Remarks at an Illinois Republican Party Rally in Peoria
The President. Senator Percy, the representatives, the Members of Congress who are here, the candidates who are here, Corrine Michel, who is here, and I too am very proud of my two good friends from another life that are here with us tonight—Mr. Mayor and, of course, the man whose campaign has brought us here, Bob Michel.
You know, I've been here before. I don't mean during the campaign. I was here then of course; and I don't mean in this fine, new facility. That's a first for me. But I remember coming here to play football against Bradley. And Bradley won that night, or I wouldn't have brought the subject up. But as enthusiastic as you are, I'm sure that you were—I thought maybe you were expecting the Bradley Braves. Bradley University has given us not only last year's NIT champions—and I just met them outside here—but it's given us that outstanding Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Bob Michel.
Bob is a graduate of Bradley. He's received an honorary doctorate from Bradley. He's a member of the board of trustees of Bradley. Bob, have you gone out for the team yet? [Laughter] Well, I tell you, if he did he would make a fine captain. He is one of the most effective Republican minority leaders of this century. But I dream of a day—I know it cannot happen in just one election—but I dream of a day when I can stand up here and say, "a fine majority leader of the House of Representatives."
Let me tell you something about Bob. He's been your Congressman for 13 terms, not because he likes the prestige—that gets old fast. He's not a Congressman because he likes being away from his family. He is not in it for the money. He could do a lot better out in the private sector. Bob Michel is a Congressman because he believes in something. He believes in the values of Illinois and the values that built this country. For 26 years he's been working for those beliefs and for you, the people who share them. I don't know what this country would do without the sacrifices of people like Bob Michel.
You know, there were times this year when he could have taken the easy way out on certain votes; yet he did what he believed was best for America. He put country before politics. Now he doesn't always agree with me, like on the pipeline sanction, but he makes his arguments genuinely and honestly, and they cannot be ignored. And that kind of integrity is hard to find.
I know how you feel, so I'm just going to say something. I think a man of Bob Michel's character and principle deserves a standing ovation from all of us, an ovation born of appreciation for what he has done. [Applause] Now, if I were still in show business, I'd have quit right there. [Laughter]
Illinois has a lot of other fine Republicans, like Governor Thompson, whose reelection victory— [applause] —we'11 be celebrating his election victory in less than 2 weeks.
And there's another excellent Illinois Republican I'd like to mention—Ed Derwinski, one of the highest ranking Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We don't want to lose Ed's experience when he leaves the Congress at the end of this session, so we've taken care of that. Tonight I'm announcing that I intend to nominate Congressman Derwinski to the post of Counselor at the State Department, a good man in one of the most important posts in our country.
But I also wanted to come tonight so I could speak directly to the people of this area, to the people who've lost their jobs at Caterpillar and Pabst and Hiram Walker. Bob has told me personally—and, I might say, eloquently—of the hardships of the people in his district. He understands what's going on out there. So, perhaps this might be a good time to say something about those pipeline sanctions.
I know they're not popular with Peoria or Bob Michel. But a President sometimes has to make decisions that are painful to even his best friends, and it's one of the toughest parts of the job. We must remember the sanctions were imposed as tangible evidence of our opposition to the Soviet inspired repression of the Polish people. But there were additional reasons, even had that not happened.
It seemed to us that our European friends and allies were putting themselves in a dangerous position of dependency on an undependable provider, the Soviet Union, for the energy that would run their industry. And it also seemed to us that, inasmuch as that dependency would turn over about $10 billion a year in hard, cold cash to the Soviet Union, it would enable them to further build up their military might which is the greatest buildup of military might the world has ever seen. And so, we felt that something had to be done. The sanctions have substantially hurt the Soviet Union already, but, of course, they've hurt some of our own companies such as Caterpillar as well.
The Siberian pipeline will be a major source, as I said, of hard cash income for the Soviet Union for decades, and I won't go into all the geopolitical reasons why that could be dangerous. I know it's the loss of jobs that's of more immediate concern to Peorians right now.
We're receptive to alternative measures that would be equally or more effective than the current sanctions. Certainly, if we can establish restrictions that put greater pressure on the Soviets and less on our own companies, we will enthusiastically consider them. And we've been in constant consultations with our NATO allies trying to bring that about.
