Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the San Gennaro Festival in Flemington, New Jersey

September 17, 1982

Millicent, thank you very much. Our Governor, your Representatives in Congress, and Millicent Fenwick, and this group here on the platform, and you ladies and gentlemen:

I can't match Millicent with regard to the language— [laughter] —I'11 have to stick with my own.

As a matter of fact, I had a little adventure once of that kind. I was invited once, while I was still Governor of California, to represent our President, then, in Mexico. And I got up and made a speech, and I knew that I wasn't getting much applause. As a matter of fact, I sat down to very little applause, and I was a little embarrassed. So, when the next fellow got up and started speaking to the audience in Spanish, and they were applauding—well, I beat them to it after every time. I was so embarrassed I applauded longer and louder than anybody, until our Ambassador leaned over and said to me, "I wouldn't do that if I were you, he's interpreting your speech." [Laughter]

I can't tell you how happy I am to be here at the San Gennaro Festival. It's great to get out of the White House and have some fun once in a while. [Laughter] You know, I once attended an Italian American festival where everyone was having a joyous time. There was such life and vitality and all kinds of delicious foods, just like here, and I said to the man next to me, I said, "If anyone felt lonely, this is the place to be." "That's true," he said, "no one can be lonely while eating spaghetti." [Laughter] He said, "It takes so much attention." [Laughter] So, when I think of Italian families, I never think of loneliness but of warm kitchens and even warmer love.

I heard a story the other day about a family that lived in a little apartment, but decided to move to a big house in the country. And a friend said to the 12-year-old son, Tony, "How do you like your new house?" And he said, "We love it. I have my own room. My brother has his own room. My sisters have their own rooms. But poor Mom, she's still in with Dad." [Laughter] But the thing I like about Italian American families is that no matter how many rooms they have, they're still together. The family bond is strong and loving.

During the last campaign, I spoke frequently of the crucial values of family and work, neighborhood, religion, and personal freedom. And some critics claimed that it was an attempt on my part to appeal to various ethnic and religious voting blocks. Well, in a way, they were right. I happen, though, to believe in the values that so many of this nation's ethnic groups hold dear. I believe in the family; I believe in the faith that binds families together; I believe in tradition, and I don't mind sharing those beliefs one bit.

Perhaps some of you will remember that just a few years ago, those basic values were being forgotten at the highest levels of our government. The machinery of government even, at times, actively opposed them. Government intrusion into the life of the family and the community had reached unparalleled heights. And I don't think that government can exactly become a substitute for parents when it comes to raising a family.

By the time we came to Washington, Federal spending had tripled in the last 10 years. Federal taxes doubled in only the last 5 years. But somehow, all that taxing and spending and regulating wasn't making our values any stronger or our people any better off.

Well, with the help of New Jersey leaders like Millicent Fenwick, Representative Roukema, Congressman Jim Courter, Senator Brady, Governor Kean, and others, we've tried to turn a few things around. The growth in Federal spending has been cut nearly in half. We brought down inflation, the deadliest tax of all. It was 12.4 percent. A great many people aren't aware that today, and since January, it's only been 5.4 percent. Prime interest rates were 21 1/2 percent in 1980. They're down to 13 1/2 percent, and we want to bring them down even further, because that's still too high. Leading economic indicators, which forecast future economic activity, have been up for 4 months in a row. Now, these statistics are cold comfort, I know, to someone who's still out of work. And every night when I turn in, I don't think anything is on my mind more than the people who want jobs and can't find them. Unfortunately, unemployment is just about the last indicator that perks up after a recession, and this is the eighth recession we've had since World War II. Well, let me tell you, we're going to knock that unemployment rate down just like we're knocking down interest rates and inflation. But in the meantime, unemployment benefits for those whose payments would otherwise have run out have been extended.

And right now, I'm going to make a little announcement here that might come as a surprise to our Representatives and to our future Senator from New Jersey. In spite of all of our cuttings, there are things that government has to do and should do. I'm pleased to announce that the Department of Housing and Urban Development has advised me that they've agreed to approve section 8 funding for 125 units of elderly housing at Park Place, in Ewing, New Jersey. And if you don't elect her Senator, we'll take it away. [Laughter]

Another threat to the family is crime. Many of you have written to me how afraid you are any more to walk the streets at night. Many older citizens are frightened to go out even during the daytime. It's time to get the hardened criminal off the street and "into jail. And right now before the Congress is an omnibus anticrime package. Now in case—maybe some of the younger people here don't know what "omnibus" means. That means it's big. And it means that we're serious about fighting crime. It means we are going to give the victims the break instead of the criminal.

Now, I know you'd rather get back to eating, so I won't go through our entire legislative program. But what our administration is trying to do with all our legislation is protect the American family, because it's the backbone of the Nation.

What government must always keep in mind as it legislates and administers is the sanctity of the family, our basic social unit. If it is not sound, then our society is not sound. And the world at times may seem cold and dark, but the family is the light in the window. It guides us and offers warmth. Family, faith, and freedom are the cornerstones of American life. This festival today is a celebration of those very ideals and a celebration of America's belief. So, I thank you for allowing me to be a part of it. I know that you're going to return these Representatives to the House of Representatives. I know that you're going to send Millicent Fenwick there to be your Senator.

And again, I say thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 5:21 p.m. at the Flemington Fairgrounds following remarks by New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean and Representative Millicent Fen wick, who spoke in Italian during a portion of her remarks.

The second annual San Gennaro Festival was sponsored by the Italian-American Club of Hunterdon County, and all proceeds were to be used for the club's scholarship fund.

San Gennaro is the patron saint of the Bay of Naples, through which many Italian immigrants passed en route to the United States in the early part of this century.

Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, D.C.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the San Gennaro Festival in Flemington, New Jersey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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