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Written Responses to Questions Submitted by France Soir Magazine

November 03, 1984

Description of United States

Q. How would you describe the U.S. to a young Frenchman?

The President. The United States is a nation of great size and many resources, but our richest resource is our people. They are fiercely independent, and—like the French—they cherish their liberty above all else.

It is a place where the cultures of many nations have blended to produce one culture, that which we call American. We saw a dramatic example of this during the summer Olympics in Los Angeles, when athletes from almost every nation in the world were met by host committees from the Los Angeles area, all of which were composed of people who had come from those countries and are now Americans.

Q. What is your most vivid memory?

The President. Frankly, I have so many outstanding memories that it would be impossible to select one as my most vivid. I'd like to answer that question the same way I'd answer one about what I consider the best day of my life—tomorrow. The best is always yet to come.

Favorite Childhood Book

Q. What was your favorite book as a young man?

The President. It was called "Northern Trails." I was quite young and impressionable when I read it, but it began for me a lifelong love of the outdoors. There was a magic world in those pages, and I was delighted to discover that such a world really does exist.

Value of Money

Q. What does money mean to you?

The President. I grew up in the Great Depression. That was a time when you learned that money could mean the difference between having or not having the basic necessities of life. Because God then blessed me with success, I have had the good fortune to also see that money can do more than provide necessities; it can make mankind's lot easier, afford leisure and recreation, and create opportunities for reflective and productive work.

Money can be an object of labor, but it serves its purpose best when it is not an object in itself, but an instrument of creativity, growth, and human progress. It has never had any meaning for me as an end in itself. Although I had very little money in my youth, I had a great deal of happiness. Therefore, I have never had to equate money with happiness, and I'll always be grateful to my parents for the very valuable lessons they taught me—entirely free of charge.

Physical Activities

Q. What kind of exercise do you get? How often?

The President. Before I became President, I spent a lot of time outdoors cutting brush, riding horses, and doing other work around my ranch. Now my time and opportunities for these activities are more limited—so I try to workout each day with exercise equipment. Horseback riding is still my favorite form of exercise, and I do it whenever possible.


Q. Why are you against abortion? Is there any other choice if population growth becomes explosive?

The President. I am against abortion because it is the taking of an innocent life. While some argue that we cannot pinpoint at which moment life actually begins, I am firmly convinced that we must give the unborn child the benefit of the doubt. In my view, the unborn child has a right to life, and it is our moral obligation to protect and defend that right.

Too frequently I heard the argument that "imperfect life is too expensive to maintain and prolong." That worries me, because I believe that any society which concerns itself with the price of life rather than the intrinsic value of life itself has gone awry.

There are a wide variety of alternatives to abortion for dealing thoughtfully with population problems. We have only to look at the success of those nations which have enormous populations but which emphasize market-oriented economic policies to see that human freedom and dignity can be preserved, along with human life.


Q. Do you still take an interest in movies? Which two are favorites of yours? What American actor do you admire most?

The President. Movies are still one of my favorite forms of relaxation. However, I do find myself preferring the older films to much of what is produced today. Too many contemporary films today rely on nudity and profanity to attract an audience. I'd rather watch something that depends on good writing, a good script, and a first-class production. It wouldn't be fair of me to name favorite movies or actors.

Nancy Reagan

Q. Does Mrs. Reagan enjoy politics?

The President. Nancy has always had an active interest in politics. It's a good thing, because a large portion of our lives have been devoted to public life. I may be a bit prejudiced, but I think she is the perfect political wife as well as the perfect wife. She's always busy, and she takes an active role.

She has taken a keen interest in the problems of our youth, especially in the area of alcohol and drug abuse. And her work with the Foster Grandparents Program, too, is a special cause which brings the elderly and young people together.

Nancy has always understood the sacrifices we had to make, the hours apart, but she has always been at my side when I needed her, and I couldn't have a finer spokeswoman than she is.

President's Childrens' Occupations

Q. What are your children's occupations?

The President. As you know, Patti, who is an actress, has recently married, and she is now working on a novel. Ron has decided to leave his career in ballet to pursue journalism. Michael is in business and devotes much of his time to fund-raising for charities through speedboat racing. Maureen is presently helping with my campaign, and she has been and is a successful businesswoman and radio personality.

All of my children are doing what they want to do, and they are doing it to the best of their ability. No parent could ask for more, and I am very proud of all of them.

