Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Participants in the National YMCA Youth Governors' Conference

June 21, 1984

The President. It's a privilege to welcome such a distinguished group of—I was going to say high school students, but they're governors and chief justices, all of them, right now—and to welcome all of you to the White House, and the Rose Garden in particular. I know you must be very proud of the offices you've been elected to, and we're proud of you.

Several weeks ago, there was a very famous young man—visited the White House. Considering the reception that he received, I was tempted to wear a white glove this morning. [Laughter] But it's obvious that you and I both have some things in common. We both like Michael Jackson, and we've been involved now in the political process.

In fact, whenever someone says "Governor" within my hearing, I turn around— [laughter] —have to catch myself. Used to be kind of funny at the Governors' conferences. In the hotels, you'd be in the lobby or something and there'll be 50 Governors present, and you'd hear the word, "Governor," and 50 heads would turn, each one thinking it was for him.

But after I looked over your Washington schedule and the questionnaire listing your interests, I decided to talk about an issue that seems to be on many of your minds, and with good reason. I know you and young people generally are interested in United States relations with the Soviet Union.

We all recognize that there is no more important foreign policy goal than the building of a more peaceful world in which liberty and prosperity can flourish. And we want to develop a more realistic working relationship with the Soviet Union, one marked by greater cooperation and understanding and by progress in arms reductions.

Real progress requires honest efforts on both sides, and unfortunately, it appears that the Soviet Union is unwilling to make that commitment as yet. As you may know, during the months that the START and the INF talks were underway, we proposed seven different initiatives. None were offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Indeed, they were the result of many adjustments to respond to the concerns of the Soviet side. But the Soviet Union insisted on preserving their monopoly on medium-range missiles in Europe. I'd proposed zero-zero, that we eliminate all such missiles in Europe—zero on their side, zero on our side. Well, they met me halfway. They were willing to have it be zero on our side. Then when the nations of the West made it clear that a Soviet monopoly was not acceptable, that's when they walked away from the negotiating table.

But despite this disappointment, we shouldn't lose sight of the bigger picture. In a quiet way, we're trying to talk and negotiate with the Soviet Union on many fronts. Just 2 months ago in Vienna, we and our Western partners put forward new proposals on reducing the levels of conventional military forces in Europe. And those MBFR talks, as we call them, are continuing.

In the same week, at the 40-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Vice President Bush offered a draft agreement on a worldwide ban on chemical weapons. And as I'm sure you all know, chemical weapons now is the euphemism for poison gas. And at the Conference on Disarmament in Europe in Stockholm, we're pursuing a series of proposals that will help reduce the chance of conflict in Europe.

We're also trying to move forward on bilateral relations. And the latest round of negotiations on upgrading the hotline ended less than 2 months ago. In the economic field, we're making a number of steps—or taking a number of steps, to increase exchanges in nonstrategic goods. We've extended our very useful incidents-at-sea agreement for another term. And we've also proposed discussions to expand and multiply contacts of benefit to both our peoples.

But here, too, the Soviets have made things very difficult. And I need only mention the tragedy of the KAL flight 007 and the plight of Andrei Sakharov.

So, if you look at the big picture, it's clear that we in the West are doing our utmost to establish a cooperative, stable, and peaceful relationship. But it's also clear that the Soviet Union has not yet made the decision to join us in that effort. We'll keep trying, and we'll keep hoping that they'll realize it's in their best interests to join with us and the rest of the world community to build a more peaceful world. We're ready, willing, and able.

And I know you've been hearing and many people insist on saying that these are the most dangerous of times that we've ever known, that there's the greater tension and the greater hostility and danger between our two nations than any time since the Cuban missile crisis. Well, actually, these are not the most dangerous times. As a matter of fact, quite to the contrary.

I think with regard to the fact that they're being a little hard to talk to at the moment—there have been many worse times in recent years, and there is less of a threat simply for the reason that the United States, for the first time in a number of years, has enough deterrent capability that the Soviet Union, I don't think, would decide that it would be in their best interests to take any action.

And if you really want to get some history on this, so that I won't have to keep you standing here while I talk about it, when you leave here, get a copy of the Los Angeles-Los Angeles, the Washington Times. In the commentary section today there happens to be two columns. One is by William Rusher, who is the publisher of the conservative magazine National Review, and the other is by Morton Kondracke, who is the executive editor of the quite liberal publication the New Republic. And those two men, coming from those two opposite viewpoints, are on that page together, because each of them has done a column on disabusing our minds of this very idea that we're living in the most dangerous of times. And there's some—you'll find some very interesting reading, and at the same time, you'll have a complete knowledge of what the history of our attempts have been down through the years. So, I'm grateful to both of them.