Tonight in homes across the country, including a home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, unemployment is the problem uppermost in everyone's mind. Getting Americans back to work is an urgent priority for all of us, and, other than keeping the peace, I have no higher priority.
You know, there's a story about a fellow who said to a friend of his, "I was sorry to hear that your wife ran off with the gardener." And the fellow said, "Well, that's all right. I was going to fire him anyway." [Laughter]
When it comes to the economy, that's about how scrambled the logic has been in recent years. And scrambled thinking led us to a scrambled economic mess.
Americans are asking themselves, how do we straighten out this mess? Well, you can't solve unemployment without solving the things that caused it—the out-of-control government spending, skyrocketing inflation, and the interest rates that led to unemployment in the first place. Unless you get at the root causes of the problem-which is exactly what we're doing—you may temporarily relieve the symptoms, but you'll never cure the disease.
I realize there is hardship in Peoria. And if I thought what we were seeking to accomplish would he only temporary, I wouldn't ask for your patience. But for the first time in our postwar history, we're trying to build a recovery that will last and not just a quick fix to see us through the election.
You know, before we went to Washington, those in charge of the economy ran it with the accelerator to the floor; then they'd slam on the brakes; then they'd swerve to miss the oncoming crisis; then they'd swerve back; and then they'd floor it again. But you can't run an economy or a ear that way without eventually wrecking it. And that's exactly what was happening.
In January of 1977, just after Jerry Ford left the White House, inflation was at 4.8 percent. The prime interest rate was under 7 percent. You could get a home mortgage for 9 percent, and consumers could afford not only mortgages but auto loans. But then America took a giant step backward.
How many of us remember we had 5 economic programs proposed in 4 years? Our economic policy was flip-flopping like a fish on dry land. And those five programs of the last administration left us with five gigantic headaches. But wait a minute-maybe I should only say four, because the fifth economic program was proposed in August just before the 1980 election, and that was the only one that proposed a tax cut. They said it would be $27 billion. Well, they never gave us the tax cut, and the program was never implemented.
By the time we took office, we faced double-digit inflation, high unemployment, a 21 1/2-percent prime interest rate, runaway government spending, and the highest peacetime tax burden we have ever known. We also had nearly a trillion-dollar debt. Now, that means that this year, before the Government can spend a dime to feed the hungry, care for the sick, or protect our freedom, it must plan to spend $110 billion in this one year just to pay the interest on that debt. $110 billion is much more than the total Federal budget was just 20 years ago. And still the big spenders wonder why the American people want what a stubborn minority in the House denied them—a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. They're going to get another chance to vote on that, because we're going to keep shoving it at them.
Our nation is still paying the penalty of those tragic excesses of the past. Unfortunately, many are paying with their jobs. I didn't cause this recession. Bob Michel didn't cause it. But I do have a responsibility for getting us out of this recession, and I can't do it without Bob Michel in the Congress.
We all want a strong and lasting economic recovery. And there isn't a Member of the House of Representatives more critical to making recovery happen than Bob Michel. Recovery means jobs. Bob Michel's reelection means jobs. From our very first day, we've been working to undo the economic wreckage that was left behind. As a matter of fact, when I finished taking the oath on office on that January Inaugural Day, the first thing I did was go back into the Capitol Building—and I didn't even take off my topcoat—I signed a memorandum freezing the size of the Federal Government.
At my age, I didn't go to Washington to play politics as usual. I didn't go there to reward pressure groups by spending other people's money. And most of all, I didn't go there to further mortgage the future of the American people just to buy a little Short-term, political popularity. I wanted to try and solve some problems, not sweep them under the rug and leave them for those who would come along later.
Now, I don't pretend for a moment that in 21 months we've been able to undo the damage of 20 years or more. Twenty-one months ago, we faced five immediate and critical problems: runaway spending; double-digit inflation; the worst interest rates in a hundred years; the highest peacetime tax burden, as I've said, in our history; and high unemployment. But we've made dramatic gains on four of those five problems.
