Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Community Leaders in New Britain, Connecticut

July 08, 1987

Before lunch today, I had a talk with Congresswoman Johnson and Mayor McNamara and 11 other distinguished citizens of New Britain. And I know that some were Republicans and some were Democrats, and they represented many occupations and backgrounds. And we had a good discussion, and I got to straighten out some things that I thought might be not straightened out in some people's minds. I don't know whether we agreed on everything-everyone was very polite—but I think we do agree on the principles of economic freedom that all of us cherish.

And while we were there, I couldn't help being reminded of a story. A lot of things remind me of stories these days. [Laughter] I'm a collector of stories—I really am—that I can verify are told by the Soviet citizens among themselves. They reveal that they have a sense of humor, but also that they have a certain kind of cynical outlook on their system there. And these stories give you an idea on what they're thinking. And this one's just very brief. It's about two Soviets who were talking to each other. And one of them asked, "What's the difference between the Soviet Constitution and the United States Constitution?" And the other one said, "That's easy. The Soviet Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of gathering. The American Constitution guarantees freedom after speech and freedom after gathering." [Laughter]

We had a lively discussion there, though, as the mayor can attest. And today on the city steps, I'll be asking New Britain to join a great national discussion, the kind that our founders launched 200 years ago when they drafted our Constitution and submitted it to the people for ratification, the kind that the 14 of us were having a few minutes ago. If we didn't agree on everything, well, neither did the generation that gave us the Constitution.

But I'm here today because I believe that the outcome of this discussion will determine the strength and health of our nation and what it stands for in the decades to come. I'll be talking out there about what I hope will be among the most important legacies of my Presidency: the Economic Bill of Rights. Now, you've heard a lot about this from our critics. On one hand they say it's a ploy, something I've cooked up to distract attention from whatever—I don't know, but— [laughter] . On the other hand, they say little that's new here, which I guess means it's made up of things that I believed in and fought to achieve for years, and now I'm working to make certain that America doesn't lose all that we've done.

Well, it can be one or the other, not both, and I'll plead guilty to the second charge. I went to Washington to do a job: lower taxes, restore our defenses, cut the size and intrusiveness of government, tune up the carburetor and step on the gas of the greatest engine against poverty and for opportunity in the history of man—the free enterprise system of the United States of America. We've achieved a great deal of that. We still have a government that spends too much and a deficit that's too large. As long as we have those, we can't be sure that the growth that we've enjoyed these last 4 1/2 years will continue.

Today I'll talk about the way that things were before I came into office and the way they are now and about the role of economic freedom and the opportunities that America offers all peoples. But I thought I'd make one especially important point to you; it's about poverty. Between 1979 and 1980, in the years before we were elected, the breakdown of our economy hit the poor the hardest. The poverty rates soared, growing at the fastest rate even as 3 million people were pushed into poverty in that brief time. With our recovery, that rise has been stopped and poverty has dropped at the fastest pace in 15 years. Although today New Britain's unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, which is very much lower than the national average, I know many families here were hurt by those economic dislocations. So, a lot's at stake in what I'll be talking about today.

Let me close by telling you a little story. It dates back to when I was running 7 years ago. I told it once then on TV. If anyone should remember it, just please pretend you didn't hear it. [Laughter] It comes from a newspaper report about a fifth-grade girl out in Indiana. She wanted to buy a pair of roller skates. In the great American tradition, she saved her allowance until she had the money to get them. But, as she told the reporter, "When I went back to the store, the price had gone up. I saved more money, but when I got back again, the price had gone up again." And then she said, "It's just not fair." Well, it wasn't. We all remember that. I remember a friend of mine went to the supermarket and was buying lettuce, and when he heard the price, he said, "It would have been cheaper to eat money." [Laughter]

Well today, 7 years later, things are much fairer for all Americans. We've polished up the American dream, and now it shines as never before, a great star of hope once again for all the world. We did it by freeing Americans of the burdens of too much taxation and regulation and of the threat of inflation. And, yes, we did it also by respecting our country's most deeply held and cherished traditional values.

I know you have a big memorial out in the park. Over the two centuries, generations of Americans have fought, and many have died, to protect America's freedom, America's values, and America's promise. Well, it's the least we in our time can do to make sure that all our nation has achieved in these last several years to protect America's dream and promise—see that it is for generations to come.

I'm going to do it. I shouldn't anyway, but I'm going to tell another story. I know yours is an industrial community, and you're out there and competing in the world. To show you again what some of the Soviets think of their system, this story has to do with the fact that in the Soviet Union to buy an automobile you have a 10-year waiting period. And when you start out to buy it, you go through a number of departments and sign papers and so forth, and then you have to put down the money first. And then the fellow says to you, "Come back in 10 years and get your car." And this happened to one Russian. And their story is that as he started to leave and they said, "Come back in 10 years," he said, "Morning or afternoon?" [Laughter] And the fellow said, "Ten years from now, what difference does it make? .... Well," he said, "the plumber is coming in the morning." [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 12:44 p.m. at Elks Lodge No. 957 to members of the Community Action Council and the Chamber of Commerce. In his opening remarks, he referred to Representative Nancy L. Johnson and Mayor William McNamara.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Community Leaders in New Britain, Connecticut Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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