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Toasts at a White House Dinner Honoring the Nation's Governors

February 23, 1982

The President. Ladies and gentlemen, there's nothing like a dinner by candlelight, is there? [Laughter]

Well, your advice and counsel during these past days and in the year since I came to office have been invaluable as we've worked to renew the health and promise of this country. And together, we've begun restoring the partnership between the levels of American government.

I'm aware that some of you feel caught between yesterday's call for greater autonomy and tomorrow's fear of being left alone with problems you didn't create. To you I give this pledge: The Federal Government will not turn its back on people, communities, or States in need of help. We will not create winners and losers, turning States and regions against each other. Our goal has been and will remain to bring prosperity to all Americans in every part of our country.

The reforms that we've proposed won't work miracles, but they will bring progress. They don't confuse the ideals of Federal assistance with the failed realities of bureaucracy.

You know, I have to stop and tell you one of my favorite stories about bureaucracy. There was a man in Washington whose job was sitting at a desk in his particular department. And papers came to his desk, and he decided where they should go and initialed them and sent them on. And one day a classified paper came to him, but he read it and figured out where it should go, initialed it and sent it on. And a couple of days later it came back to him saying, "You were not supposed to read this." [Laughter] "Erase your initials, and initial the erasure." [Laughter]

Well, sometimes you recognize that programs that have helped will wipe away those that have failed or made matters worse is what it is—what we're aiming at. In this centennial year of the birth of Franklin Roosevelt, a former Governor, we should read again his words with regard to our need to restore economic sanity to Washington and power and resources to you. He said, "Civilization cannot go back. Civilization must not stand still. It is our task to perfect, to improve, to alter when necessary, but, in all cases, to go forward."

F.D.R. also expressed his belief in giving back to the States authorities which he said had been unjustly usurped by the Federal Government. And I figure if we give enough of them back, then I'm going to be able to go to the ranch more often. [Laughter]

But we of this era must understand that we, too, have come upon a new day. We must change the way that we view government's role in our rapidly changing society. Roosevelt's challenge is our challenge tonight and in the weeks and months ahead. We must summon the courage to move forward. Governor Snelling put it very well when he said, "Either you believe in democracy or you don't." Well, I do, and I know you do, too.

Our program for economic recovery and our proposal to restore the partnership between State, local, and Federal Government are born from that belief. They spring from an abiding faith in the American people and in our ability to govern ourselves.

I'm pleased and encouraged by your action this morning in passing a federalism resolution in a spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation. I'm waiting to read and hear about it in the media, but— [laughter] anyway, I know you've done it. [Laughter]

You've taken a significant step toward the achievement of the revitalized federalism we've all been requesting for a number of years.

So, now I ask you to join me in a toast that we can all drink to, those ideals of democracy and to our partnership for progress through which we will make them live again.

Thank you very much, and thank you all for being here.

Governor Snelling. Mr. President, on behalf of the Governors of the States and territories of this nation, we want to thank you and your very gracious First Lady for this welcome. The state dinner is the highlight always of any meeting of the National Governors' Association, and we consider it a very great privilege to join you here in this house.

Mr. President, one of the reasons why I admire you so much is because you understand and appreciate Cal Coolidge of Vermont. And you have spoken quite a bit about Cal Coolidge, and you understand that Cal didn't say very much. As a matter of fact you've already said more than Cal said in his entire life. But what Cal said he said wisely, and he was not only a man who had great insight about government, but also a very deep sense of humor, and your references to the news reports of what we did reminds me of the story they tell about Cal Coolidge.

People in Plymouth really appreciated him, and they liked the fact that even after he was President of the United States, he still cared about his farm in Plymouth, and he came home often. So, they decided on one occasion to honor him, and they decided they'd have something made—handmade as a symbol of their respect for him. And they finally had a rake made—a hay rake, of course. And they invited him back to Plymouth, and when he was next there they agreed to have the most eloquent person in town present the rake to the President.

And it came to pass, and the loquacious gentleman got up and said, "Mr. President, we're just so honored to present this rake to you which we have hand-made of hickory, because hickory is a very durable wood, and because like you, Mr. President, hickory, when it is fashioned, holds its shape and no longer changes, and because, like you, Mr. President, hickory weathers well. And we want you to have this as a symbol of our affection for you and our appreciation of your affection for Vermont." And the man handed it to the President. Cal took it, turned it over twice, looked out at the audience, and said, "It's ash." [Laughter]

Mr. President, no matter what you hear about the Governors of the United States rejecting your overture to make federalism a high priority item on your agenda, the Governors of the United States did not do that. The Governors of the United States appreciate the fact that you who have been one of us have fully appreciated that sense of urgency with which the American people wish to see government come back home. And we want to salute you for not only appreciating that urge but for acting upon it, and for putting before us and putting before the Congress and putting before the people of the United States an agenda in which the recognition of the constitutional rights and obligations of the States and of local government has a very high priority. And in that spirit, the Governors of these States and territories have responded by making specific suggestions to you and by accepting your offer to work with them.

And so, we want to salute you for being the kind of leader who recognizes not only what is important to the people of this country but who also takes the kinds of actions which makes it clear that he believes fully in what he says. I think your offer to negotiate with us these matters, and to meet with us, and to provide some give and some take is very, very much appreciated by everyone in this room, because you've not just offered, you have demonstrated that you will treat the Federal partners as partners. And for that, Mr. President, we salute you, and we thank you.

To the President.

Note: The President spoke at 9:50 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Governor Richard A. Snelling of Vermont is chairman of the National Governors' Association.

Ronald Reagan, Toasts at a White House Dinner Honoring the Nation's Governors Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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