The inflation rate that reached a high of 18 percent in January of 1980 has been cut to 5.1 percent for the first 8 months of this year. The experts said it couldn't be done, but we did it. The prime interest rate, that had reached 21 1/2 percent before we came to office, is now down to 12 percent, and we're not finished with it yet. We've cut the annual growth in spending—government spending—by nearly two-thirds. And we will have cut tax rates 25 percent by next July.
And look what's been happening to the stock and bond markets. They're trying to pooh-pooh that a little bit on the other side. But if you haven't noticed, the market today closed 20 points up at 1034 plus .12, and that is the highest point the market has hit since early 1973, 10 years ago.
Confidence is returning to America's economy. Sadly, unemployment is always just about the last to feel a recovery. If you'd look at the charts that they can show you of those seven preceding recessions, and they go up in a big—and then they go down. But each time, when they come out of the recession, unemployment stays a little higher than it was the time before. So, it always starts from a higher level. That's why the other day I said that I'd take the responsibility for the 2.7 percent that unemployment's gone up since I took office, if they'll take responsibility for the 7.8 percent that it was up before we took office. But we're going to beat that just as we're beating the rest of the economic problems. And when we get it licked, this time, it's going to stay licked.
Now I just want to see if you've been paying attention this evening. So, I'd like to give you a little true-false exam. Having gone to school not too far from here, I'm feeling very academic. [Laughter] If the statement I read is true, you say "true," and if it's false, you say "false."
First question, we've knocked the inflation rate down by half and—or more—and we're going to keep it down there.
The President. We've reduced interest rates in this country, and we're going to reduce them even further.
The President. Here's a hard one. We've cut both the growth in Federal spending and Federal income tax rates, and we're not letting either one of them rise again.
The President. We're going to beat that devil unemployment and provide real and lasting jobs for the people of this nation.
The President. I want the people of Illinois, the people of America—well, wait a minute, here's the last one. Bob Michel is the best darn Congressman this district ever had.
The President. We'll send you your certificates of graduation right after November 2d. Well, you pass. I knew this was a smart area; that's why you keep sending him back to Congress.
We're on a new road now, a road that's leading America to better times. But we've got to keep the courage to stay our course. It's the only way to lasting recovery. If we don't, our problems will just grow worse than they were before. And that's the sad, sorry history of past decades—lost nerve and squandered opportunities. The people deserve better from their leaders. And I want all of you to know this: that I intend to stay the course and to turn this economy around, and I need your help to do that.
So, please promise me that you will mobilize your friends and neighbors to get out the vote for a great victory on November 2d for Bob Michel. We have a mission to renew all the dreams and the hopes that our nation was placed on this good Earth to provide.
I met someone else before I came out here tonight—a young lady, sixth grade of Sterling School, who has won a statewide essay contest. And she won it with a letter that she wrote to our country. And I was pleased to meet her. Maybe you've all seen the letter, but let me just remind you, if you haven't, that first sentence. She wrote, as I say, it as a letter.
"Dear America, I just thought I would write you a letter to let you know how great I think you are." And at the close of her letter, she said, "It really doesn't matter whether we're black or white, atheist or Christian. Your doors of opportunity are always open. So, knock, knock, America, here I come."
The Stacy Hodgkins and all those young people and the young people that are here tonight, they're what this election is all about—what kind of an America we're going to leave them. And I pray every day of my life that before we leave the stage, we will have made some payments—installment payments on that trillion-dollar debt and not leave all of it for them to take care of. And the best way, the most immediate way to keep our rendezvous with destiny and to achieve those dreams and those hopes that I spoke of is to reelect Bob Michel and those from other districts—send these other Representatives back, Send these candidates into office, and let's have a turn at being the majority in Washington and see what we can do for the people of this country.
Thank you all, and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 8:31 p.m. at the Peoria Civic Center.
Prior to his appearance at the rally the President attended a meeting with eight Midwest Republican State chairmen at the Continental Regency Hotel. When he arrived at the civic center, he greeted five leaders of Americans for an Independent Lebanon and members of the Bradley University basketball team.
After speaking at the rally, the President attended a Fund-raising reception for the Phoenix Club, a local Republican organization. He then left Peoria and traveled to Red Lion Hotel in Omaha, Nebr., where he remained overnight.
Ronald Reagan, Remarks at an Illinois Republican Party Rally in Peoria Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244890