You know, you can be on one side or the other, but you know you really must be close to right when you're standing against a cellophane wall and you're getting thrown rocks at from both sides. [Laughter] But here they weren't throwing rocks; they were on our side.

Well, in the meantime, we're going to continue our commitment to peace with freedom. And, believe me, because we're prepared with the strength of our allies to deter aggression, as I said, and pursue all possible avenues for arms reductions; and because we're prepared with our economic strength to achieve greater stability throughout the world; and because we have the spiritual strength and self-confidence to reach out to the Soviet Union, we're prepared to sustain peace with freedom—and, my young friends, we will.

Well, I've gone on long enough, but I do want to congratulate all the governors and chief justices for your noteworthy achievements. I am a firm believer, and I hope you'll continue to believe, that this nation is strongest when it realizes that it is a federation of sovereign States and that Washington is not the fount of all wisdom and authority in the Nation.

I urge you to use your leadership positions to get involved and get others involved in public life. And, remember, those words by one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, at the beginning of this nation—and it is still true—that we have it within our power to begin the world over again.

So, thank you. Good luck. And now, I'm going to try to say hello to each one of you individually. I'll start over there.

Gordon P. Hardey.1 We have a gift for you. It's a surprise.

The President. I was running away. [Laughter]

Mr. Hardey. Okay. Being here today, Mr. President, is an honor for all of us Youth Governors. We represent 25,000 youths all over America combined, but you represent 230 million, so it's quite a difference. But we would like to tell you that we appreciate having you spend your time, your effort, and your ideas with us. And we know that time is a precious commodity that you can give out.

But we would like to say—is that we are all here in Washington to learn about government. And you are everything that we are hoping to see. You represent what we believe in, in democracy and freedom. And we hope you the best of luck in September.

But from the YMCA of the U.S.A. and the Youth Governors, we have a present for you from the Dixon, Illinois, YMCA Boys Band, performed in 1924. We have a picture. Fifth from the left, in the front row, is Ronald Reagan, who becomes the 40th President of the United States.

The President. Well, for heaven's sake. [Laughter] Thank you.

Actually, I was the drum major, and my older brother—he played the bass horn. And I had an incident when we were in a neighboring town on Decoration Day—we were leading the parade. And the marshal of the parade, on his horse, had ridden back to see how everything was coming. And he didn't get back quite up to the head of the parade in time. And there I was, waving that baton. I knew that the music was sounding further and further away. He had come in time to turn the band, but not me. [Laughter] And I was walking down the street all by myself, and the band had turned the corner. [Laughter] I had to cut across lots.

My brother also had an incident when we were in college. And the bass player in the college band didn't show up for a basketball game. And so, my brother volunteered, and they accepted him. And so, he was playing, and everything was going fine, until there was one number that just sounded terrible. And the end of that one, the director rapped on the music stand, and he said to the band, "'On the Mall,' 'On the Mall.'" And I saw my brother's face get red. And he said, "What did we just play?" [Laughter] He was one number ahead of them. [Laughter]

But to have this, this picture of our band—well, thank you very much. Very proud to have it, and proud to have you all here.

Mr. Hardey. Thank you. And here's a thing on the YMCA, also.

The President. I see. Thank you very much.

Mr. Hardey. You fly over me when you fly over Santa Barbara. I wave. [Laughter]

The President. Well—and I hope I'll be doing that soon. I don't do it often enough. All right

[At this point, the President greeted individual Youth Governors.]

Reporter. Mr. President

Q. What about the threshold test ban treaty? Are you going to go along with that sense of the Senate resolution?

The President. I can't take any of those questions right now. Let me know—am I running in to some meeting or something?

Mr. Fischer. You're due in the Cabinet Room.

The President. In the Cabinet Room. Can these young people make a circular trip-go in and out? Would you all like to see the Oval Office? [Applause]

Q. Threshold test ban treaty?

Q. Wait, what about the Soviets? They've said there was no change in your policy that would warrant a summit.

The President. They don't know what they're talking about.

Q. Is that a complete rejection, Mr. President?

The President. I do not think so, no.

1 Youth Governor from California.

Note: The President spoke at 11:15 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. Following his remarks, he led the students into the Oval Office for a brief tour.

David C. Fischer is Special Assistant to the President.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Participants in the National YMCA Youth Governors' Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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