Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa

October 15, 1984

The President. Thank you all very much. And, Senator Denton, I thank you very much.

You know, when I left the White House this morning, it was kind of good to say, "I'm Alabamie bound." But it is wonderful to be here at the University of Alabama, the home of the Crimson Tide. And, incidentally, I might say to the members of your football squad, and also to all of you who are such obvious supporters—I know you have a fine team and I know that you've been a little disappointed in part of the opening of the season. But then came last Saturday, and you became Lion tamers.

You'll never know how tempted I am to say you won one for the Gipper. [Laughter] You just stay with it, and I know you're going to win big this season.

Now, many States only have one great football team—and I know that this is going to shake the rafters, but— [laughter] —you have two powerhouses, the Auburn Tigers.-

Audience. Boo-o-o! [Laughter]

The President. It isn't very often I asked to be booed. [Laughter]

Well, I know also that your campus is one of the most beautiful in the country. I know this because I've been reminded of it by a valued member of my staff, Margaret Tutwiler, 1 who hails from Alabama and who graduated from UA.

1 Special Assistant to the President.

She told me of the discovery last month of the original foundation of the university rotunda that was built before the Civil War and how it was once the centerpiece of this campus. And now it's turned up and still solid. And I got to thinking about how after all this time that foundation is still there and standing strong. And I'm involved in a campaign for reelection—or didn't you know? [Laughter] I am seeking another term, because our work has begun, the foundation has been laid, and the building, though, is unfinished. There's much left to do.

The centerpiece of our administration is one word: freedom. The foundation has been a program aimed at lowering tax rates, revitalizing the economy, and creating opportunity so that every American gets a chance at a good life.

The present has benefited from our program, but it's the future that we're building. Inflation was over 12 percent when we came into office, and now it's down around 4. And that means the poor and the people on fixed incomes are finding it easier to get by.

Now, that's true, but it doesn't quite capture the larger point of what we're doing. When I came in here I started thinking about a phrase that you might be familiar with that expresses our philosophy of economic growth. It's "Roll tide, roll."

Audience. Roll tide, roll!

The President. Hey, that's great.

Over the past 3 years, we cut personal tax rates for all Americans by 25 percent. You know, when we spend our own money, businesses and entrepreneurs profit, expand, and create jobs. And it has the force of a rolling tide. When we put our tax savings in the bank, that capital is available for all kinds of expansion, which creates growth and opportunity and more jobs. And when you cut personal tax rates, you create an incentive that frees up all the boldness and creativity within us. And that too has the force of a rolling tide. Take away incentive and give up your dreams. All of us should be able to keep as much of the fruits of our labor as possible.

In 1980, when we took a new turn, we were declaring once again that the challenge of America begins with challenging its people—not challenging government to do more for them.

Now, the other night my opponent suggested that when I am reelected I intend to raise your taxes. Well, I agree with half of that statement—the part about being reelected. But as I said then—and I'll say again—my goal is to get personal tax rates further down, not up. And this is where he and I definitely differ. To pay for all the promises he's made, he would have to raise taxes the equivalent of $1,890 per household. That's more than $150 a month. I know that you and your parents have other things to do—or that you'd like to spend that money on—like tuition.

But we're talking about more than personal hardship here. If we go back to the old days of raising taxes and raising spending, we'll kill the prosperity that we're now enjoying. People will have less money, spend less money, save less money. No new jobs will be created, and many jobs will be lost. I don't think you want economic policies that will send you from the graduation line to the unemployment line.

Audience. No!

The President. You've been spending years receiving a fine education, and all of you have a great deal to contribute to make this world a better place. And you deserve wide open opportunities for your talents when you get out of school.

I think my opponent's economic policies and programs are about as bad as they can be. And when he comes down here and says his ideas are best for the South, he's handing you the ultimate Mason-Dixon Line. [Laughter] You know, buying his economic policies is like going to a used-car lot to buy back the lemon you sold them 4 years ago.