Religion and Politics

Q. Is religion a guide for you?

The President. Yes, religion is a guide for me. To think that anyone could carry out the awesome responsibilities of this office without asking for God's help through prayer strikes me as absurd.

Q. Are politics and religion related?

The President. I believe that politics and religion are related, because I do not believe you can function in politics without some sense of morality. It is through our religious beliefs that our moral tradition in the West is descended. While a legislator or a President may not bring to his politics the specific tenets of his particular faith, each of us brings a code of morals to bear on our judgments.

There is much talk in my country now of religion interfering with politics. Actually, it is the other way around. Politics—legalization of abortion; attempts to fund abortion with taxpayers' money; prohibition of voluntary prayer in public schools; weakening of laws against pornography; failure to enforce civil rights legislation on behalf of helpless, severely ill infants—has moved across the barrier between church and state and has invaded the arena of religious beliefs.

Most of Western civilization is based on principles derived from the Judeo-Christian ethic. The wall of separation between church and state in America was erected by our forefathers to protect religion from the state, not the other way around.

Presidential Decisionmaking

Q. Do you think about individuals when you make decisions? Or must you think only of groups?

The President. In this nation, the rights of individuals are paramount. There are times when the rights of one individual—particularly when taken into consideration by our Supreme Court—can influence the rest of our population. Many decisions which I make, or are made by our legislative branch, are made on the basis of the good of the majority. Our civil rights laws were drawn up to protect the rights of individuals, regardless of race, sex, religion, or handicap.

Most Admired President

Q. What American President do you admire most? Why?

The President. I admire many of my predecessors in the Oval Office. However, I believe that Abraham Lincoln is my favorite. He stood at the helm of this nation during its most trying and tragic time. He functioned under the most difficult of circumstances, and I believe that he served with consummate dignity and humility.

Lincoln had a strong belief in the individual taking responsibility for himself. He was truly a "man of the people," and his love for all his countrymen—even those who stood across from him in the lines of battle—was all encompassing. We share many points of philosophy. Also, he had a wonderful facility with words and a delightful wit. This nation was well and honorably served by Abraham Lincoln.

Priorities in Second Term

Q. Why will you be reelected?

The President. I'm superstitious, so I'm not predicting the outcome. If I am reelected, it will be because Americans do not want a return to the policies of the past. They want to go forward, marching together as a nation with economic, military, and spiritual strength. They want to continue the resurgence that has made us a more reliable ally.

Q. What will be your top priorities in foreign affairs in a new term?

The President. My priorities will be to bring about a more constructive relation. ship between East and West, to strengthen our ties with our allies and friends around the world, to ensure peace and promote the growth of human freedom.

Now that the United States is restoring its military and economic strength and its national self-confidence, the conditions are better than ever for a more stable and mature relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is time for the Soviets to return to the arms control negotiating table, because there is much work to be done to reduce the levels of weaponry, both nuclear and conventional. We are also prepared for a dialog on regional conflicts, both to avoid confrontations and to help bring about peaceful solutions.

Our relations with the industrial democracies in the Atlantic community and the countries of the Pacific Basin are the cornerstones of American foreign policy. We face many challenges together, and we can deal with them most effectively if we work together. There are many steps we allies can take to strengthen our common security, promote the expansion of the global economy, and work for world peace. In addition, the United States has many other friends around the world whose security, independence, well-being, and freedom are important to us.

We know that there are many regions of the world that have not yet shared in the economic recovery. We must ensure the continued openness and expansion of the world trading system and resist the protectionist pressures that could jeopardize the recovery. We must encourage sound economic policies in the developing world that will enable these countries to take better advantage of the spreading recovery.

Finally, the United States will continue its traditional role as peacemaker wherever the parties in a local conflict seek our help in promoting negotiated solutions. In Central America, southern Africa, the Middle East, and other regions, we will continue an active diplomacy for peace.

Monetary Affairs

Q. Why is the dollar so strong? Will it get stronger if you are reelected?

The President. Fundamentally, the dollar is strong because the U.S. economy is strong. We are now completing the second year of our economic recovery, one of the strongest in our post-World War II experience. The recovery is being fueled by a vigorous expansion in business investment. The inflation rate remains low.

International investors appear confident that the policies which achieved these results will be continued. They have faith in the stability of our political and economic system and in our hospitality to free, market-determined capital flows. As a result of this confidence, net capital inflows into the United States have been very strong, with their positive effects on the exchange rate more than offsetting any negative effects of our current account deficit.

