Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Students and Faculty at Gordon Technical High School in Chicago, Illinois

October 10, 1985

The President. Reverend clergy, Governor Thompson, Representatives Porter and O'Brien and Martin and Hyde—and I've got to stop on one of those names there. Congresswoman Martin represents the district in Illinois that contains a town called Tampico, where I was born, and a town called Dixon, where I grew up. So, I didn't think the rest would mind if I gave a special mention here. I can still call her my Congresswoman. But you the faculty and the students—I thank all of you very much. Believe me, it's great to be in Chicago; it's my kind of town. And it's wonderful to be at Gordon Tech and the home of the Rams.

Now, you know, it'd be awfully tempting to say, "Beat Loyola," but then, again, in my present job I'm not supposed to take sides within the country that way.

Audience. Boo-o-o!

The President. But let me tell you what I will say. I remember back playing football at Eureka College down here in the center of the State, and I remember one night in a chalk talk—I guess maybe today they're called skull sessions—but anyway, in this chalk talk the conversation got around—I don't know how—now, I'd always known that I never started a football game without asking somebody's help. And I wouldn't have said that out loud; I'd have been afraid to. But I was amazed that, one by one, we found there wasn't a man in the squad that didn't pray before a game. We got comparing notes on what we prayed and what we asked, and somehow all of us, on our own, had figured out we couldn't ask God to help us win, because he couldn't take sides either. But we found that we'd finally worked it out for ourselves that each one of us was praying that no one would get hurt, be no injuries, that everyone would do their best, that the best team would win, and we'd have no reason for regret at how it turned out. So, I'll pass that prayer on to all of you for the game at Loyola.

But I've come here not just to talk to you, but to talk with you and to have a little give and take about some of your concerns and your hopes and dreams for the future. But first let me just say a few words about the kind of future that I hope for you, and it is a nation that prospers in a world that is free. This is the America that we've been trying to—well, maybe—I was going to say create, but no; I think it's the kind of America we have created. And I looked at some of your signs up here, and I know something about your student body. Did you ever realize how unique you are and we are in all the world?

Audience. Yes!

The President. All of us. All of us—either by ourselves, on our own, or by way of our ancestors, our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents—all of us came here from someplace else in the world, and it meant that somebody in our family had an inner spirit, a desire and love for freedom, and the courage to pick up and leave a homeland and come here to a strange land and start all over again and become a whole new breed of people called Americans. And we all retain, as the signs indicate, a feeling with regard to the land of our heritage. You know, a man doesn't have to give up his mother because he takes a wife; so, it's a little bit that way with us. Yes, we're Americans, but, yes, we have a feeling of kinship with those places from whence we came, and there isn't any other place on Earth like it.

Now, a few years ago when we first started in Washington, we found that we had a broken economy that needed a little fixing—government had grown so big, taxing and spending were out of control, families were struggling to get by, a web of regulations were so thick that businesses were spending most of their time filling out forms instead of tending to business and rather than keeping America number one in the world. So we tried to use some common sense. We put the people back in charge and cut the increase in government spending nearly in half. We cut the growth of regulations by about a third, and we're still whittling at those. And we passed the first across-the-board tax cut for everyone since 1964, and then we indexed the tax rates to inflation.

And maybe some of you haven't thought about what that means. The income tax is based on the number of dollars you earn, not their purchasing power. And so, when we were going through these long decades of inflation that continued to erode the value of the dollar and when people had to get cost-of-living pay raises to make them keep even with inflation, they didn't keep even because the number of dollars increased, and Uncle Sam pushed you into higher tax brackets, and you found out you were paying a higher tax, year after year, just for trying to keep even with the depreciating value of your money. Well, we've indexed that now, so that can't happen again. Government can't get any tax increases for free by just simply moving you up into higher tax brackets. The brackets now are indexed along with inflation.

