Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Meeting With Chief Executive Officers of National Organizations To Discuss Private Sector Initiatives

March 24, 1982

Really, I should be applauding you. I think your presence here disproves an old Army myth: never volunteer.

Well, we're delighted you could all come. And I won't use that cliche from so many mystery movies—you all know or are wondering why I asked you here. You all know. I just hope that Bill Verity and John Filer are right—that your being here means that you're ready to make a commitment to this project. It's not only close to my heart, it's important to the future of our country. We want to rebuild America, not from the government down, but from the people up, all of us together as partners, community by community, and I'm asking you today to help us make it work.

Our system of economic freedom has provided more opportunity, more mobility, more abundance, and distributed it all more widely among our people than any time or anywhere else on Earth. Personal initiative, ingenuity, industry, and reward helped make America the envy of the world. I say "helped," because always there was that extra dimension of faith, friendship, and brotherhood that made us good neighbors, good people, and made America a great country.

[At this point, the President was interrupted by a 2-way radio carried by someone in the press section. ]

What'd you say? [Laughter] The press conference is Monday. [Laughter]

But recently, I must say—I flew to flood-stricken Fort Wayne, Indiana. And as I said last night in New York, I discovered that we still have that spirit we've always had. I saw again how Americans can rally together in times of trouble. Certainly it was a terrible tragedy for many people, but at the same time you had to be inspired by what you saw. My first sight was walking up to a dike—the water was right at the level of the top of the dike and standing on that dike, hundreds of young people who had volunteered, standing there in a line and passing those heavy sandbags to keep that dike line up above the flood crest. One of them gave me his boots, and so I took my place in the line for a little while. A young lady told me she'd been there for 3 days. They were all volunteers, girls and boys from all backgrounds, all the mix that you would find anytime, anyplace in America, of the kind of people that make up an American group. And looking at their happy and enthusiastic faces while they were doing this—and I heard they'd been there since early morning and it was coming on evening, then, and there was no griping about what was going on—I just looked at them, and I thought I was looking at the face of the future in America. And I can tell you, the future looked mighty good.

We've always done well when we've had the courage to believe in ourselves and in our capacity to perform great deeds. We got in trouble when we started looking to government for too many answers, when we listened to those who insisted that making a government bigger would make America better. Well, forgive me, but I happen to believe that the best view of big government is in the rearview mirror as you're driving away from it. [Laughter]

I know they were well-intentioned with all the social experiments, but too often their cure only led to despair and dependency for the very people that needed genuine opportunity. The era of rising savings, investment, productivity growth, and technological supremacy that we once knew somehow seemed to slip further from our grasp. Did we forget that government is the people's business, and every man, woman, and child becomes a shareholder with the first penny of tax paid? Did we forget that government must not supersede the will of the people or the responsibilities of the people in their communities? Did we forget that the function of government is not to confer happiness on us, but just to get out of the way and give us the opportunity to work out happiness for ourselves?

Now, these are not Republican or Democratic principles; they're American principles. Thirty years ago, John F. Kennedy said, "Only by doing the work ourselves can we hope in the long run to maintain the authority of the people over the state. Every time that we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders and shift that problem to the hands of government, we are sacrificing the liberties of the people." Well, he was right. We must reaffirm our faith in the people and put America's future back in their hands. Now, this doesn't mean, however, that we abandon our responsibilities to those in need.

For 1983, we have proposed that 28 percent of all Federal spending go to the elderly, an average of $7,850 per individual in payments and services; that the Federal Government subsidize approximately 95. million meals per day. In percent, that's 14 percent of all the meals .that are served in the United States. Almost 7 million postsecondary awards or loans will be available to students or their parents through Federal student assistance programs. Through increased funding for Medicaid and Medicare, the Federal Government will provide medical care for some 47 million aged, disabled, and needy Americans, about 20 percent of our total population and 99 percent of those who are over 65.

Approximately $2.8 billion will be spent on training and employment programs, providing skills for almost 1 million low income, disadvantaged people, 90 percent of whom will be below the age of 25 or recipients of Federal aid to families. Spending on essential services will not go down, as some would have us believe, it'll go up.

But you know as leaders of your major national organizations that too much taxing, spending, and control from Washington leads to bigger and bigger problems. Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding their destiny and benefiting from their own risks, only then can societies remain dynamic, prosperous, progressive, and free.

So we're restoring incentives for personal enterprise. We're encouraging self-reliance again. And as a complementary action, we've launched a nationwide effort to encourage citizens to join with us, find where need exists, and then to organize volunteer groups to meet those needs.

Bill Verity, Chairman of our private sector initiatives task force, is spending about 23 hours every day. He's recently retired, so he's taking it easy. [Laughter] He's doing this, trying to build partnerships between the public and private sectors in every community of America.

Already, 20 Governors have expressed an interest in forming statewide task forces and several have started putting in place their own statewide groups. Eighty to ninety community partnerships are already in existence in one form or another. And now, many new groups are being formed, thanks to the efforts of his task force.

This is a good beginning. But today, with you, we want to kick off a much greater effort. What we need now are your organizations, which do such a fine job representing individual groups at the grass roots, to step in and help us. The corporations, unions, churches, family farms, and mom-and-pop stores all across the country look to you for leadership.

