Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a National Black Republican Council Dinner

September 15, 1982

Thank you very much. Mrs. Daniels, I thank you very much for those most generous words. Mr. Toastmaster, reverend clergy, the distinguished honorees and the ladies and gentlemen here at the head table, and you ladies and gentlemen:

It's a pleasure for Nancy and me to be here with you tonight. We know that you're in the forefront of one of the most important political battles of this election season, and we're with you heart and soul.

Now, I know that there are those who have accused the Republican Party of writing off the black vote. Well, I'm here to tell you that we're not writing off anyone. And, Mr. Claiborne,1 Maria Montessori once-said that if she were trying to climb a ladder and a dog was snapping at her heels- [laughter] —she could stop and kick the dog or climb the ladder. And you have encouraged Nancy and myself to keep on climbing the ladder.

I'm sensitive to the unique and sometimes difficult position in which you often find yourselves as black Republicans. What you're doing takes great vision and true courage. Under the superb leadership of individuals like your chairperson, Legree Daniels, black Republicans have been performing above and beyond the call of duty. The rest of us in the GOP are grateful for your commitment and deeply impressed by your tenacity.

For too long now, black Americans seem to have been written off by one party and taken for granted by the other. And for the vast majority of black Americans, that's been a strictly no-win situation. Changing it will require a commitment from all of us. So, tonight I want you to know that the Republican Party stands ready and willing to reach out to black Americans.

This conference is part of that outreach effort, as are the regional conferences and our support for black congressional candidates. And this is only the beginning of the outreach efforts. Perhaps if we failed at anything in the past as Republicans, it's been a failure to let black America know us—to know our hearts and our sincere dedication to improving the well-being, expanding the opportunity, and protecting the rights of every American. And while there's been a certain lack of communication on our part over the years, the other party seems to have capitalized on the rhetoric of compassion. They don't accomplish much, but they sure do talk about it. [Laughter]

It's time to set the record straight. When I first ran for Governor of California, I ran against an incumbent with impeccable liberal credentials. And then I was elected and discovered that in 8 years, he had made only a handful, a tiny handful of minority appointments, all to relatively minor positions in State government. I figured it was time to play catch-up. I appointed more blacks and other minorities to executive and policy-making positions in State government than all the previous 32 Governors of California put together. And my continued commitment at the national level is no 11th hour conversion.

So far, we have placed blacks in over 130 top executive policy-making positions. But more important, these appointments are not on the basis of color. They have been made because of ability and skill, and they cover a wide range of responsibilities.

When it comes to improving the economic well-being and protecting the rights of all our citizens, our party doesn't play second fiddle to anyone. When I entered office less than 20 months ago, we were in the midst of an economic catastrophe from which we're just now beginning to recover. All of us were suffering, especially the poor, the elderly, and the disadvantaged. Some of our political leaders were even saying that nothing could be done and that we had to accept a lower standard of living and that America's best days were behind us. Well, to those on the bottom end of the economic ladder, that kind of talk is disaster. It robs them of hope and condemns them to a life of dependency and deprivation.

Our economic hardship is not some kind of mysterious malaise suffered by people who have suddenly lost their vitality. The problem is that the liberal economic policies that dominated America for too long just didn't work. It was not that those in power lacked good intentions; in fact, most of the compassionate rhetoric I mentioned a moment ago was not about accomplishments-it was about the wonderful intentions of the costly liberal programs. Well, too often the programs didn't do what they were supposed to and in many cases, they made things worse.

You know, they reminded me—those programs—and I've told this before, if you'll forgive me, and life not only begins at 40 but so does lumbago and telling the same story—[ laughter]—

But they reminded me of that old story about the fellow riding the motorcycle on a chilled, cold, winter day. The wind coming through the buttonholes in the front of the jacket was chilling him. So finally he stopped, turned the jacket around, and put it on backward. Well, that protected him from the wind, but it kind of hindered his arm motion. And he hit a patch of ice and skidded into a tree. When the police got there, and they elbowed their way through the crowd, and they said, "What happened?" They said, "We don't know." They said, "By the time we got his head turned around straight, he was dead." [Laughter]

The record is there for all to see. This country entered the 1960's having made tremendous strides in reducing poverty. From 1949 until just before the Great Society burst upon the scene in 1964, the percentage of American families living in poverty fell dramatically from nearly 33 percent to only 18 percent. True, the number of blacks living in poverty was still disproportionately high. But tremendous progress had been made.