But we also did something about inflation. It was about 12 1/2 percent when we came here, came to Washington. For the last 4 months it's been 2 1/2 percent, and we're going to get that down. We've had 34 months of economic growth, and we've created about 8 1/2 million new jobs. Our trading partners in Europe—the European Community, 10 nations there—have not increased or had a new job created in any of the countries there in over the last 10 years. We've had a record number of new business incorporations.

But our job isn't finished; the Government is still spending too much. If your families can live within a reasonable budget, the Federal Government ought to be able to do the same thing. So, I'm supporting a thing that the Senate was taking action on yesterday—and maybe it's one of the reasons why our friend, Congressman Rostenkowski, couldn't be here today, because now it's over to the House—and that is a plan called the Gramm-Rudman amendment that would force the Government to control spending and give the United States a balanced budget. In other words, to bring the deficits down over a period of 5 years, and by 1990, we would balance the budget. And then it is my dream that we adopt a constitutional amendment that says henceforth the Federal Government cannot spend more than it takes in.

And so with the help of your fine Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, we're going to do that, and we're going to overhaul that complicated tax system and make it shine with fairness for everyone and make it simple. The present tax system has 14 different brackets in which you earn a few more dollars and the Government shoves you automatically up into another bracket. Well, our proposal will only have 3 brackets-15 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent. Well, there will be a fourth bracket that we haven't talked about. That'll be zero because there'll be a lot of people down at the lower end of the earning scale that won't have to pay any tax at all.

So, taxable income all the way up to $29,000 a year, you'll keep 85 cents out of every dollar you earn. And from $29,000 up to $70,000 a year, you'll keep 75 cents in that bracket out of everything that you earn. And above $70,000, you'll keep about 65 cents out of every dollar that you earn. When we began 5 years ago, the top bracket was 70 percent, not 35 percent. We've lowered it to 50. And it's been 50 now for these few years, but we want to come down some more; that top bracket should be 35 percent.

We think our plan is also very profamily, because one of the important reforms we'd make is in the personal exemption. Now, you know, each one of you—you're an exemption. When your parents sit down to figure out the income tax every year, they get to deduct, now, $1,040 from their taxable income for each one of you. Well, we think that isn't enough any more, after the inflation we've had. We're holding out now that it be $2,000. Now, some of the people in the Congress want to cut that down. They don't want to make it $2,000. I think we've got a pretty good argument—because back in 1948, when it was $600, and then, to try and keep pace with inflation, it went up to $1,040 as it is now—well, to tell you the honest truth, if we'd really kept up with inflation, that exemption would be $2,700, but we're only asking for $2,000. But we're sure going to have an argument against anybody that wants to cut it back.

But there's more than just doing something about the economy. It's also renewing America's mind and heart and spirit. And some of that renewal has evidently been going on right here, from what I've heard. We're determined to stand up for the rights of the family, to strengthen the community, to acknowledge that we're a nation under God that gives all children the right to pray in their schools. And that's why we're determined to renew excellence in education, to help restore discipline to schools, to reward teachers of merit, to make sure all our students learn English, and to put parents back in charge of their own families. Now, we've been making some gains in that educational field because those SAT scores-you know, the scores that you take in the examinations with regard to college entrance-well, they have been up now for 3 of the last 4 years, after 20 years of straight decline. And this year's jump was the biggest jump since 1963. Now, there's one other reform that we want. We've tried, and we haven't gotten it so far, but we're going to keep trying because it's right and it's fair. We believe for parents who are sending young people to schools like yours, they are entitled to a tuition tax credit.

Well, these are some of the things that we're trying to do, including the fact, yes, that we feel there is a right for every unborn child to be born. And we're going to strive for that. We also want to leave you a world that is at peace. And some people seem to misunderstand the job that we have been doing in these last few years of refurbishing our armed forces to the point that we can stand in the world with a deterrent to war. As a matter of fact, one of our large military bases in this country has a sign over their entrance gate that says, "Our business is peace."

