior inherited 24 million acres left that was still supposed to be studied. And at a moment when some of them had been studied, 800,000 acres were ruled as ineligible under the law for wilderness consideration—less than a million, compared to 150 million. And somehow the whole image throughout the country was created that he'd taken a million acres or so out of the wilderness land, the existing wilderness. And he hadn't. He was still going along with the law that says we—now we've got about 23 million acres to continue studying as to whether we should add any of that to wilderness land.

His record—if anyone will look at a report on what has been done in that sector will find that we can be very proud of our environmental record in this administration. I hope the Sierra Club is listening. [Laughter]

Mr. Marcil. Thank you, sir. Ed Jones.

Situation in Lebanon

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Marcil. John Jones from Greeneville, Tennessee, asks: You have sent U.S. troops to Lebanon, which is a danger to them and which also offers the threat of U.S. military involvement in a Mideast war. When are you going to bring the troops home?

The President. Well, I don't believe that there's danger of us being involved in that war. We did this at a request—along with our allies in the multinational force, as it's called—to help provide order while the Lebanese Government—this was anticipating the removal from Lebanon's soil of Syrian troops, several thousand PLO that are still in there, and the Israeli troops-until Lebanon, which for 8 years has been in, virtually, a state of war between various fighting factions and has not been in charge of its own destiny—that Lebanon can assume the sovereignty over its own soil. And in order to permit them to do that and to bring these factions together, the multinational force was created as a kind of an, as I say, an order-keeping force. There's no intention of them engaging in combat, fighting on one side or the other with any faction.

We've made great progress with Israel in regard to the agreement of them withdrawing below their northern border. There are still a few sticking points, and that's why George Shultz has gone over there now to see if those can't be removed. The Syrians and the PLO have both announced several times that if Israel leaves, they will withdraw also. And at that point—and we've sent training forces over also to help in the training of the Lebanese Army. And as soon as this is done and Lebanon has sovereignty again and responsibility for its own borders we'll bring our multinational forces home.

Mr. Marcil. Thank you very much, Mr. President. It's been an honor having you with us. We'd like to have you do just- [applause] . Thank you very much. We'd like to ask you to do just one thing for us when you get back to the White House. Please give our best wishes to a man whose professionalism and courage we so much admire: Jim Brady.

Note: The President spoke at 1:04 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. He was introduced by William Marcil, chairman of the American Newspaper Publishers Association.

Prior to his appearance before the luncheon, the President attended separate receptions at the hotel for New York Republican Party members and headtable guests at the association luncheon.

Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, D.C.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Annual Convention of the American Newspaper Publishers Association in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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