With the coming of the Great Society, government began eating away at the underpinnings of the private enterprise system. The big taxers and big spenders in the Congress had started a binge that would slowly change the nature of our society and, even worse, it threatened the character of our people.

By the end of the decade, the situation seemed out of control. At a time when defense spending was decreasing in real dollars, the Federal budget tripled. And, to pay for all of this spending, the tax load increased until it was breaking the backs of working people, destroying incentive, and siphoning off resources needed in the private sector to provide new jobs and opportunity.

Inflation had jumped to double-digit levels. Unemployment was climbing. And interest rates shot through the roof, reaching 21 1/2 percent shortly before we took office. Perhaps the saddest part of the whole story is that much of this Federal spending was done in the name of helping those it hurt the most, the disadvantaged. For the result of all that big spending and taxing is that, today, those at the lower end of the economic ladder are the hardest hit of all.

The decrease in poverty I referred to earlier started in the 1950's. By the time the full weight of Great Society programs was felt, economic progress for America's poor had come to a tragic halt. By 1980 the trend had reversed itself, and even more people, including more blacks, were living in poverty than back in 1969.

It's ironic that if the economic expansion and low inflation of the years prior to the Great Society had been maintained, black families and all Americans would be appreciably better off today. In fact, if we had just maintained the progress made from 1950 through 1965, black family income in 1980 would have been nearly $3,000 higher than it was after 15 years of Great Society programs.

In 1980 the American people sent a message to Washington, D.C. They no longer believed that throwing tax money at a problem was acceptable, no matter how good the intentions of those doing the taxing and spending.

In 1980 the people turned to the Republican Party because we offered hope. Setting things straight would not be an easy job. Bringing back real growth to our economy and real increases in our standard of living would not be easy. But we Republicans knew it could be done, and we still know that. America's best days are not behind her, and we're moving forward to tackle the serious problems just as we said we would.

Having said all that, you can see that 20 months ago, when I started my current job, there were some tough decisions that had to be made. It wasn't easy. But together, we've laid the groundwork for better economic times ahead.

The signs that our program is working are just now on the horizon. Gross national product is up. The leading economic indicators are up. Inflation is down dramatically, and so are interest rates. Housing permits are up. The stock market is up and so, for the first time in years, is real income.

Yes, there have been other indicators saying the economy isn't well yet. But we've managed, despite all the gloom and doom spouted by our opponents, to instill a new spirit of confidence in the country.

It's been tough on all of us. But we Republicans made a commitment not to try quick fixes but to get to the heart of our economic problems and turn things around.

It's taken time. You can't reverse 20 years of irresponsibility in 20 months, but we've made a great start. I reworded that from a speech I made out in the Middle West the other day when I said, "You can't clean up in 20 months what's been piling up for 20 years." And I decided— [laughter] —to say it the other way.

Our critics to the contrary, the poor and disadvantaged are better off today than if we had allowed runaway government spending, interest rates and inflation to continue ravaging the American economy. A family of four, for example, on a fixed income of $15,000 would today be $833 poorer, that much weaker in purchasing power, if we hadn't brought inflation alone down as far as we have from the double-digit rates that we inherited. A similar family living at the poverty level would be $472 poorer ff inflation had continued at the 12.4 percent rate. It's been 5.4 percent since January.

When one considers that the poor spend most of their family budgets on necessities—food, shelter, and clothing—leaving few ways to cut back to beat inflation, the importance of solving inflation is better understood.