But you tempted me beyond my strength, and I talked longer than I was supposed to. But we're going to have a dialog now instead of a continued monolog, and I know that you have chosen some for questions. And I'll start with the right microphone and then switch back and forth—take your questions.

The President's Visit to the School

Q. I have a question I'd like to ask you.

Why did you choose to come to this school?

The President. Why did I choose to come to this school? Well, I'd have to ask them-no, I'd have to ask some people that were doing some of the scheduling. But all I can tell you is that I keep needling those people that put a schedule on my desk and tell me what I'm going to do. I keep needling them to let me come to more schools, because I like what I've seen of young America. But you also were picked on the basis of some of the things that you have accomplished and we know you're here, and we tied that into our trip here to Chicago to come and see you.

Hijacking of the Achille Lauro

Q. I'm a junior here at Gordon Tech. What is your comment on the hostage crisis this past week?

The President. The comment this last week on the hostage question? First, a general comment: This terrorism and this thing that is going on in the world is the most frustrating thing to deal with. You know, you want to say retaliate when this is done, get even. But then what do you say when you find out that you're not quite sure that a retaliation would hit the people who were responsible for the terror and the crime, and you might be killing innocent people, and so you swallow your gorge and don't do it.

But in this last situation, we had moved; we were ready and prepared, and then this thing that happened with the Egyptian Government offering to release the hostages. They did not know at the time that a murder had been committed. I can only say about this one that we are making every effort to see if those hostages cannot be—or not the hostages, those terrorists, the four of them, cannot be located and turned over to one of the governments—our own or Italy or Egypt—the governments that would have a legitimate right to prosecute them and bring them to the court of justice for the murder.

Q. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you.

The President's Visit to the School

Q. I'm a freshman. My question is what are your feelings now that you have seen Gordon Tech?

The President. You turned down a little away from the microphone, there. Say that again; I lost you.

Q. What are your feelings now that you have seen Gordon Tech?

The President. What are my feelings now that I've seen Gordon Tech? You saw me have to tilt the mike up. I grew 3 inches since I came in the room here. I must say, I was somewhat prepared. You have friends who told me that I would find a great spirit here, told me some other things about your school, your accomplishments. But believe me, I heartily approve, and I think, looking at all of you, the 21st century is in good hands.

Student Financial Aid

Q. I'm a junior at Gordon Tech. Mr. President, my question is: What about more financial aid to college students?

The President. What about more financial aid to college students? All right. Well, as one who worked his way through college, believe me, I have a sympathy for those who could not go without having some kind of help. As a matter of fact, one of the better jobs I've ever had was working my way through college. I washed dishes in the girls' dormitory. But there seems to have been some misunderstanding. I know why you ask about us and our approach to that very subject. First of all, we found when we arrived in Washington that there were people who were getting grants and loans whose family income was such that they weren't justified. We thought that the help should be aimed more directly to those who would actually have to have help if they were to go to school.

So, we did make some changes. And there were some people, then, that on the basis of income were ruled out as to getting this help. And we have directed more to those with the incomes that made it necessary. But, also, the idea that in these changes that somehow we have cut back-we have reduced requests for more spending, but we right now are spending more on that program of college aid to students than has ever been spent in the country's history. And right this year, we're spending around $9 billion on college aid, and more than 40 percent of the college students in this country are getting some kind of Federal help. So, I think we're doing—in the situation we're in, what with deficits and all—as much as could be expected of the Federal Government.

Views on the Presidency

Q. I'm a freshman from homeroom 114, and my question is: What is it like to be the President of the United States?

The President. What is it like to be the President? Well, I have to say, first of all, I view the Presidency as—you know, some people become President, but I've always thought of it that temporarily you are given custody of an institution called the Presidency. And you must then return the custody of that or hand it on to someone else when your turn is over.

