Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Wesley Park Senior Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

November 03, 1984

Well, thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. I'm a dessert man, myself, but— [laughter] —but I suppose it's really better for me that I didn't get to finish it, but it's delicious.

Well, it's very good to be in Milwaukee, and it's a joy to visit this Wesley—or Welsley Park retirement home. Nancy and I thank you for inviting us. And I would like to formally say hello to all of you octogenarians, nonagenarians, and, of course, the kids—my fellow septuagenarians. [Laughter] Did I get that right? I don't say those words very often— [laughter] —and I tend to mispronounce them, because I don't think in those terms.

I think I've just seen the things that you've made at the Christmas Bazaar, and I can see that your attitude toward life is similar to the fellow who said that—and this was pretty good advice—"old age is 15 years from where I am now." [Laughter] Do you remember the great baseball pitcher Satchel Paige? He once asked, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?" [Laughter] Well, think about it-I did. That's why I've been 39 for the last 34 years. [Laughter]

But one of them—is something that I think has been the—some things I want to speak about just briefly, and one of them, I think, is the most disturbing part of the election campaign—the eagerness of some, for political purposes, to demagogue on the issue, actually, of Social Security. And it really leaves me steaming when they try to portray that some of us are having some plans in which secretly we're going to do something about depriving people who are dependent on that particular program.

When we came into office the problem was Social Security was facing bankruptcy. And we tried to get a bipartisan program together to salvage the program, and after the 1982 election, finally they agreed-when we had to borrow $17 billion to—so the checks wouldn't bounce. And I feel that the people in Social Security, who contributed all their lives in that program, invested, entrusted their money to the Government-and now, I want to make one thing plain, and I hope to be able to talk to my contemporaries about this, and say this, and that is: There is no secret plan to do anything about depriving people who are dependent on Social Security, and there never will be as far as I have anything to say about it.

Those who are dependent on this program are going to be able to depend on it. And we have now had that bipartisan get-together, and the program is sound fiscally for as far as we can see into the future, into the next century.

Now, there's another thing I want to talk about for just a second here. Most of us have had children and helped bring them up, one way or another, give them support and encouragement, teaching them. And now in traveling over the country in these past few months—and when I was Governor of California, there seemed to be a different era with the young people than there is now. I think you'd like to know if you had the opportunity to be on a campus or see them, today's young people are just the most wonderful young people that I can ever remember seeing. They're filled with patriotism and a love of country. They're serious about their lives and their wanting an opportunity and to get ahead. And it's just a magnificent thing to see. And you'd all be very proud.

Now, I mentioned that other time when I was Governor. I also would like to talk for just a moment about us and our generation. While I was Governor, that was in the era when I was being hung on a number of campuses in effigy, and they were burning flags and the school buildings down and so forth. But one day I got a demand from some student officers on the University of California nine campuses, a demand to see me. Well, if I went near the campus, I started a riot, so I was delighted.

Well, they came in in the uniform of the day, most of them barefoot, torn T-shirts, blue jeans, slouched into some chairs. And then one of them, as the spokesman, started in. And he said, "Governor, it's impossible for you to understand our generation." Well, I tried to pass it off, something that we all know. I said, "Well, we know more about being young than we do about being old." And he said, "No, I'm serious." He said, "You can't understand your own sons and daughters. You didn't grow up in an era in which there was instant electronic communications, computers figuring in seconds what it used to take people months and even years to figure, jet travel, space journeys out to the Moon, and so forth."

Well, he went on just long enough—usually, you know, the answer comes to you after you've gone home and you say, "I wish I'd said this." Well, he talked just long enough that the Lord blessed me with the answer. And when he paused for breath, I interrupted him, because I'd been thinking about something all the time he was saying these things. And I said, "You're absolutely right. We didn't have these things when we were your age. We invented them." It sure did change the subject in a hurry. [Laughter]

Now, I want to say one more thing just about us, and some of it came from that particular dissertation on thinking of that answer. There have only been a few generations in all history in which a single generation presided over a great transition period. The young people of today are going to see things that we probably can't even imagine. They're going to see many marvels and wonders. They will never see, however, the transition that we saw, that in our single lifetime, we went from the horse and buggy to landing men on the Moon, to space travel, to all of this. And I can still remember the phones that you cranked to get the operator and say, "Number, please." And now they don't even have cords on them, if you want to get one of that kind, but any, whatever it's named.

And so, I think that we have nothing to apologize for. Those people who want to say, "Well, the people that went ahead of us, they didn't leave this or that for us." I think this generation of ours, we can sit back and smile easily, because—I've been saying to some people out on the road—I don't think anyone has ever done more to give dignity and freedom to our fellow man than we have in this, our single lifetime.

So, I think we have much to be proud of. And it's good to be here, and it's good to see all of you. And whatever happens on Tuesday, it's been a great honor to serve the past 4 years as your President. And it's something that I will treasure all my life. And I thank you for that.

So, I won't take any more of your time now, but thank you again for letting us be here with you.

And I'll tell you—and you'll all understand this, too—a dear friend of ours, George Burns—you know George—and he's still going, and he's making another movie in which, this time he's going to play God and the devil. [Laughter] But George has not only been a dear friend all my life, but he has become a great hero to me—he calls me "Kid." [Laughter]

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 6:10 p.m. in the center's dining room. Prior to his remarks, the President was given a tour of the center's bazaar and had dinner with center members.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Wesley Park Senior Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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