I don't want to get into predictions of the dollar exchange rate. Even the most learned economists don't do a good job in this kind of crystal-ball gazing, and Presidents shouldn't even try. But I will say this: In my second term we will ensure the long-term strength and vigor of the U.S. economy and seek to lead a world economic recovery.

Q. Do you believe a form of gold standard can still have a role to play in the monetary system?

The President. Early in my administration, I appointed a commission of 17 distinguished men and women—economists, public servants, and people in business—to study the question of the future role of gold in the monetary system. After careful deliberation, the majority of this commission, which was chaired by Treasury Secretary Regan, recommended that we should not return to a fixed gold standard. Some members felt that a gold standard would provide needed long-term discipline over monetary policies, but the majority view was that restoration of a gold standard would not be a fruitful way of achieving either domestic or international monetary stability.

Free Enterprise System

Q. Do you believe free enterprise is the best economic system?

The President. I firmly believe that the free enterprise system has proved itself the most effective in promoting economic growth and the welfare of the citizens of those countries where it is practiced. The free enterprise system is inherently linked to a democratic society. Just as people benefit from a free exchange of ideas in the political marketplace, so do they benefit from the freedom to "vote" by expressing their choices in a free market. A free market system ensures an efficient allocation of resources in response to the needs and wishes of the population and fosters creative energies in the productive sector.

U.S.-France Relations

Q. Is France's geographic position important for U.S. defense?

The President. Of course France's geography is important for Western defenses. But we value France as an ally for many reasons—our shared values, common adherence to democratic principles, and our mutual commitments to the prevention of Soviet attainment of military advantage. French forces in metropolitan France, as well as those in West Germany, play an important role in the defense of allied Europe. Although not integrated into NATO's military command structure, French forces can contribute effectively to the overall defense of the West and thus help deter any war in Europe.

Q. Can France count on the U.S. if it were attacked, even though the U.S. might be at risk?

The President. Frankly, I find the question puzzling. France is America's oldest ally. You fought by our side in our War of Independence. We fought by yours in this country's two most bloody world conflicts. We owe each other our very national existence. We are each pledged, through the North Atlantic Treaty, to treat an attack upon the other as an attack upon ourselves. I assure you America forgets neither our common history, nor our current commitments.

I know there are those who cast doubt upon the durability of America's commitment to Europe. Yet on my side of the Atlantic there is no doubt that America's security, its prosperity, and its freedom are inextricably linked to those of our European partners. Nearly a million American doughboys arrived in France in World War I with the greeting, "Lafayette, we are here." A quarter of a million American soldiers, sailors, and airmen are in Europe today, as they have been for more than 30 years, the visible evidence of our continuing solidarity. Today America still says to Europe, "We are here, and we will stay as long as we are needed and wanted."

Q. How do you see the French when you think about them?

The President. I think of the French Revolution, the Rights of Man, and our common defense of democratic values for two centuries. Of course, no one who has ever visited France can forget the beauty of the country or the ingenuity and creativity of its people. But for me, France is, above all, the wellspring of Western culture and democratic ideas, and our ally, today as in the past, in their defense.

Significant U.S. Achievements

Q. What is the most significant American achievement of the last 20 years? Of the last 4 years?

The President. Certainly, our most significant achievement over the past 20 years-and it is one we share with others—must be the preservation and promotion of democracy. The solidarity of the Atlantic alliance has provided Europe the longest period of peace in its modern history, during which the West has achieved the greatest human health, longevity, and prosperity in mankind's recorded experience. Other areas of the globe have been less fortunate. Yet everywhere the market economy system is increasingly seen as the most effective instrument for growth, and everywhere democracy is the inspiration and aspiration of mankind.

In the past 4 years, we have reinforced these achievements in many ways—by reinvigorating the American economy; by restoring America's faith in itself, in its institutions, and in its role in the world. We have begun, with our allies, to restore Western defenses and have set forward a comprehensive program for arms control.

Perhaps the most important specific step in this regard was the NATO alliance's implementation of the decision it took in December 1979 to restore the balance in intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Facing an unprecedented Soviet campaign of propaganda and intimidation, combined with a Soviet refusal to negotiate equitable limitations, the alliance stuck together and began the deployment of cruise and Pershing II missiles on time.

The resolute support of the French Government made an important contribution to Western solidarity on this crucial issue. As a result, the alliance is, I feel, stronger and more cohesive today than at any time in its recent history.

Note: As printed above, the questions and answers follow the White House press release.

Ronald Reagan, Written Responses to Questions Submitted by France Soir Magazine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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