Now, prosperity at home is only part of what we're trying to achieve. We've been moving quickly these last 3 1/2 years or so toward peace through strength. We know it's America's role in the world to stand for something.

We need to be a reliable friend to our allies and a good neighbor to our friends nearby, and you can't be any of those things without strength. We always want everyone in the world to understand that Uncle Sam is a friendly old man, but he has a spine of steel.

If I could just interject an aside here right now—today a momentous event will be taking place in the cause of peace in Central America, as President Duarte of El Salvador meets with the leaders of the Salvadoran guerrillas. President Duarte is participating at great personal risk, but it's a risk worth taking in the cause of peace, and the President has our prayers for success in this historic endeavor.

When we liberated Grenada from Communist thugs, we were being a good friend to our Caribbean neighbors who'd come to us and asked us to help restore peace to the island. We did it. And we liberated some American students in the process. And we can be proud of what we did that day, and proud of the young men and women in our Armed Forces who made that possible.

Now, my opponent by the way, seems to have that liberation confused with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. [Laughter] He said what we did in Grenada eroded our moral authority to criticize the Soviets. I've never had any problem criticizing them. [Laughter]

But my opponent seems confused about so many things. [Laughter] He said some years back that the old days of a Soviet strategy of suppression by force are over. And he said that just before the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. [Laughter] And then after they invaded Afghanistan, he said, "It just baffles me why the Soviets these last few years have behaved as they have." [Laughter] So much baffles him. [Laughter]

He said our administration's economic programs are obviously, murderously inflationary. And that was just before we lowered inflation from more than 12 percent to about 4. [Laughter] He said, "Sometimes we need a deficit to stimulate the economy." Now he says a deficit is dangerous. He says he cares about the middle class, and proudly declares, "I have consistently supported legislation, time after time, which increases taxes on our constituents." That makes you want to be one of his constituents again, doesn't it? [Laughter]

Well, he's for economic growth, but 4 years ago he said we needed an economic slowdown to bring down inflation. He promises Camelot, but he would give us a reign of error.

America is at peace, and the economy is in one piece. And I think if we all stick together, we'll move on together, and we'll recreate a country rich in opportunity and enterprise, growth, and creativity; a country even greater in areas of art and learning and scientific inquiry—even greater in worship and belief.

We need your help, and we can't do it without you. We need your idealism, your optimism, your faith. You're a very special generation, and I'm happy that the future is going to be in your hands.

Now, let me say that all of you have been well served by the efforts of your fine Members of Congress, Senator Jeremiah Denton, Congressman Jack Edwards, and Congressman Bill Dickinson.

Now, I have to leave soon, but I can't go without talking a minute about a great man that I was proud to call friend—Bear Bryant. He was sort of the essential American. And, you know, a few years back, I set a kind of a record here at the University of Alabama. I was here to go to a formal dinner where I was to be the after dinner speaker. And Bear invited me to come out and visit practice out here—football practice.

Well, the only way it could be worked out and the timing and all was that I had to put the tux on first. So, there I was out on the practice field throwing a ball around with about 65 fellows, and I was in black tie. [Laughter] Bear got quite a kick out of this. But he really started to laugh when it began to rain. [Laughter]

He was a leader, patriotic to the core, devoted to his players, and inspired by a winning spirit that wouldn't quit. And that's how he made legends out of ordinary people. He was a true American hero, and he was Alabama's own.

The greatness of America and the solution to her problems begins with the people—with all of you. You know that dreams, drive, courage, and creativity make all the difference. You know, better than anyone, that it's in the hearts of the people that the tide begins to roll.

I'm most grateful to you for asking me here. But now I'm going to quit having a monolog, because I understand we've got a little time that we can have a dialog, and some of you have some questions. Mondale says I don't do this.

Q. Good morning, Mr. President. My name is Chuck Kelley. I'm a senior—

The President. Did you see how I automatically turned to the right first instead of the left? [Laughter]

Go ahead.