Obviously, there is a great pride and there's a great thrill to serving the people of this great country, and I feel it very deeply. I have to say, also, there are moments of great stress when decisions have to be made. I don't know of a strain on a President or a problem that could be greater and more anguishing than to some day have to put the young men and women in uniform in our country out where they face the risk of wounds or death. And I made such a decision with regard to the invasion of Grenada. I have made decisions of that kind with regard to terrorism and then found that the exercises didn't need to be carried out. But you have moments, things that you will never forget, such as the death of our marines at the hands of a fanatic terrorist in Lebanon. Those things you have to learn to live with. Well, all I can tell you is that every morning when I wake up I thank God for having given me the opportunity to serve.

Q. Mr. President, we have time for two more questions.

The President. Thank you, Father.

Military Strength and Deterrence

Q. I'm a sophomore. Mr. President, my question is: Will you continue to stand by your strategy of peace through strength?

The President. Yes, we're a peace-loving people, and out of the wars we've been in, we haven't taken additional territory or conquered other lands. We've had peace for 40 years, and I believe that peace is based on two things: a deterrent capacity, and the other is that after wars—and there've been four in my lifetime—after previous wars, peace would come and, yet, in the terms of the peace we would lay the foundation for the next war. The hatreds, the rivalries would still pertain. And 40 years ago, our country—when we came to the end of the World War II—our country set out to help all the war-ravaged nations, including our enemies. And today those enemies—Japan, West Germany, Italy—they are our staunchest and strongest allies. And we believe that part of the 40 years of peace has been due to the fact that we, for once, helped in bringing about a peace that erased the hatreds and rivalries, rather than just smoothing them over until there would be another chance to express them.

When we came into office, we found that our military had been allowed to decline. We had, as you know, the draft, and we have now a volunteer army. Do you know that we meet our quotas every year on enlistment. We do better on reenlistment than has ever been done. But do you also know that we have the highest percentage of high school graduates in uniform in this country than we have ever had in the history of the United States.

And I can sum up why it must be peace through strength. We tried over the years in unilateral disarmament. I saw some signs of some demonstrators outside that were asking for that very thing. We tried detente and letting our military decline and not building weapons, canceling the B-1 bomber, and so forth. Instead, the enemy kept on—r the adversaries, I'm not going to call them an enemy anymore—an adversary who is contesting with us continued to build up to where there was a dangerous imbalance that was growing. And I think the greatest proof came in a cartoon I saw of two Russian generals when we started to rearm. And one of them was saying to the other, "I liked the arms race better when we were the only ones in it." Well, they're not going to be the only ones in it. We're going to do everything we—[inaudible]. This will be one of our goals in Geneva next month—to reveal to them that we both can bring down those mountains of armaments if we are willing to agree that neither one of us should be responsible for starting a war. But that if they're going to insist on building up these tremendous arsenals of offensive weapons, which they are, then they might as well face it—we are not going to let them get enough advantage that they can ever make war.

The President's Future Plans

Q. I would like to know what you plan to do after you finish your final term of President.

The President. What do I intend to do after I finish my final term as President? Well, this is the final term. Well, for one thing, I'll go back to the ranch and catch up on a little ranch work that I haven't been able to do much of. Oh, people keep telling me I'll write a book. They say it's the proper thing to do. But, no, I think then-as you know, I've been 39 years old 33 times now. [Laughter] I think that I will try to do just whatever I can, as a citizen, to help whoever is in government keep on with the things that need to be done to keep our nation great.

I wish I'd have forgotten the opening remarks so we could have taken more questions here; I love to do this. And I just want to tell you I also have received from your student council a document, a letter containing a lot of things and subjects that you are interested in. Many of them did not come up in the limited questioning so far today, but I'm going to take that back with me. I just received it today and saw it for the first time. I'm going to take it back and I'm going to write an answer to that letter to your student council for all of you.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:15 p.m. in the school gymnasium. Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Students and Faculty at Gordon Technical High School in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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