We're not asking you to take over the social welfare system. What we're asking is that you give generously of your time, your know-how, and your imagination. And then we'd like to publicize your own good works, so that together, we can strengthen this system which is such a mighty engine for human progress.

I hope that we can count on your making private sector initiatives a top priority for the balance of this administration. Some of you are already taking the initiative. Let me just cite a few examples of what's being done to point out the enormous potential for good, nationwide.

John Filer, the PSI task force liaison with national organizations, is chairman of the board of the National Alliance of Business. NAB is coordinating a major campaign to find jobs for youth this summer, targeting 100 cities across the country. They'll be looking to you for support. And I should warn you, this won't be the last time you hear from me about this project.

Bill Verity has done some great things in his hometown, Middletown, Ohio. The community partnership they established took inventory of all Federal funds coming into the city. The U.S. Chamber then shared this example with their members, and now 36 local chambers have formed their own partnerships.

I'm also told 150 communities have been targeted by the U.S. Chamber for special attention, to encourage them to establish public-private partnerships.

Sandy Trowbridge, president of the NAM, has requested his members to offer special help to job-training agencies, city halls, colleges, school systems, and neighborhood groups, to provide worthy social services. Sandy has stressed that there's a clear-cut relationship between stable, productive communities and the ability of companies to attract and retain skilled employees. And he's even gone ahead and printed up this brochure, which is kind of a checklist to help firms assess their community's needs and then decide how to help.

One of the greatest roadblocks to jobtraining and personal advancement is inadequate education. This problem is especially troubling in the black community, where too many of our black children are not acquiring the skills they will need. Led by Dr. Nathan Wright and Mrs. Leon Sullivan, black Americans are planning to mobilize over 60 major organizations and 500,000 black community volunteers to attack this problem at its root. The drive will be called the National Assault on Illiteracy program, and you can be sure that we'll be looking to help them any way we can.

Americans are ready to act, and they'll respond when asked. Those youngsters I told you about in Fort Wayne—within 24 hours after they were up there on the dikes and doing that, the volunteers started, and they ended up with 30,000 volunteers who laid a million sandbags. And even with the oncoming rain, additional rain, the dikes held, and Fort Wayne people are now going back to their own homes; the waters have gone down.

I think it's significant that despite these difficult times when you would expect the average charity drive to fall short of its goal, that the United Way set a new record in last year's campaign. The dollar value of total time volunteered by Americans is now estimated at $64 1/2 billion. One recent poll showed that 44 percent of adults who got involved in volunteer work in the last year did it because someone asked them. Isn't that really what it's all about?—that each of us does have an obligation, a personal responsibility to give something back to this country which has given us so much? We can't all be the best, but we can each give our best, and America deserves no less.

Each of you here today is an acknowledged leader, a mover, and shaker. Well, let us start asking ourselves in 1982, "What did I do today that will help a fellow American in need?" And if the answer is nothing, the next question should be, "Well, what am I going to do about that tomorrow?"

With your help, we have begun to make the changes in Washington that America needs. And it's time to take this program and make it work at the grass roots.

I think back to a statement Herb Brooks made that seems more and more meaningful everyday. You know that name; he's coach of the New York Rangers. But as you probably remember, he coached those young Americans of our Olympic hockey team that made us so proud at Lake Placid when they defeated that great Russian team. Coach Brooks was in the locker room with his team before they took the ice. He wanted to fill his players with confidence to play the game of their lives, and he told them, "You're born to be a player; you are meant to be here at this time. This is your moment." And, as you know, when they left the ice, those kids were chanting, "U.S.A., U.S.A."

Well, this is your moment—our moment, I should say, yours and mine—our chance to correct the mistakes of the past, our chance to justify the brief time that we spent here. We're not asking you for a miracle; we're doing what needs to be done. So help us do what we know is right and help us to do what we know will work.

Thank you for being here today for the cause that unites us. Maybe I've told some of you this story, or maybe someone else has told you. But I just have to tell you, I have a great admiration for people like you and what you are doing in this regard-people who can go out and solicit others, ask them for money. I've never been good at that. I always get self-conscious. That's why I'm in government. Now we don't ask for it; we just take it. [Laughter]

But I have to tell you the little story about the gentleman who finally accepted the job of chairman of the charity committee in his hometown, and he looked at all the records. And then he went to a gentleman, and this was some time ago, back when $90 thousand a year was an awful lot of income, more than it is now. And he said, "Our records show that your income is above $90 thousand a year, and yet you've never contributed to the local charity." And the old fellow said: "Do your records also show that my widowed children [mother] was left with four children and absolutely destitute?" He said, "Do they show that my older brother was disabled in the war, has been totally disabled ever since?" And kind of abashed, the chairman said, "Well, no, our records don't show that." And he said, "Well, I don't do anything for them, why should I do something for you?" [Laughter]

Now, forgive me, but I'm already late for my next appointment. And Bill Verity and John Filer will have some important business with you. So I leave it to them, and again, God bless you, and thank you very much for being here.

Note: The President spoke at 11:51 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Meeting With Chief Executive Officers of National Organizations To Discuss Private Sector Initiatives Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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