Q. I'm a senior from Russellville, Alabama, and I'm currently serving as student government vice president.

Last week SGA President Ray Pate identified five student leaders on campus—from the Residence Hall Association, the Afro-American Association, IFC-Pan Hellenic, the CW, our campus newspaper, and the student government. He asked that each of us prepare a question for you that would be representative of our respective groups. In addition, Mr. President, before you an-ired this morning, a number of other students were drawn—from a lottery drawing—to ask you another question.

Speaking for my fellow students, I think it is important to point out to the media present that these are our questions. They represent the thoughts and concerns of the students of the University of Alabama.

The President. All right.

Social Security

Q. Mr. President, many college students fear that the Social Security program will be defunct and no longer in existence 40 years from now when we are at the age to draw its benefits. Obviously, Mr. President, some structural changes must be made in the program to ensure its continued existence. I would like to know exactly what impact any changes that you plan to make in the program will have on college students as we begin our careers? And, also, what is the best piece of advice that you can give a graduating senior of this institution?

The President. All right. I think there's been a great deal of distortion about the whole subject of Social Security. I heard some of it on C-SPAN last night that was the same kind of distortion.

Let me just explain something. Social Security started out to be a plan—$3,000—or I mean 3 percent of $3,000 of earnings. That was back before inflation had started to take hold and come up to where it is. There were also some demographic errors—or projections that were made with regard to the ratio of worker to recipient so that under the previous administration—1977—they were faced with such a problem in Social Security, such imminent bankruptcy that they passed the biggest single tax increase in our nation's history—a Social Security tax that in several phases would be phased in between then and 1990. At the same time, they reduced by 25 percent the benefits for everyone born after 1916. And the first of those began to come onto Social Security in 1981.

They said that they had made Social Security safe for the next 50 years; they hadn't made it safe for the next 5. Incidentally, they were increasing the amount of money that was subject to the tax increases, too. It is now around $38,000 of earnings that are taxed, and it will go up to about 64,000.

When we came into office, we found out that the imminent bankruptcy was still there, and we set the time at about July of 1983. I tried to persuade the Democratic leadership of the Congress to join us in a bipartisan commission with the most expert advice, to sit down and find out how. But I said there must be one constraint: We must not pull the rug out from under people who are dependent on Social Security. They must be guaranteed they're going to get the checks that they're getting.

They refused. They refused to even discuss it. They would not talk to me about a commission. They would not in any way discuss it. So, we finally proposed a plan that made some changes with regard to fringe benefits and so forth, facing this imminent bankruptcy. They, then, in the 1982 congressional campaign went all over the country saying there was no threat, that there was no imminent bankruptcy, and that I just was an enemy and wanted to destroy Social Security.

Three days after the 1982 election we had to borrow $17 billion so the checks wouldn't bounce. And then they agreed that they would join us in a bipartisan commission. And we did put together a bipartisan commission. And I can tell you that I think for far more than 50 years, we can now look down to the future and see that for that long, at least, the program is on a sound financial basis, and you won't have to worry about it.

I hope I won't take that long on all the questions, or we'll run out of time here.

Prayer in Schools

Q. Hello, Mr. President. Glad to have you here. My name is Kim Kinsey. I'm from Monroeville, Alabama, and I'm a sophomore pre-law student in the school of arts and sciences here at the university. And I was wondering, considering the much-debated issue in the past about the school prayer to be fully reinstated—would you, if you were elected for a second term, strive to rekindle the spark of interest, to make it your aim to turn this dream into a reality, thereby proclaiming this nation one nation under God? And if so, what steps would you take to do this?

The President. I am determined to do that. And I am going to try to explain to the people what it was we asked for.

We didn't ask, as my opponent says, for some planned prayer that politicians would write. I went to six different elementary schools—my father traveled around a lot when I was a kid—and in those times, as for 180 years, we had the right to pray in schools. I don't ever remember any organized prayer or anything of that kind.

All we asked for was to recognize that the Constitution, with that wall of separation between church and state, is interfering with the private individual's right to the practice of religion when it says you cannot pray if you want to, voluntarily, in a school. And we want that changed so that you can.

