Remarks to the Reagan Administration Executive Forum
Thank you very much. For heaven's sake, you're on your own time now. [Laughter]
I thank you very much, except I feel a little bit like the last living survivor of the Johnstown flood who finally came to the end of his days, and Saint Peter greeted him as a newcomer and told him that there were some old-timers there that would like to gather and hear the latest word from Earth, and did he have anything interesting to contribute. And he told him that he'd been quite a feature on the luncheon circuit, the mashed potato circuit, with his tales of the Johnstown flood. "Oh," he said, "I know they'll like that." He brought him in, introduced him, said he has something very interesting to say. And then just as he turned to leave, he whispered in the fellow's ear, "That man second from the left in the front row—his name is Noah." [Laughter]
I think everything must have been said here that should have been said. But I have been looking forward to this meeting with all you bureaucrats. [Laughter] We're going to make that word respectable. [Laughter]
We in this room share a special bond. We came to Washington not to get a job, but to do a job—to get this great nation of ours back on track after too many years of misdirection and mismanagement. We came here under the banner of "A New Beginning," and we've made a new beginning for our country and the people we serve. But as the poet Longfellow pointed out, great as the art of beginning is, the art of ending is even greater. We still have a long way to go, a lot to do before we can achieve all that we hope for the America of today and the America we'll pass on to our children.
One year ago, on a clear, crisp January day just about like this one—except for the snow—I took the oath of office and delivered my first address as President of the American people. And in it I said that the ". • . ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months; but they will go away. They will go away because we as Americans have the capacity now, as we've had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom."
Well, I'm glad to see that this quote was chosen as the motto for today's program, because I believe it sums up not only the resolve of each of us in this room but also the basic faith and commitment of the American people. And after all, what are we but their trustees—the pledged guardians of their values, their beliefs, and their aspirations. No one has succeeded in putting it better than Henry Clay, who said that "Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people."
Unfortunately, in growing too big and greedy for power, the Federal Government in the recent past lost sight of this vital point. It's up to us to redress the balance. It's up to us to begin the long, hard process of making government once more the servant rather than the master of a proud and independent people.
I think we can proudly say we've made an impressive start. In this first year of our trusteeship, we've built a competent, dedicated executive team. We've laid the foundation for economic recovery and national renewal. We have begun to cut back the runaway growth in big government spending and regulation. And you've just heard about the changes in regulation, thanks to the task force that the Vice President heads up.
Inflation and interest rates are down. A program that will mean more jobs and more opportunity for all Americans is now in place. And we've begun to restore confidence in America at home and respect for America abroad.
We had promised to do all these things. And thanks to the outstanding efforts of the team represented here today by all of you, we have kept these promises. Thanks to the job that all of you have done in your agencies and departments, only I year into this administration, as you've already been told, we have kept in this first year, two-thirds of the promises that were made. I think Jim Baker told you it was 104. And we're on our way to keeping the rest of them.
This booklet—I know you were frightened; you thought maybe I was going to read it. [Laughter] This booklet—many of you will see copies of this—it refers to those promises that we made. It's a sort of catalog of our track record, and it's called, "Promises: A Progress Report on the President's First Year." 1 It's not as thick as the Federal Register, even though we've reduced that, thanks to George, by 23,000 pages in just 1 year. But it is an impressive list of achievements, and this administration couldn't have made them without the faith, commitment, and hard work of every man and woman who is here today.
1 The 59-page booklet, entitled "Promises: A Progress Report on President Reagan's First Year," is a special report published by the Research Division of the Republican National Committee.
We also couldn't have made them without the sustained support of the American people, the people we serve as trustees. I'm sure that all of you were heartened, as I was, by the latest New York Times/CBS poll. It showed an overwhelming 60 percent majority of the people believe that our program for economic recovery will benefit the Nation, will build a stronger, more prosperous America. The American people haven't been led astray by the peddlers of pessimism and despair. They understand that the damage of decades of waste, mismanagement, inflation, and economic decay will not vanish overnight. And I suspect they've also noticed that quite a few of the people shedding crocodile tears over our current economic plight and taking potshots at our recovery program are the very people who led us into this swamp in the first place.
Speaking of swamps, I want to urge you all not to get bogged down in Potomac fever. Don't let the Washington whirl or the Washington morass let you lose sight of why we came here and what it is that we're all trying to do. I know it isn't always easy. As the old saying goes, "When you're up to your armpits in alligators, it's sometimes hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp." [Laughter]
That's not why you're here and I'm here. We're here to cut back on waste and mismanagement; to eliminate unnecessary, restrictive regulations that make it harder for the American economy to compete and harder for American workers to find jobs; to drain the swamp of overtaxation, overregulation, and runaway inflation that has dangerously eroded our free way of life.
And I mention that term "jobs." Last night on the news, I was distressed to hear that I had misstated in yesterday's press conference the fact of unemployment in 1980 as it was in 1981. And figures were read that on December of 1980 there were more people employed than there were in December of 1981. But that isn't the way you use the figures. The truth is that in the year of 1980 there were 97,270,000 people employed in the United States. In the year of 1981 there were 98,318,000, which is, 148,000 [1,043,000] 2 more in 1981 were working than worked in 1980.