We must remain firm and not be lured again into inflation-spending patterns. But let's be frank: The lives of those in the lower income levels are not what we'd like them to be. Some critics, especially in a political season, seem to forget that this administration didn't create the problem. The poverty and unemployment of today is the outgrowth of policies and problems of the late 1960's and the 1970's. Our program has just gone on line. And, if the current indicators are any suggestion, it's beginning to work.

It should also be noted that we've taken steps, along with our basic program which is aimed at restoring health to the economy in general, to make certain that economic stimulus is channeled into the areas of greatest economic need.

Since the end of the Second World War, too many of our major cities have become stagnant and depressed, enclaves of despair even when times were good. Federal spending programs didn't make a dent in the problem. For example, from 1965 to 1974, the Federal urban renewal program spent over $7 billion and ended an abysmal failure, destroying more housing units than it replaced. The Federal regulations and grants of the Model Cities program in the late 1960's again spent billions. Yet, it was unable to halt urban decay.

On March 23d of this year, I proposed a new, experimental approach to the problem—enterprise zones—which would harness the energy of the private sector and direct it toward providing economic opportunity for some of our most needy citizens. By removing regulations and offering tax incentives, we seek to accomplish what hundreds of billions of tax dollars and millions of hours of bureaucratic planning failed to do.

The plan seems to have popular support. Fourteen States have already passed their own enterprise zone legislation, not even waiting for action from the Federal level. Hundreds of cities across the country are already mapping out enterprise zone sites. And in a recent survey of Fortune 500 chief executive officers, 67 percent said they would seriously consider investing in the zones after seeing the final version of the legislation. Most of those who responded said they wouldn't have invested in depressed areas before considering the incentives offered by our enterprise zone initiative.

Now, at a time of high unemployment and even higher black unemployment, you'd think the Congress would be anxious to move on an innovative idea to tackle such a serious national problem. Well, think again. The liberal leadership of the House of Representatives has refused to even put the bill before hearings of the main committees responsible for it. The blatant politics surrounding enterprise zone legislation, politics at the expense of some of our most needy citizens, is a disgrace.

The liberals have had a decade to tackle the problem of urban decay and failed. It's time for them to give a chance to some new ideas, even if it runs against their ideological obsession for ever bigger and more expensive government. Or is it the coming election? Do they want the economy to remain stagnant so they can use that as a campaign issue?

Later this month, I'll announce a program which will promote minority business development. Of course, the most important item for minority businessmen, as with all small businessmen, is the tax and regulatory reforms we've instituted over the last 20 months. Yet beyond these, we've committed the Federal Government to promote an economic environment in which minority entrepreneurs can fully marshal their talents and skills to make a go of it in the marketplace.

There are many things that we can do to help minority business take root. Part of this administration's overall initiative for minority enterprise will include a plan for the Federal Government to procure substantial amounts of the goods and services during fiscal years '83, '84, and '85 from minority businessmen— [applause] . Thank you very much.

And beyond that, we're going to bring the leaders of American industry together with minority businessmen, something that should prove valuable to both parties. This is the type of approach which will strengthen the economic underpinnings of the minority community and strengthen the overall economy as well.

Putting the American economy back on the right track has clearly been the top priority of this administration. But I think it's important for all of us to understand that at the same time we haven't forgotten the Federal commitment to civil rights. Thomas Jefferson once said that no man ever leaves the Presidency with as good a reputation as he brought into the job. [Laughter] Well, that's because even in Jefferson's day there was a constant barrage of wild, politically motivated charges aimed at the man in the White House. Well, usually I try to ignore personal attacks, but one charge I will have to admit strikes at my heart every time I hear it. That's the suggestion that we Republicans are taking a less active approach to protecting the civil rights of all Americans. No matter how you slice it, that's just plain baloney.

There's no room in the Republican Party for bigots, and the record shows that we've been firm in protecting civil liberties ever since entering office nearly 20 months ago. And what we've been doing is nothing new. In 1888 Frederick Douglass, an adviser to President Lincoln and one of the first great black Republicans, expressed our party's commitment at the Republican Convention. He said, "A government that can give liberty in its Constitution ought to have power to protect liberty in its administration."