And I'll tell you how we're going to try to get it. It depends a lot on you and people like you, and you letting the representatives in Washington that have been sent there know how you feel. And it isn't necessary that you make them see the light; just make them feel the heat. We have some allies on our side.

Student Financial Aid

Q. Mr. President, my name is LeeAnne Parker, and I'm from Huntsville, Alabama, and I represent the Greek community by serving as Pan Hellenic president. And I would like to ask you what you feel the Federal Government's role should be in helping college students finance their education, and, as President, will you support more or less government financial aid for students? And I would also like to know why you chose to come to speak here at the university today.

The President. Well, they told me I was invited. [Laughter] But I will tell you also why I like it so much, and that is—all over this country, for a time—I grew up in a time when you didn't see young people attending political gatherings of any kind. But all over this country, I have seen your generation at rallies and at political gatherings and all, and I am so pleased with that, because you're what the election is all about. It's your America that we're feeling.

But now, I got so carried away, maybe I forgot about your question there—help me out. [Laughter]

Q. Okay. I wanted to know about the Federal Government's role in helping—

The President. Yes, helping students.

Q. Okay.

The President. Well, let me say also when we arrived and knew that we had to do something about the continued deficit spending of government, and started looking at a lot of programs, we found that some of the college loan programs—there was no limit on the income of the family that could also get these government-subsidized loans for their young people to go to college. We felt that the aid should be directed at those with real need. So, we've set a limit at about 130 percent of the poverty level.

We are actually—there is government help now for one out of every two students in the United States. And we have no intention of reducing that. We are also going to seek an increase in the Pell Grants, the outright grants. And we have a third program—the work-study program. I'm in favor of all of those, because I worked my way through school, and I had to borrow money to go to school. And one of the best jobs I ever had was one of those jobs in school. I washed dishes in the girls dormitory. [Laughter]

Legal Drinking Age

Q. Good morning, Mr. President. Welcome to the campus. I'm Ed Howard from Birmingham, and I'm representing the Crimson White—that's the campus newspaper. And so, our question for you is concerning the legislation that you signed into law that requires States to raise their legal drinking ages to 21. Why is this action not a contradiction of prior stances you've had against Federal intrusion in the State matters? And if it's a justifiable contradiction, does that now mean that the ends justify the means?

The President. I have to tell you that you're absolutely right, that my concern was over—having been a Governor for 8 years—this intrusion that I've been trying to eliminate since I've been President of the Federal Government. But in this particular instance, there was a tangled question with regard to State borders—and interstate type of thing where some States with one drinking law, and the others not-and then you had the traveling across the State line to where it was available, and then driving back, sometimes intoxicated and the great loss of life that the accidents that we're having because of that.

And I had to say finally that in this instance and with the kind of gray area that was there, I had to say that the—when we saw the difference in areas where the drinking age had been increased and the difference in the accident rate, that I just thought that your lives were worth it.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Simeon Spencer, and I'm a junior from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And on behalf of the Residents Hall Association and the residential community of this campus, I'd like to extend to you our greeting and tell you that we're very glad to have you here. And as a resident of Tuscaloosa, my question is as follows: You are a strong believer in federalism and have made it clear that you'd like to see the bulk of programs from municipalities be implemented by the local governments. Studies have shown that they are unable at this present time to take this responsibility. If you were reelected, how do you plan to change this within the next 4 years?

The President. Well, we intend to help local and State governments in this transition. We're just not going to throw something at someone and say, "Here, it's all yours." And, certainly, there are standards that must be set as to what must be achieved in these programs.

But what we have found, and what I've found as a Governor, is that when the Federal Government lays a categorical grant out here, as it's called, and either provides it to the State or the local government, it is so surrounded with regulations and red tape that the Federal Government has the highest rate of overhead, of giving a dollar's worth of service to the people of any level of government or any private agency in the country. So, right now, we have taken 62 categorical grants, and we funneled them into what we call 10 block grants. And we've turned these 10 block grants over.