2 White House correction.
You don't know how much I enjoyed saying that. Some days are much more fun in this job than others. [Laughter]
But I believe that our first year of trusteeship has demonstrated our good faith to the people we serve. It was their faith, in turn, their support and confidence, that got the recovery program through the Congress. It's their support and confidence that will see the program through to success. In the meantime, it's up to each of us through our conduct and commitment to continue to justify their confidence in us as their trustees. I believe we can; I believe we will.
The evidence keeps cropping up in the most surprising places. Sometimes the most convincing endorsements come from the competition. Just last week on a visit to the Department of Transportation, Drew Lewis told me that he'd been deeply impressed by something said to him by a ranking majority member of the House of Representatives, a man who's not exactly a leading member of a fan club for me. I won't mention any names—it might get him into hot water with Tip O'Neill. [Laughter] But this veteran Congressman said to Drew Lewis, "It was nice to finally have leadership in the White House that actually did in office what it said it was going to do when running for office."
I take that as the supreme compliment, coming from the other side of the aisle, but I don't take it as a personal compliment. It's a compliment to an administration team, government-wide, that has put principle first, a team that came to Washington to serve America rather than serve itself. I take it as justification for the pride I feel in your talent and commitment as individuals and as dedicated team players.
But any coach worth his salt knows that it's not the season that just ended that counts; it's the season that's just beginning. As a team we're about to launch our second season, and it's going to be a tough one. To keep our recovery program working, to get an ailing America back on its feet and running again will take a massive team effort. Each of you in your departments and agencies will have to work even harder to root out waste, fraud, and mismanagement. You'll have to work harder to see that every tax dollar that is spent is spent wisely and well. And each of you must use every fiber of your experience and imagination to come up with better, more efficient ways of getting the necessary work of government done.
There may have been a time when America could afford to let things slide, a time when second best would do, but if there ever was a such a time, it's long since past. Today and throughout the year ahead, only our best will be good enough.
Great results have never been achieved without great effort. What we've undertaken is nothing less than the rebirth of a nation, the revival of the independence, vitality, and resourcefulness that tamed a savage wilderness and converted 13 small, struggling colonies into what Abraham Lincoln called "the last, best hope of Earth."
Lincoln also reminded us that "we cannot escape history." In his second annual message to the Congress 120 years ago, he issued a warning that still holds true. "We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves," he said. The "trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the last generation."
In this second year of our administration, America and American leadership again face many tests. At stake in Lincoln's day was the survival of the American Nation; at stake today is its revival—assuring that the nation and ideals that Lincoln saved, and each subsequent generation of Americans has worked to preserve, will take on fresh life and hope for those who come after us.
This is an exciting time to be alive, an exciting time to be in Washington, a time of both challenge and reaffirmation. Each of us has been put here for a purpose. We must redress past errors, errors that have already cost the people we serve far too much in economic stagnation, joblessness, crippling taxes, and inflation. It isn't going to be easy; nothing really worth achieving ever is. But this is an optimistic nation, and I am optimistic. If I wasn't I'd never have left the ranch to come here in the first place. [Laughter]
Now, you know there's a simple definition for an optimist and a pessimist. An optimist asks, "Will you please pass the cream?" A pessimist says, "Is there any milk in that pitcher?" [Laughter]
But there's a story that maybe some of you know, and I just can't resist at this point telling it, because it has to do with the definition of optimism. A man had two sons, and he was very disturbed about them. One was a pessimist beyond recall, and the other one was an optimist beyond reason. He talked to a child psychiatrist who made a suggestion. He said, "I think we can fix that." He said, "We'll get a room and we'll fill' it with the most wonderful toys any boy ever had." "And," he said, "we'll put the pessimist in and when he finds out they're for him, he'll get over being a pessimist."
His father said, "What will you do about the optimist? .... Well," he said, "I have a friend who's got a racing stable and they clean out the stalls every morning." "And," he said, "I can get quite an amount of that substance." [Laughter] And he said, "We'll put that in another room, and when the optimist who's seen his brother get all those toys is then shown into that room and that's there, he'll get over being an optimist."
Well, they did, and they waited about 5 minutes. And then they opened the door, and the pessimist was sitting there crying as if his heart would break. He said, "I know somebody's going to come in and take these away from me." [Laughter]
Then they went down to the other room and they opened the door and there was the kid happy as a clam, throwing that stuff over his shoulders as fast as he could. And they said, "What are you doing?" And he says, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere." [Laughter]
But I'm confident that if we all do our best today and in the months ahead, we can turn things around. There is a pony in here. [Laughter]
We can make today's government and today's America a model for generations to come. That is our trust. That's why we're here. And that's why I want to thank each one of you today, and from the bottom of my heart, for all that you've done and all that you're doing to make America great again. I'm counting on you and, what's more important, so are the American people.
God bless you all. Thank you.
Note: The President spoke at 12:05 p.m. at the Departmental Auditorium in the Commerce Department complex.
Ronald Reagan, Remarks to the Reagan Administration Executive Forum Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245657