In this administration, I've appointed individuals for whom I have the deepest trust and admiration to head the Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Civil Rights Commission. They are committed, as I am, and as every other member of this administration, to protecting the civil rights of all Americans to the fullest extent of the law. Again I say, look at the record. The level of activity of this administration in investigating and prosecuting those who would attempt to deny blacks their civil liberties by violence and intimidation has exceeded the level of every past administration.

The Department of Justice has, since we came to Washington, filed 62 new cases charging criminal violations of civil rights laws and has conducted trials in 52 cases. And these numbers are greater than those in any previous administration. In addition, the Justice Department has filed nine new antidiscrimination cases against public employers and has reviewed more than 9,000 electoral changes to determine compliance with the Voting Rights Act. And that, too, is a higher level of activity than in any prior administration.

Consistent with this spirit, on June 29th of this year I signed into law the longest extension of the Voting Rights Act since its enactment. As I've said on many occasions, voting is the crown jewel of our liberties, and it's something that we as Republicans and Americans will never permit to be infringed upon.

The record of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, is equally impressive. Under the first full year of this administration, the Commission dramatically increased its activity over the previous year. The number of charges of discrimination processed by the Commission increased by 25 percent. The number of persons assisted through negotiated remedies increased by 15 percent. And total backpay and other compensation provided in negotiated remedies increased by 60 percent.

Similarly, the number of suits filed by the Commission increased by 13 percent. And the number of suits settled by voluntary agreement increased by 25 percent. And in this era of necessary budget cuts, we've maintained the funding levels necessary for this vital protection. Over $531 million is proposed for fiscal year 1983. The difference between 1980 actual expenditures and proposed 1983 expenditures shows a 24-percent total dollar increase for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and 15 percent increase for the EEOC.

Now, no less important is this administration's first commitment to strengthening the historical black colleges, institutions which have played an important role in the progress of black America. More than 85 percent of black lawyers and doctors, for example, finished their undergraduate training at these schools. We have done our best to ensure that even in these times of necessary cuts, historical black colleges not only will survive but progress and will serve future generations of black Americans, as they have so faithfully for the last 100 years.

Now these are more than numbers. They represent this administration's solid, unshakable commitment to civil rights and human betterment. In the coming months, getting the message out about the progress being made on the economic front and our continued commitment to civil rights will be a major challenge for all of us in the Republican Party. We've got a story to tell and a record worth standing on. We Republicans are the hope for all those who seek expanded opportunity. You and I know that most of those trapped in welfare dependency would like nothing better than a chance for dignity and independence.

Alexander Hamilton, one of our greatest Founding Fathers, once said that "a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will." What we've seen in too many cases in the inner city is the broken will of people who desire to be as proud and independent as any other American. And perhaps unintentionally, many government programs have been designed not to create social mobility and help the needy along their way, but instead to foster a state of dependency. Whatever their intentions, no matter their compassion, our opponents created a new kind of bondage for millions of American citizens.

Now, together, we can break this degrading cycle and we can do it with fairness, compassion, and love in our hearts. No other experience in American history runs quite parallel to the black experience. It has been one of great hardships, but also one of great heroism; of great adversity, but also great achievement. What our administration and our party seek is the day when the tragic side of the black legacy in America can be laid to rest once and for all, and the long, perilous voyage toward freedom, dignity, and opportunity can be completed—a day when every child born in America will live free not only of political injustice but of fear, ignorance, prejudice, and dependency.

Earlier in the program you sang, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." The third verse to that beautiful hymn ends with the words, "May we forever stand true to our God and our native land." Tonight, let us make that pledge. Let us be true to our God and native land by standing by the ideals of liberty and opportunity that are so important to our heritage as free men and women. Let us prove again that America can truly be a promised land, a land where people of every race, creed, and background can live together in freedom, harmony, and prosperity. And let us proclaim for all to hear that America will have brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

Thank you.

1 Clay J. Claiborne, founder and national director of the National Black Silent Majority Committee of the USA.

Note: The President spoke at approximately 8:20 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom at the Shoreham Hotel.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a National Black Republican Council Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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