Now, let me just give you an example of what happens when you do that. When you recognize that at the local and State level-their priorities can't be determined by Washington. Washington doesn't know what is the priority in Tuscaloosa and can claim that it's the same as in Indianapolis. They vary, and local leaders should have some leeway, making these things work. What happened to the Federal Government in just these 62 grants? The administrative overhead—their personnel for manning the—supervising the 62 grants at the Federal level dropped from 3,000 employees to 600. At the local and State level, the regulations went from 885 pages down to 30. And we think that we can do a better job back here.

Now, let me add just one thing. If, however, any level of government—I don't anticipate trouble of this kind, but suppose at any level of government someone really violates the trust and starts pulling back and not doing what they're supposed to do with those block grants. If this is a violation of the constitutional rights of any citizen, then I contend that the Federal Government has a responsibility to go anywhere where even one citizen's constitutional rights are being violated, and to see that those rights are restored.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Frank Comenski, and I'm a junior in mining engineering, and I'm from here in Tuscaloosa. My question is: Mr. President, we in Alabama are concerned with the development of our most abundant resource, coal, as a leading energy source. What do you see for the future of coal as compared to other major energy sources such as oil, gas, and nuclear energy?

The President. I know that there are things we have to do with regard to the use of coal now. We've done a number of them regarding smokestack scrubbers and that sort of thing. There is no way that this country can ignore the great source of energy—the greatest source of energy as to quantity that we have—and that is coal. It is a great export of ours also, and there must be use.

What we must continue doing also is research in finding out the best ways to utilize it at the lowest rate of pollution. And I believe in it very definitely, that we can't just turn that off and ignore it and say that we won't use it anymore.

Student Financial Aid

Q. Good morning, Mr. President. My name is Teleasa McLeod, and I'm a junior here at the university in the school of communications, and I'm from Luverne, Alabama. And I'm representing the Afro-American Association. And, unfortunately, this is your last question.

Going back to the issue of financial aid, we know that the income of middle-class families has increased, but now most middle-class families make too much money for their children to receive any substantial amount of financial aid. And yet their income is not enough to adequately meet the needs of the family and to educate their children. If reelected, what do you plan to do to help those who are being squeezed in the system at present?

The President. Well, I know right now that our Department of Education is looking at this problem to make sure that we do not penalize people who actually need and deserve help and cannot get it otherwise. On the other hand, we've also turned to the private sector and—with something we call the private initiative. And we have an office in the White House, but we had literally thousands of people from all over the country as volunteers in finding all the ways and the things that could be done. And education is one of those, also, in which private sources—when I said earlier that I had to borrow money—there weren't any such things as government loans; they were private foundations that you borrowed from, and paid back after you were out of school and back earning again.

So, between these two things, I hope that we can eliminate any hardship that we might have created for people that are close to that dividing line, and then just a little above it—it means no school. I think one of the things we should look at also is the work-study program, which I think could be probably expanded up to a higher level than we have. But we don't want to shut people out.

We did find—the thing we were trying to resolve is—I have to tell you, we found some people, with the interest rates so high, other than on those subsidized loans, that there were people that were borrowing the college loans—could well afford to send their sons and daughters to college—and borrowing the college loans and then buying government paper with them, investing in government paper to make a profit on the difference in interest from the same government that made the loan to them in the first place. And we didn't think that that was what the taxpayer wanted to work for.

Well, I know I have used up the time, and I hope my friends back there in the media were hearing what excellent questions can be asked— [applause] .-

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. What? I don't—

Audience. Boo-o-o!

The President. I couldn't hear that question at all. I couldn't hear that, ma'am. So, listen, if you'll drop me a line with your question, believe me, I'll answer it.

Audience. 4 more years! 4 more years! 4 more years!

The President. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Audience. 4 more years! 4 more years! 4 more years!

The President. All right. Okay. You talked me into it.

Listen, thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:33 a.m. in Memorial Coliseum.

Following his remarks, the President traveled to Macon, GA.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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